Review: Why you should read Shel Israel’s “Lethal Generosity”

lethal generosityShel Israel wrote a followup to his book with Robert Scoble, The Age of ContextLethal Generosity: Contextual Technology & The Competitive Edge explains what companies need to do now that everything in the world is getting smarter. You really should read it.

Shel and I have been on parallel paths for about eight years. He wrote Naked Conversations, which paved the way for my book with Charlene Li, Groundswell. He wrote The Age of Context, which illuminates a lot of the trends we wrote about in The Mobile Mind ShiftSo intellectually, I feel a kinship with this guy. (He’s also a nice guy, as it says on his blog, and which I can independently verify.)

The basic point of this book is this: Contextual and mobile technologies aren’t just a more intense version of the same interactions that customers and companies have now. They are transforming those interactions completely, which changes what competition means. Companies now must compete on having just what you asked for, when you need it, with as little hassle as possible.

Here’s the book’s definition:

Lethal generosity is a strategy where vendors focus entirely on customer needs and experiences and base decisions on what is best for the shoppers, even when it may inflict a temporary ding to revenue or profit.

I can already hear the business folks out there saying “yeah, yeah, customer focused, we know, shut up already.” The thing is, this is not your father’s customer focus, because this is not your father’s customer. It’s a far more demanding customer armed with technologies that create the expectation that yes, your company had better get good at anticipating needs.

Israel clearly makes the case that new mobile technologies like LTE-D and NFC, together with sophisticated data analysis, make it possible to target folks precisely. And even more importantly, that the next generation of power buyers, Millennials, will demand such service and reward only those brands that can provide it. Here’s a quote from Scoble in the book:

Today’s products can’t just sit there in an unconnected state. Companies must use data from social media, from sensors, from the user’s context (calendar, email, location) to make their products serve customers in thrilling new ways, and they must do that in a way that doesn’t freak customers out or encourage government regulators to look into their data practices. It’s enough to give marketers fits, particularly those who aren’t used to thinking about running their businesses using data.

Israel’s thorough research with the actual practitioners of these methods — like Tom’s Shoes, the Coachella Music Festival, the Australian telco Telstra, the agency R/GA, and countless startups — create the reality behind this strategy. You feel like you’ve actually met and discussed strategy with these folks.

His three points from the last chapter are the payoff here:

  1. People no longer respond to traditional marketing — they resist and will use technology to evade ads.
  2. Traditional marketing methods are losing effectiveness, especially with Millennials.
  3. New mobile and wearable technology hold out the promise for the future of the marketing.

The future has a way of unfolding in ways that were hard to predict. I’m not certain that Israel’s promised future will arrive in as generous a form as he hopes. But what I can say is that if you want to be ready for that future, you should read this book.


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  1. This sounds awesome in that it’s not a “how too” book, but rather a focus on the ethos and theory of what’s going in digital marketing of today. Most of these books have lots of discussions about “story telling” and the abstraction of individualized targeting, but not enough “why”. I could see how this one book could create many a meet up group or even a course book for those who want to educate/consult others in marketing

  2. we’ve talked with some of our biggest clients to learn how they’re dealing with the challenges of connecting with with empowered people. these peaks around the corner seem to jibe with what you’re review of this intriguing new book illuminates, and so with your bs-less recommendation i’ll now dive in. thanks, josh.