I was very excited when Wikibrands: Reinventing Your Company in a Customer-Driven Marketplace popped onto my radar in the Spring. I’m a big fan of Don Tapscott and this book distils some of the brand research his team has slogged through over the years. His introduction promises to replace the Four P’s and traditional brand marketing with a new paradigm for the digital age. Don’t you just love a new paradigm? Especially when you can find a purse that goes with it?

But what a long, long, long road it is to Paradigm Alley. And that’s my fundamental problem with this book. It just can’t decide whether it’s a review of the current branding canon, a how-to book for digital marketing or someone’s graduate thesis. At almost 300 pages, it’s a long trip to all three places. The authors do a good job of documenting current thinking on the changing role of marketing and the problems that arise when (Ritual Shaming Alert!) “…old school marketers are still given the keys to final brand decision…” Decisions about customer experience, product design and positioning, the authors argue, now reside outside the corporation and old-fashioned marketers are shaking their Etch-a-Sketches when they should be fondling the Silly Putty. I didn’t understand the metaphors either but they seem to be suggesting that poor strategies make for poor plans. So that’s nothing new but the ageist underpinning of this book shows up here in the juxtaposition of wikibrand adopters with “gray-haired traditional establishment” marketers. Seriously? Old equals bad? Or just stupid?

My advice (especially if you’re having trouble staying up late these days) is to skip everything up to page 86, which is where the authors finally get down to being helpful. The FLIRT (focus, language, incentives, rules and tools) elements that build a wikibrand are really the meat of this book. The concept, borrowed from the Finnish marketer, Sami Viitamäki, is a nice framework for getting stuff done. In fact, if you’re pressed for time (or have gray hair and need a nap at three o’clock), read from this point to page 194 and you’ll be on your way. These pages offer straight-forward advice, useful examples and occasional high weirdness like this bit: “The relationship you want to develop with your customers is somewhere between a best friend and a person they see on the bus each day…” Pardon? Even in the digital age that’s a pretty big range.

For B2B marketers there is, for a nice change, lots of good stuff here. I particularly enjoyed the bits on Explicit Motivations and Influencers, the latter being something most of us suck at. The Outreach Octopus on page 141 is a great summary of influence tools. Chapter 9 , about rules and guidelines, is probably the best part of the whole thing. With examples including IBM and Kodak the chapter offers actionable considerations about how to set up and manage customer engagement teams. They include this great quote from Joseph Jaffe: “Don’t cede control completely to your customers. They don’t want it. Meet them halfway. Partner with them. Work with them.”

Chapter 10 is worth a look too, though it includes a story about Dell that had me worried about Body Snatchers for days and a very strange formula for wikibrands which I can paraphrase thus:

Wikibrand Value = (Core product/service Experience) x (Seth Godin Mitch Joel – Don Tapscott)____________________________________________________________________________________

( Guy Kawasaki Chris Brogan)

In other words, nothing we haven’t been hearing for years. But there is a statistic in this chapter that all of us should be tattooing on our forearms to show the Hand-Wringers and the corporate Blognocrats both.

“Back in the old days of 2007, 80 percent of the global social communitiy’s engagement happened on an originating website. Whether it was a traditional corporate or media site or a blog, the social activity happened right there in the comments or forums section. Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and integrated applications, the social Web itself has been transformed. The source of traffic is reversed; more than 80 percent of engagement now happens away from the originating website.”

The rest of the book meanders a little into Marketing 101 territory and you can probably give it a miss unless you are trying to build a community around your brand, in which case there are a few examples –- unfortunately only the usual suspects: Zappos, Best Buy, Amazon and, everyone’s favourite token B2B company, Cisco. If you’re struggling with engagement KPIs, you can do worse than the suggestions in Chapter 14.

In general this is a well-meaning, well-written book which should be on every new marketer’s reading list. The diagrams are pretty good and could be a big help if you need to throw Finance off the scent with an over-complicated view of what you do. And if you need lists, well, you’re in the right place. This book has no fewer than 50 numbered, bulleted, outlined lists on everything from community detractors to customer experience norms. Bottom line, Wikibrands is not the seminal work promised in the introduction, but the middle bit, at least, is time well-spent. Now if they’d just offer a senior’s discount…