#FIRESessions 2010: My 24-hour glimpse of the future

by Mack Collier

Last week I got to spend a day in Greenville, SC.  I was exposed to a day full of fabulous conversations and presentations involving many of the topics covered at most social media events:

  • Community empowerment
  • The power of conversations
  • Why customer advocacy is so important
  • Creating something of value for customers, in order to earn their attention and business

But the interesting thing is, I wasn’t hearing all this smartitude at a social media conference.  In fact, I barely heard the term ‘social media’ uttered all day long by any of the presenters or attendees.  I had been invited by the Brains on Fire gang to live-blog/tweet their F.I.R.E. Sessions last Weds. (Disc – BOF paid for my travel to the event)  You can read my blog posts recapping the #firesessions over at their blog.

I’m lucky enough to be asked to speak at industry events on a fairly regular basis.  The best ones seem to give you an overview of what’s cutting edge right NOW, with a glimpse of what might be hot in 6-12 months.  But the #firesessions was the first event that really made me feel like I was seeing the future.  It’s wasn’t focused on smart social media tactics.  It was focused on smart communication tactics.  It was focused on a marketing world somewhere in the future when interacting directly with customers and having real conversations with them aren’t scary (or as scary) propositions.

One of my favorite quotes from the #firesessions was ““Victory in marketing doesn’t happen when you sell something, but when you cultivate advocates for your brand”. I loved the quote, but also loved WHO was saying it, Steve Knox, who is the CEO of P&G’s Word of Mouth unit, Tremor.  Folks, it’s one thing for marketing/social media consultants to talk about the importance of empowering and embracing your most passionate customers, but when one of the world’s biggest companies is singing from the same hymnal, then you’ve got something.

And that’s what I loved about #firesessions.  The speakers, the BOF gang, all approached the attendees as if they were smart.  We all knew the basics, we know that marketing has changed, we know that social media is big, we know that listening to the customer is paramount.  The theme seemed to be ‘How can we take the stuff we already know, and take it to the next level to create something meaningful?’  And perhaps more importantly, what IS that next level?

The way to think big in this world is to create experiences without expecting anything in return, and customers will follow” – Max Lenderman

The bottom line is that this event left me energized and excited.  You can’t ask for much more than that.  If you are lucky enough to be invited to next year’s #firesessions, please make every effort to be there.

In closing, I want to point out how amazing the BoF gang was.  Everyone; Robbin, Geno, Eric, Elizabeth and everyone else made me feel like part of their family, as they did for everyone there.  Getting to attend the #firesessions confirmed everything about these people that I had suspected from reading their blog and interacting with them.  They are brilliant people doing brilliant work for clients that love them.  We should ALL be so lucky.

Robbin Phillips August 4, 2010 at 8:47 am

Mack, this kind of reaction is what makes the FIRE session day my favorite day of the year. Well, I do like Christmas and my birthday week. Seriously glad you came. I look forward to seeing you soon!

Mack Collier August 4, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thank you Robbin! It was an absolute joy to meet you and everyone at Brains on Fire. I really feel like I now have a whole new group of friends! Hope to see you next month in Dallas!

Jami Mullikin August 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

You did a great job with your recaps and must have some uncanny ability to absorb and take notes at the same time, as you hit most of the key points that I remember.

Another great aspect of what BOF did with #firesessions is bring a varied mix of attendees that all brought different knowledge to the room. The speakers were great butt he side conversations were great too.

My overall takeaway is that a strategic level core marketing principals are at play more than ever: distinction and relevance for your product or service. But technology and tactics are changing faster than ever and we have to be open to experimentation and in constant conversation with our customers to maintain distinction and relevance. After sleeping on a few nights, my primary takeway is this:

Let smart people start small, succeed slow and fail fast. Learn from it. Repeat.

Mack Collier August 4, 2010 at 10:40 am

Jami that is a great takeaway! Here is the question I would have: How can companies cultivate a culture that encourages and is open to this type of experimentation? I think we all know that not every company wants to have more contact with their customers, in fact many are scared to death of ANYTHING resembling an open conversation.

How do we remove those fears?

Lisa Petrilli August 4, 2010 at 11:24 am


I really believe it’s going to involve educating the C-Suite on two imperatives: (1) the value of having that conversation with their customers (complete with case studies and numbers) and (2) how to properly respond to negative conversations in order to make lemonade out of lemons.

I think that most members of today’s C-Suites grew up without needing to have these conversations and, though there are a few C-level execs who are exceptions at the leading edge and who find this new era exciting (and who are a joy to talk to because they are so open to learning and understanding), many comfort each other with assurances that open conversations and social media advances are “hype” and will soon pass. I hear directly from some that they think the focus is “unnecessary” and a waste of time…

I also think there’s a root fear within some leaders that something negative will come to the surface and their companies won’t know how to deal with it – which will reflect most negatively upon the leadership, right? :) So, they think that by keeping the walls up they can prevent this from happening.

I’m thinking there’s a huge new opportunity for people who can genuinely communicate with members of corporate C-Suites and help educate them in these two important areas. I’m even finding some of what Kathy Sierra said years ago (which we both know you turned me on to!) to be startlingly relevant to your question…

Her post on conversational writing, which I found while working on my own post which publishes tomorrow, ends with this brilliant line…”If your brain had a bumper sticker, it would say: I heart conversation.”



Mack Collier August 4, 2010 at 11:43 am

Oh Lisa you are invoking Kathy Sierra, you know that will get you brownie points with me 😉

I think you are right, I think in general, most of the C-Suite gets nervous about directly interacting with their customers in public because they have never HAD to do this. And unfortunately, the first and only time they may need to do this, is in a crisis situation. Which I think also ties into your point about their fear of negative comments.

In June when I was helping Dell with #DellCAP, on the 1st day when they brought in 15 ‘detractors’, or people who had complained about Dell online, these guys spend the morning basically ripping into Dell. I know the folks from Dell had to be winching, but it was obvious that the group wanted to ‘get it off their chest’. After they did so, their tone seemed to change from airing their complaints, to helping Dell FIX the problems that they saw. In fact, several of the attendees said that they WANT to see Dell succeed and they WANT to evangelize the company to others.

But again, we can talk all we want about how negative comments/feedback isn’t the death note that many companies think it is, but until these same companies experience this for themselves, it’s still a tough sell.

Awesome comment, Lisa!

Angela Beasley August 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

Mack, I love your blog, its topics and your attitude.

I also like what you pointed out in this post, “It was focused on a marketing world somewhere in the future when interacting directly with customers and having real conversations with them aren’t scary (or as scary) propositions.”

And when you mentioned that there was actually hardly any mention of social media during the FIRE session. One thing I always emphasis to business owners is the need for communication in the form of real, verbal communication with both existing and potential clients or customers.

I ran a small business from home two years ago in a very competitive field and was able to outsell my competitors who had storefronts and were in business for years because I treated my clients like human beings and communicated with them.

I am currently handling PR for a non-profit organization and have nearly doubled our memberships in just one month because I added a phone number to our website that I actually answer. Our website is full of useful information, FAQ’s, and multi-media. However, people still want to feel appreciated by people they do business with and a lot of that can be accomplished through direct communication.

Yes the social media and highly optimized websites do bring them to the water, but what if they have questions before they take a drink?

Mack Collier August 4, 2010 at 10:42 am

Hey Angela 😉 Great point about being human and being respectful of the time of your customers. Simply picking up the phone when it rings goes a LONG way.

Lisa Petrilli August 4, 2010 at 11:37 am


One other thing… :)

The quote that you highlighted by Max Lenderman at the end, “The way to think big in this world is to create experiences without expecting anything in return, and customers will follow” – puts an exclamation point on the entire event – which I think you were getting at by placing it there in your post.

Not only is Brains on Fire setting itself apart from other agencies by igniting movements, but they’ve ignited their own movement of Brains on Fire evangelists by creating an experience that no one else can replicate.

When a colleague asked me about #FIREsessions I told him that BoF had created a truly memorable experience for their clients, friends and fans, the people who truly love them back, which makes it evidently clear that they live and breathe what they preach. We were warmly welcomed, treated like royalty and exposed to brilliant and provocative thinking.

If each company could do something like this for their customers…well, that’s where we start dreaming and saying, “Someday”… 😉


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