The Dragonfly Effect: A Must-Read if You’re Selling Good


Photo by Krikit

Social marketing, behavior change communication, public service advertising, cause marketing—whatever the preferred terminology in your field, The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith is an essential read. As an avid reader and long-time practitioner of ‘selling good,’ I didn’t expect to think so.

Subtitle Allergy

It was the book’s subtitle that put me off: “Quick, Effective Ways to use Social Media to Drive Social Change.” If, in contrast to selling bads like tobacco, or just plain selling, you too are selling good—promoting a change that benefits the people who are adopting the behaviors or society as a whole, rather than the organization doing the marketing—you’ve learned there is no such thing as quick and sustainably effective. And really, I asked myself, do we need yet one more book about social media?


Though I understand the current marketing value of that subtitle, after reading it I’d offer some more descriptive alternatives:

* Four Keys to Effectively Promoting Social Good
* How to Engage Others for Social Change
* Stories of Change

The Dragonfly Model

You’ll note the term social media doesn’t appear anywhere. Twenty years from now, when who knows what we will be using to connect with each other, our brains and human nature will not have changed as dramatically. Although the authors’ examples each used social media in some way to communicate, the four research-based principles in The Dragonfly Effect struck me as classic integrated behavior change communication principles, which are independent of communication channel. Named for the only insect able to move in any direction when its four wings are working in concert, the book describes the four principles of Focus + GET as the Dragonfly Model:

The Dragonfly Effect relies on four distinct wings; when working together, they achieve remarkable results.

Focus. Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.
Grab attention. Make someone look. Cut through the noise of social media with something personal, unexpected, visceral, and visual.
Engage. Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering the audience to care enough to want to do something themselves.
Take Action. Enable and empower others to take action. To make action easy, you must prototype, deploy, and continuously tweak tools, templates, and programs designed to move audience members from being customers to becoming team members—in other words, furthering the cause and the change themselves.

Sound Counsel

There’s nothing here a seasoned communicator can argue with. And there’s much that would avoid The Common Pitfalls of Social Marketing and Behavior Change. The book’s stories are detailed and inspiring examples that clearly illustrate the four principles. (It’s obvious that Jennifer Aaker is an educator. Rather than experience a superficial introduction, you actually learn from this book. The companion blog is also a growing resource.) By now many have shared favorable reviews. The wisdom of not judging a book by its cover has been confirmed; despite my initial reservations, The Dragonfly Effect rises to the top of my book list for 2010. Highly recommended.

The Dragonfly Effect – book blog
Stanford Social Innovation Review


  1. Andy Smith November 26, 2010 at 6:57 PM

    It’s an honor to be among your top books for 2010! Thank you. Both Jennifer and I get the greatest boost of energy when we hear from readers, particularly experts like you and Chris Brogan that it’s a worthwhile read.

    I love your image of a Subtitle Allergy, and sincerely appreciate the time you took to craft alternatives with better appeal. Finalizing the subtitle was one of the more challenging aspects of sending the book to press. Without excusing the slightly infomercial-ish language, the title The Dragonfly Effect is less descriptive than aspirational, but we loved it. The weight of “what’s this book about?” thus fell upon the subtitle’s shoulders. What we ended up with was a mixture of SEO-friendliness, familiar/formulaic and descriptive — but something less special than the title itself!

    With luck, and with the elevation the book gets from your readers, The Dragonfly Effect will continue to exceed the limitations of its subtitle, getting into the hands of even more people who will put it to work.

  2. Pat Heffernan November 28, 2010 at 10:23 PM

    Thank you, Andy, for the book and your comment. I’m looking forward to seeing a community build around this subject on your blog.

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