One of the joys of living in a place where the winters tend to be long and dark is the time it allows for reading. Make a fire in the fireplace, pour yourself a drink and open a good book.
I often do the bulk of my reading for the year between October and March because then it’s outside time (which isn’t to say you can’t read outside).
We live in a time when we’re surrounded by marketing. Everything and everyone seems to be vying for our attention.
If you work in marketing, the idea of reading a book about something you do all day and that surrounds you every waking moment might sound unappealing. Yet, there are still new things to be said and new things to learn about marketing.
As you head into 2024, here are six books to put on your reading list.
The first thing you’ll likely notice is they aren’t all actually about marketing. But marketing is an essential part of every business and every leader must be a marketer to be successful.
1. Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions
The central focus of Dr. Carmen Simon’s book is the creation of memorable presentations, which is an area where many people have just enough knowledge of PowerPoint and Google Slides to be dangerous.
The problem with many of the day-to-day presentations we see in sales and business, in general, is they try to function as both a presentation and a leave-behind. That leaves them packed with information and light on strong visuals and stories, and those are the exact elements that stick in our memories and promote recall.
As evidence that the techniques in the book work, I like to refer to how Simon uses them in the book itself.
Years after first reading “Impossible to Ignore,” I remember her anecdote about standing in line at a store when she was a child in Soviet-era Romania. Food was in short supply, so the workers had to limit the number of people in line. They decided to send home everyone behind the girl who stood out in a bright red coat, which was a young Simon. The combination of strong visuals and a powerful story burned that in my mind.
2. Running with Purpose: How Brooks Outpaced Goliath Competitors to Lead the Pack
Why would a memoir by the CEO of an athletic shoe company make the list? Because marketing, at its essence, is about identifying and creating markets for whatever you’re selling.
When Jim Weber took over as CEO of Brooks, the company was trying to be everything to everyone who wore sneakers. That’s a lot of people in a market with many big brand names.
Weber and team decided to drop a large portion of the market by leaving the “athleisure” business, which consists of the low(ish)-cost sneakers people wear around the house or when they’re doing chores. They decided instead to focus on serious runners.
This one also has a great marketing play involving luxurious portable toilets Brooks brought to major races. To gain entry, runners had to be wearing Brooks footwear.
There’s a lesson on market disruption, too. Remember the craze over five-finger running shoes? Yeah, that was fun.
3. Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect
Will Guidara has a unique resumé. Among his roles: restaurant owner, creative agency leader, conference host and the author of four cookbooks.
His specialty is hospitality. One of his guiding beliefs is that hospitality need not be limited to what we think of as the hospitality industry (i.e., restaurants, spas, hotels). Instead, businesses across industries can create experiences that delight customers and drive more business.
As Guidara rose to prominence in the restaurant business in New York City, his business became legendary for providing experiences like sledding in Central Park for a family that had never before experienced snow.
The moments of brilliance and generosity in the book could serve as a lesson for corporations across the business spectrum. Americans have relatively dim views of large corporations and financial institutions in general. They feel much better about small businesses, which are more nimble and structured in a way that makes personal touches possible.
Many marketers will tell you their brand is more than a logo or color palette, it evokes emotions and, most importantly, trust. In “Unreasonable Hospitality,” you get a view of what this truly looks like in practice.
4. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
We can’t remember every detail of every experience. If you’ve ever watched a courtroom drama, you’ve seen this play out.
“So what you’re saying is, you’re not sure if the suspect had a beard or not when you saw him on that misty, moonless night?”
We remember the peaks of our experiences most of all. Sometimes, we remember the valleys of our experiences. Everything else gets labeled as “just not important enough to remember” by our memory.
In “The Power of Moments,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath help readers understand how our minds process and classify experiences. Once you understand how this all works subconsciously, it’s much easier to be deliberate in creating moments that matter for our audiences.
As a blueprint, the book looks at events that weren’t necessarily designed to be memorable, such as a “Signing Day” ceremony for graduating high school seniors where they announced which college they were attending. It then deconstructs the events to see what exactly made them memorable.
5. Humanizing B2B: The new truth in marketing that will transform your brand and your sales
Download a whitepaper. Get calls from sales reps. Receive email after email.
For years, the B2B marketing playbook was pretty boring – even a bit annoying. It’s improved to some extent but still has a long way to go. You probably know the feeling if you have friends who work in B2C marketing.
“Oh, you’re doing a Super Bowl ad? That must be exhausting for you…”
What if it didn’t have to be this way? (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.)
Instead of being the boring part of marketing, Paul Cash and James Trezona say, B2B should appeal to the emotions of people trying to transform organizations and create change.
They draw heavily on research from The B2B Institute at LinkedIn to make the case that B2B buyers rely on emotions just as much as their B2C counterparts.
That makes a great deal of sense, when you think about it. Because they aren’t actually counterparts. They are the same people, and they don’t take off their B2B hat and put on a B2C hat when they finish their workday.
6. Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It
Part of what I enjoy about April Dunford’s story is that, like me, she never set out to be a marketer. As someone without a formal marketing education, she asked a lot of questions. The answers left her unsatisfied.
“Trust me, it works.”
“Because we’ve always done it that way.”
The result is “Obviously Awesome,” a book that re-thinks product marketing from an outsider’s perspective.
The most difficult part for people trying to turn their product into a story that resonates with customers is where to start. Do you craft a story that starts with your features? Or do you focus first on the customers’ needs? What about differentiation?
You’ll have to read the book to find out.
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