Category Archives: Book Reviews

Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys To Creativity

Ignore Everybody CoverI first heard about Hugh MacLeod from Seth Godin. Seth wrote a story about an advertising executive who prolifically doodled original artwork onto the backs of his business cards (while commuting by train) and gave them away to people he met. The cards became a “calling card” for him – he got noticed. Today his website (Gaping Void) gets over 2 million unique visitors. Cost? His creative time.

Hugh’s book is a little bit of card gallery, and a bit of personal insights about his search for (business) creativity. He graciously posted the first 30% of the book on his website to see the content for yourself.

The key point of the book is that you should do something that’s important to you creatively not because you’ll make money, not because you’ll become famous, but because it’s who you authentically are. If you’re thinking of starting a business that leverages your creativity (art, writing, advertising, computer programming, etc.) don’t quit your day job. Having the security of income (what he calls “Cash”) allows you to play with creativity (“Sex”).

Everybody is creative – but not everybody has given themselves the opportunity to rekindle their creative spark. Start today. Stop complaining and try something. Don’t focus on the outcome – revel in the process. And someday, sometime, somehow maybe that spark will ignite your life.

Bonus: Hugh also created poster version of the key points of the book:

Orbiting  Everybody CoverAside:  Another wonderful (and definitely recommended) book on business and creativity is: Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (Gordon MacKenzie).

Where Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From CoverSteven Johnson examines a wide number of inventions that have arisen over a large period of time and attempts to determine (where possible) how exactly did the invention arise. His findings show that good ideas seldom arose from the workbench of a solitary thinker/inventor but more likely from a person who actively networks with a wide variety of peers.

In short, first: actively look to solve a problem. You need to understand the domain of the problem, and attempt the simple solutions first.

Next, give your brain time to ruminate on the problem. During this phase, your brain is trying to match the problem to similar things that isn’t immediately obvious. Ideally, record all your thinking (withholding judgment from your thoughts). In the thinking are often the seeds for your solution.

Then, make sure to immerse yourself with other interesting people. Share your problem with them to get their different perspectives and spur on new observations for your problem. Often, your problem has already been solved in some way in a different domain. By exposing yourself to diverse peers, you get more brains seeing your problem’s similarities.

The book ends with these wise words:

“…Go for a walk, cultivate hunches, write everything down, but keep your folder messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank.”

Bonus: Steven Johnson’s TED presentation:

Second bonus: Steven Johnson’s presentation as an animated movie:

Aside: This book is a great companion to the book The Power Of Pull (John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison).

Buying In

Buying In Book CoverSubtitled “The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy And Who We Are“, this book attempts to answer the branding question: Why should someone buy my product? People place a value on a product based on how owning it makes them feel/seem. It’s part status and part comfort. This book shows why this isn’t quite correct.

Branding has become a bigger piece of the marketing mix because products themselves are all uniformly good. Early product choices tend to suffer (from poor quality or inefficient production costs) and therefore early choices becomes picking the product that actually works (well). But as goods have evolved, most of the choices for existing product niches are basically equivalent. So companies tried to infuse their products with “meaning” to differentiate themselves. Why own a BMW, a Lexus, a Ferrari, or a Smart Car? They all can get you to where you’re going safely, comfortably, efficiently, and come in a range of colors. So companies have created images of the person who owns their product. Buying the product them is a way to be part of their “brand” community.

(Un)fortunately, people are not sheep. Just because a company projects an image doesn’t mean the community will embrace it. In fact, sometimes the wrong community (think “leading edge trendsetters”) embrace the product for their own purposes. Also, people now get their information from a wealth of choices. Before there were few TV channels and one local newspaper. Now, with hundreds of TV channels and the virtually limitless Internet how can a company use their branding to convince people to buy their product?

The explosion of media choice also has enabled a wealth of small communities to form (critical mass can now be achieved online quickly). These communities may rewrite the branding message to make it appeal to them. There is no longer a single easy demographic to market to – there’s now a more vocal range of smaller communities, all of who may like a product for different reasons.

Murketing is the term that the author has created to describe new way of spreading the message: inserting their branding message in non-obvious ways (instead of a commercial, think product placements or corporate sponsorships of niche events) and giving people a reason to talk about the brand (“word of mouth”). It’s not that people are immune to advertising, it’s just that people don’t want to be sold to – they want to share a common experience. Whether that be outrageous stunts that Red Bull underwrites or enrolling the average person to become a BzzAgent (to become not just a consumer, but a leading edge tester) – it’s trying to get the product message to spread.

The book touches upon many topics and companies from bigger/established companies (Pabst Brewing Company, Apple, Scion, Proctor & Gamble, and Nike) to smaller/newer companies (Etsy, American Apparel, Barking Irons, and The Hundreds). It analyzes why the average consumer really doesn’t care about the “green movement” marketing message (people aren’t looking for ethical products – they are looking for products that appeal to their self-interest).

The book concludes with our internal “secret” dialogue:  “Surround yourself only with who you are.” It’s not so much about broadcasting who we are – it’s rather ensuring that we’re in a world that feels comfortable to us.

Start-Up Nation

Start-Up Nation Book Cover“The Story Of Israel’s Economic Miracle” can also become the story of how to launch/wildly succeed your own business. Dan Senor & Saul Singer answer the question, “How does a country of 7.1 million – surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, and with no natural resources – produce more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?”

The authors have identified a number of key characteristics that can be translated to any business in any country:

Individual Generalists. Contrary to popular thinking, you want to endow your team with a variety of skills that allows them to understand and solve other areas of expertise. You want the brightest experts in a field working for you, but to make them even more valuable, they should be able to see how to solve other challenges in your company. Think about an artist who can fix your IT network, or a programmer who’s a marketing whiz.

Challenging The Status Quo. Israeli culture isn’t interested in preserving the status quo. They are constantly on vigil for new challenges to their country since their competition is evolving. Instead of being content following “best practices”, regularly question actions and results. This means that rigid hierarchical business models are flattened – anyone can question anyone else’s action, and everyone is responsible to sharing how and why they did what they did. By learning what’s working in a changing world, everyone in the culture wins, and everyone outside of the culture is never truly sure the response to their actions.

Empower People Early. In the Israeli military, after a short basic training, new soldiers are giving challenging missions and are expected to succeed. They quickly form teams, quickly analyze the problem, quickly given resources, and their results are measured (from all perspectives). Most businesses would never consider giving a new hire lots of responsibility (and a big chance to fail). But by empowering, you’re building strong teams quickly and truly valuing each team member’s ability to contribute.

Risk Is Good. Most larger companies are risk-averse. They’re looking to maintain their market share. But true growth can only come from taking wise chances. Be bold, study the competition well, and try. Afterwards, learn from the action and make sure everyone in your culture benefits.

Thanks to Michael Goodman for this book recommendation.

How We Decide

Buy How We DecideI’ve always known that a marketing message should “connect” with your prospective customer’s emotions. The traditional explanation has been that emotions truly rule the decision making process. This book explains why this mantra isn’t quite right.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter chemical in our brain, controls not only the “pleasure center” but all of our emotions. Dopamine neurons send and receive these chemicals based on different inputs. For example, prediction neurons produce dopamine when they anticipates a pleasure (think of Pavlov). Our brains continually are fine tuning our receptors based on real-world trial-and-error.

Our emotional brain is a stew of these dopamine receptors. Think about seeing someone you love. Do you tingle? It’s dopamine coursing through your body. Now think about an almost car-crash you were in. Does your breath get shallow? It’s dopamine again.

We assign emotions to certain physical responses: love, fear, hate, etc. Not everyone defines the responses the same way, but we all know how these emotions make us feel. When it comes time to make a decision, we weigh the emotional brain’s answer (“a hunch”) with the rational brain’s (“calculated results”).

While we can explain how our rational brain answer arose (“…based on a class I took last year, the answer is obviously …”) we have an almost impossible time explaining our emotional brain. The emotional brain, it turns out, is wired to our unconscious. And our unconscious has been programmed by our lifetime of dopamine receptor programming. Our unconscious is processing information that our rational brain doesn’t perceive.

So what does this all mean to your marketing? It means that while we’re trying to evoke certain emotional responses, we need to talk directly to the emotional brain (and bypass the rational brain). A careful reader will read your marketing copy, think about the words, and in thinking, may trigger the emotional brain’s response. A graph showing improved results likewise requires the rational brain to interpret the message. What we need to do is appeal to another set of neurons in our brain: mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons are what make us feel empathy. When we see someone smiling, we feel happier because our mirror neurons are giving us the same physical response as if we were smiling. It’s true for all of the emotions that people express around us. (Aside: It turns out that one of the causes for autism are non-functioning mirror neurons. People can see other’s physical responses to emotion, but their mirror neurons aren’t causing the feeling within their own bodies.). Therefore, to evoke an emotional response, we need to trigger the mirror neurons. And the best way to do this is with images and sound. An image of someone happy makes us feel happier. We know that a great movie plays with our emotions (mostly controlled by our ears).

The goal for any marketing message is to arrive unfiltered to your prospect. Not only past the spam filters, but the emotional filters as well. Pick your images and sounds well, and you’ll likely trigger the mirror receptors to evoke the emotion. As a prospect, it means that when it comes time to make a decision, you need to understand the kind of decision you’re being faced with and the type of thought you need to solve it. You need to think about how you think.

Ogilvy on Advertising

Buy Ogilvy on Advertising“Pretend you started work this morning in my agency, and that you have dropped by my office to ask for advice. I will start with some generalities about how to go about your work. In later chapters I will give you more specific advice on producing advertisements for magazines, newspapers, television and radio. I ask you to forgive me for oversimplifying some complicated subjects, and for the dogmatism of my style – the dogmatism of brevity. We are both in a hurry.”

So begins David Ogilvy (the creative head of Ogilvy & Mather) in his classic book, describing in plain language what it takes to create great advertising and lead an organization. He also includes lots of advertisements that work – with a description of why they were effective.

In chapter 2, he provides the following key advertising points:

  • It doesn’t always work. The wrong advertising can reduce the sales of products.
  • Do your homework. Read everything you can about your client’s product with an eye toward what promise would most likely make someone buy their brand.
  • Position your product. Make it clear who the product is for and what it does.
  • Brand image, which is comprised of name, packaging, price, style of advertising, and the nature of the product.
  • The big idea. Big ideas make products stand out and be remembered and are truly rare. Nowadays people hope that outrageousness will suffice for “big idea” (think Superbowl advertisement). Instead, here are 5 questions to ask:
    • Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
    • Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
    • Is it unique?
    • Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
    • Could it be used for 30 years?
  • Make the product the hero. You want the advertising copy to clearly solve the audience’s problem (“save the day”).
  • The positively good. You don’t have position your product as superior to your competition. If the consumer feels certain yours is good and uncertain your competitors is, they will often buy yours to be safe.
  • Repeat your winners. Just because you’re tired of an advertisement, doesn’t mean your audience is. Make your choices based on data, not feelings.
  • Learn from direct response. Since direct response writers focus on what works in writing copy, do what they do (unless you have a proven solution that’s better): longer commercials, broadcast late at night, and use long copy. The best advertisements sell the most.
  • The cult of creativity. If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative. Don’t strive for originality at the expense of what works.

In chapter 7 he gives details of what works in print advertising:

  • Start with a great headline. Include the brand name. Ten or fewer words. Make it contain news (something new about the product). Make it specific (more memorable). Put it in “quotes” to increase recall by 28 percent. If you advertise locally, put the name of the city in the headline. Make it obvious – don’t use double meanings to be clever.
  • Photographs produce better results than illustrations (but photographs don’t always reproduce well). Make the image arouse the reader’s curiosity. Show the end result of using the product. The most common effective imagery? Cute babies, cute animals, and sex appeal. The gender of the person in the ad should be the same as the target market (people want to identify with the image). His two favorite layouts: a large photograph (3/4 of the ad) with a brief headline and up to 240 words of copy and a narrow photograph (1/4 of the ad) with a longer headline (up to 20 words), a subheading, and 600 words of copy.

If you’re looking for ideas for your own advertising or marketing, have a copy of this book at-hand to inspire you.

Influence: Science and Practice

Buy Influence: Science and PracticeRobert Cialdini’s book is all about “click, whirr” – how we’re programmed as humans, how marketing can leverage the programming, and how as individuals we can overcome the programming. The six major influence techniques that he explains are:

1. Reciprocation: We feel indebted to people who gives us something of value. For example, when someone gives us a sample of a product to taste, we often feel that we need to stop and converse with the attendant. Salespeople know that giving something of small value can trigger higher value purchases to alleviate the imbalance (“I owe you”). A sophisticated version of this is to make a large request of a prospective buyer, with the intention of having the request be rejected. The real goal is the second “fall-back” request, which seems reasonable in contrast.

2. Commitment and Consistency: Once we make a decision (or promise), our subsequent actions maintain the sense of commitment. We don’t want to appear to be wishy-washy. We also don’t want to have to rethink the decision each time – better to be consistently wrong than overwhelmed with research. Salespeople’s goal is to get you to commit to a belief, then create arguments why you should then purchase from them based on your belief system. This psychological one-two punch is used in everything from testimonials (by going on the record, you have a vested interest in being consistent) to hazing rituals.

3. Social Proof: As social beings, we 0ften feel that the more people that like (or do) something, the better it is (whether this be a fad or canned laughter). We tend to trust the pack mentality because we’re busy (if others pre-chose, then we don’t have to think — it must be good) and we’re trusting (other people that are smarter, better-looking, etc. chose it so we’re better off being part of the “in” group than not).

4. Liking: We all want to be liked, so when a salesperson likes you (even if you know they’re just saying it), some part of us feels good. If the salesperson is well-dressed, well-groomed, and similar to us (in mannerisms) we want to believe them (all things being equal) and want to be liked by them.

5. Authority: We’re not just social beings, but we’re naturally hierarchical. We’re used to following an authority figure (who a group of people have endowed with special trustworthy qualities). A person who looks like they’re in authority (by dress, mannerisms, professional title, social standing, etc.) we naturally follow the advice of (even if they are advising something they’re not the authorities of).

6. Scarcity: This is tied to social proof – if there’s not a lot of something (whether real or imagined), then it’s perceived value is higher (we have a fear of missing out on the opportunity). This is also true in the converse – if you ban something, you increase its desirability.

The Anatomy of Buzz (Revisited)

Buy Anatomy Of Buzz Revisited

Everyone is looking for buzz – people talking about their offering. We all know that word of mouth marketing is the strongest form of marketing: it’s free, it spreads, and it’s personal. But how can you get your message to be spread virally?

Emanuel Rosen has been studying buzz for over 10 years (the accidental, the intentional, and the incorrect) and has amassed a lot of rules/tips to help you increase your “buzz factor”.

Today, the common advice you’re given is: go on a social media site (such as Facebook or Twitter), befriend a lot of people, join their conversation, and tell your story. The hope is that by sheer numbers, your story/message will go viral. The problem is, that advice only works if: your message is viral-friendly and if you have the right audience.

Is your message viral-friendly? People tend to talk about exciting products, innovations, personal experiences/interactions, complex products (that take an expert to understand), expensive products (to validate the price/value ratio), and visible products (things that they see in their environment). We are programmed to talk with each other, and we’re always looking to connect our lives with others’. A viral-friendly message is something that would naturally occur in our day-to-day interactions and whose purpose is to establish a positive social connection.

Do you have the right audience? The right audience may not be who you think they are. The the essence of any marketing strategy: identifying your target market to ensure you solve the problem they’re facing. Most people, after identifying their target market, try to target it with buzz directly. The problem is, not everyone that’s reachable is listening to you (an unknown or someone with a vested interest in the message). Instead of trying to try to target everyone – target the influencers. In the past, the influencers were editors/writers of newspapers and magazines. While these people are still influencers, there are now a large number of other people (“network hubs”) that are listening for something new/interesting to share with “their people”. It may be their Twitter followers, their blog readers, the eNewsletter subscribers, or their social group.

All network hubs share the following qualities: Ahead in adoption, Connected, Travelers, Information-hungry, Vocal, and Exposed to the media more than others (ACTIVE is the acronym). The book focuses on how to find such hubs:

  1. Letting network hubs identify themselves
  2. Identifying categories of network hubs
  3. Spotting network hubs in the field
  4. Identifying network hubs through surveys

Once you’ve identified the hubs, you need to give them something worth talking about and encouragement to share the message with others. And by all means, make sure that what they’re talking about is something of true value (otherwise, your buzz will turn negative on you).

If you’re interested in more information about buzz, you may also want to check out WOMMA.


Buy Buy•ology

Marketing is not yet a science, which means that there’s no guarantee that “if you take this action, you’ll get this result”. You may have a lot of anecdotal knowledge and strong hunches on what will get results. However, if you don’t understand how people react to your message, you are likely to be guessing.

The new field of neuromarketing is attempting to understand how people react to marketing messages. While you can segment your lists and split test, you are spending time (and money) trying to tease out what action produces what reaction.

Buy•ology is similar to Predictably Irrational, which attempts to unravel why people react the way they do to marketing message. However, Buy•ology’s premise is by studying the brain (fMRI and EEG) you can understand how a message gets processed (and by extrapolation, what reaction it’s likely to cause).

While the book doesn’t contain any keys for adjusting your own marketing, it does contain a number of fascinating stories about what works (and doesn’t):

  • Graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking actually increases the desire to smoke.
  • How product placements that are seamlessly integrated into a show work magnificently.
  • How “mirror neurons” cause us to unconsciously want to mimic people around us
  • How subliminal messaging can be used to shift our emotional state
  • How somatic markers trigger our irrational choices for products
  • Why sexual imagery doesn’t always sell
  • What religion can teach us about improving branding (feelings of belonging, clear vision, an enemy, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, symbolism, and mystery)

Marketing Secrets Of A Mail Order Maverick

Buy Marketing Secrets Of A Mail Order Maverick

This is my third review of a Joseph Sugarman book (previous reviewed: Triggers: 30 Sales Tools You Can Use To Control The Mind… and Television Secrets for Marketing Success). Simply put: the author has a wealth of experience that he shares freely. He paid attention to the details of what works, and explains his methodologies. While the book describes the basics of mail order, the principles are very similar to online businesses. Here are my favorite points from the book:

The Role Of Typography and Layout describes the results of a research scientist who studied the effect of typography had on a reader. While I’m curious if the same studies translate to web sites, the researcher’s conclusions were:

  • Use serif type for copy (common serif type includes: Georgia, Times New Roman, Times). Serif type is 5x more effective.
  • Always use a black headline. Solid black headlines are 5x more powerful than headlines using a very bright color.
  • Right and left justify your lines of type. A totally justified column of type is 2x as effective as a column with left-justified and 7x more effective than right-justified.
  • Use serif type for long headlines and sans serif type for short headlines (examples of sans serif: Arial, Verdana, Geneva, Helvetica).
  • Use a roman typeface over italic. Pure roman typeface has a slight edge over italics.
  • Use a standard layout. Readers scan (in English) left to right, and top to bottom which is 2x more effective than making the reader’s eye jump around.

He shares Gary Halbert’s experience on mailing list effectiveness:

  • A mailing list from a phone book (poor response)
  • A phone book mailing list from a high-income area (better)
  • Target just professionals (of a certain type) from a high-income area. (still better)
  • Buy a list of buyers who are wealthy. who bought a similar type of product, purchased several times, paid big money each time, recently purchased and the same list has worked well for other companies (“a strong track record”). (almost best)
  • Your own customer list. (best)

He notes that during an economic recession people stay at home. They make fewer trips (saving gas) and more targeted trips (saving money). However, since they’re at home more, this translates into more time to read catalogs and browse online. Use the opportunity to bring the shopping to them.

If you buy ad space in media, he suggests these money-saving tricks:

  • Form your own ad agency. Ad agencies typically get a 15% discount from publishers. You’ll need an insertion order (make sure to add a special notice: The word ADVERTISEMENT is not to appear on this or any other of our advertisements in your publication. If this request is not adhered to, it is understood that the undersigned will refuse payment of this order and will not be under any obligation to pay for this advertisement).
  • Contact a space broker. A broker can save you from 25-50% off of the rate card price, and you can still apply your agency discount on top of it.
  • Last-minute closing opportunities. Sometimes your broker may have an opportunity for a quick-turnaround. Having ads ready-to-go can save you a lot of money.