The Marketer’s Unorthodox Summer Reading List

As summer rolls around and we collectively look longingly at our patios, replete with the chaise nestled perfectly beneath the umbrella, it becomes quickly evident that the only things missing from this backyard paradise are a refreshing cocktail and a good page-turner. Frequently, for marketers, that means a book about marketing, advertising or branding. It has been my experience, however, that the books most influential to the way I view marketing weren’t written by, or for, marketers, nor were they written about marketing, per se. They do, however, offer critical universal insights into the human condition from which every marketer can benefit. More importantly, they don’t simply teach us new skills or facts, they affect the way we think.

 

1. Zero to One (Notes on startups and how to build the future), Peter Thiel - Few characters out of Silicon Valley are as reviled and revered as Peter Thiel. One of the founders and former CEO of PayPal, and currently founder of Mithril Capital and CEO of data analytics firm, Palantir, Thiel is best known for spouting radical notions of the coming technology “singularity” and suggesting to collegiate entrepreneurs that they would be best served by quitting school and using their tuition funds as seed capital. He’s also, of late, been advising President Trump on technology issues.

In Zero to One, however, we find Thiel at the top of his game, creating a blueprint for how any startup should approach building a business that enjoys a relative monopoly in the marketplace. The funny thing, is that if you imagine the word “company” replaced with the word “brand” in most of Thiel’s arguments, what you’ll discover is one of the greatest expositions of how to construct a truly differentiated and highly competitive brand.

 

2. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny, William Strauss and Neil Howe - We have blogged a number of times about how to approach marketing to Millennials. Foundational to that advice is an understanding of the social and cultural factors that shaped the thinking and behaviors of that generation. And as we watch the first members of Generation Z coming of age, we will surely require new marketing approaches and strategies once again.

What Strauss and Howe offer in The Fourth Turning is not simply a history of how generations developed differing attitudes and associations with the culture surrounding them, but a fascinating framework for predicting what may be coming next. Based on the idea that history can be viewed in terms of repeating saeculum, 80-year cycles of four generations each, and a theory of how generational psychographic archetypes can shape our culture and history.

Will it provide a clear roadmap for marketing to Millennials and Gen Z? Not really. But it can give marketers valuable perspective to draw from when trying to divine how impending generational shifts might require commensurate shifts in brand positioning, product mix and general operations.

 

3. Daemon and Freedom (two books), Daniel Suarez - Good news! These are novels. Really entertaining novels at that. And really only one novel that was split into two volumes by the publisher for reasons unbeknownst to me. Without divulging even the smallest of spoilers, what Suarez can offer marketers is not a typical science fiction fantasy, but a prediction of where technology might lead in the next five to ten years, wrapped in a compelling narrative.

Artificial intelligence, automation, genetic engineering, commercial agriculture, 3D printing/additive manufacturing, augmented reality and maker culture all make an appearance and get mashed into a singular vision for what’s next in the cultural and media landscape of the not-too-distant future.

 

4. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull - Few authors in any field have the creative credentials of Ed Catmull. A pioneer of computer animation, to be sure, but also one of the great storytellers, or at least leader of great storytellers, of our time. It’s really a book about how to build and nurture a creative culture and, more importantly, how to evaluate and promote great ideas while systematically evaluating and discarding mediocre ideas. A few examples of Catmull’s rules of engagement include:

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
  • If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
  • The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

It’s a great reference for any marketer charged with elevating their team’s level of creative output. And, in the end, aren’t we all?

One of the mantras written in 12-inch tall letters on the walls of the Magnani office reads, “A great idea can come from anywhere.” And as these books prove, that applies even more so to ideas about improving the connections we make with customers.

 


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