Whatever your habitual thoughts are like will determine the character of your mind. Your soul will take on the particular color of your thoughts.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations).
Dear CMO:
Reading the right stuff, and doing it often, will straighten you out and make you a better marketer. What Marcus Aurelius says, above, is that good ideas will rub off on you. So will bad ideas, gossip and cynicism, so pick your associates wisely. However, we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about your reading list. Every year or so a book comes along in the general business press that is worth reading. It’s rare that two come out in one year. Most marketing books are not worth reading. These are, so let’s get started.Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram CharanThe manager’s job is to handle people, strategy and money. Execution is about getting the most out of all three, instilling a culture that values implementation over pontification, and keeping your hand in the business in such a ways as to manage without micromanaging. Give this book to everyone on your team and everyone on your senior staff. Talk about it, use the vocabulary, and put concrete plans in place to enact what you all communally learn.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Why don’t they teach this at the graduate school level? I don’t know. They really should. So much marketing school time is taken up with strategy that no one knows how to actually do anything. We learn on the job. This is a book that teaches you very clearly how to write copy, how to structure an incentive program, how to motivate your channel – how to influence. Brilliant book. Give this to the marketing department and your colleagues in sales. Make your team memorize the basic laws of influence and visibly apply them in everything they do. It works.

Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping by Paco Underhill
How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman

Why read Underhill? Great story from behind the glass. While finishing up a focus group one day the guy doing the filming told us a story about a group of sunglasses people from the previous week. Participants rationally explained that they bought sunglasses for eye protection. The brand managers nodded and left. In closing, the participants were offered either $50 or a pair of Revo’s for their time. For the next thirty minutes, these rational, fact-driven consumers preened in front of the mirror, with the camera man filming away the whole time six inches from their faces. And the brand guys? Long gone. People will say what they say, but watch what they do if you want to know the truth. Paco Underhill and anthropological marketing. True story, too.

Why read Zaltman? Why do I like fast cars? If you ask me, I’ll tell you that as a purely rational man, I read the automotive press, can speak intelligently about my Quad Four engine and my Northstar System, and always make highly intelligent buying decisions. The reality is that forty years ago, I was standing in front of the Dart Drug in the Northwest corner of Washington, DC, and I was holding my father’s hand at the curb in the parking lot. As I began to walk to our car – a light green Chevy Corvair — he pulled me back. Flying past us was a red convertible driven by guy in sunglasses with a big smile, and next to him was a beautiful, laughing girl. My father looked at me and said, “son, do you know who that was? That was Sonny Jurgenson, the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.” He said it with respect, and my father wasn’t a guy who looked up to anybody. That’s why I like fast cars. People will tell you anything, but what goes on deep in the subconscious is where the real truth lies, and often it can only be reached by deep metaphor elicitation. Read Zaltman.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C. K. Prahalad

Who knew there were another four and a half billion people out there? Amazing but true. There are very few companies who address anything other than the ‘affluent’ market and yet, as Prahalad points out, the combined buying power of the disenfranchised of the world – those who literally live in poverty – is equal to the purchasing power of France and Germany combined. And often, they buy at a premium price over their ‘affluent’ neighbors. Incredible. The product, the business model and the channel often need to be adjusted to address their needs, but they are there. Very interesting read.

Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins

Not your average “business book” and not a business read throughout, but a very good lesson is imparted in this excellent unit history of the Tenth Legion. How Julius Caesar raises this legion in Spain and turns it into a highly effective group of soldiers whose job is to kill their enemies within arm’s reach holds a lesson true for assembling any winning team. Confidence building, intensive training, live fire exercises, winnable wars, public acknowledgement and a gradual build-up to bigger challenges.

On Guerrilla Warfare by Zedong Mao

This was a textbook of Professor Ian MacMillan’s at Wharton. What a great course and what a great book. The concepts of defensible ground, where the enemy can’t reach you; the idea of going where your enemy doesn’t expect you and retreating before he can reach you; the concept of winning the hearts and minds of the people who become your eyes and ears – all extremely poignant reminders of how to win a market. Or a guerilla war, for that matter. Hard to find, but a great read.

The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters by Seneca

These are not business books. These are books to help you deal with business. They will allow you to accept what happens in a life of business without losing your cool, your mind, or your job. Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome and who never had a minute’s rest due to constant incursions of the barbarian hordes coming acros
s the Rhine, the Danube and elsewhere. He was the number one man of his day – head of state, leader of the armed forces, and still had time to be a published writer and philosopher. Seneca was a lawyer. We like him anyway.

Surround yourself with good ideas and smart people and avoid those things that are common, coarse, and bring you into ill repute. Read these books and keep them nearby. They will rub off on you.

Copyright (c) 2006 Stephen Denny