Not everyone reads books, or they only read e-books and digital publications – or listen to podcasts to keep them current on a topic. But books have their place, no matter the format, and we’re big fans of books that add to the conversation on brands and marketing. We won’t recommend classics, such as 1841’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” by Charles MacKay, almost anything by Seth Godin, Al Ries and Jack Trout, or the soon-to-be classics, such as “The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design” by Marty Neumeier. You can scour the best-sellers list as well as we can, so for this edition, we’re calling out books you might find on our office bookshelf, tattered and a bit grimy from use.
And even if B2B isn’t in the title, don’t worry. The concepts within each of these books are relevant right now for the B2B industry. Your job is to find exactly what’s applicable to your business or company.
1. “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller
You can use Miller’s book as a guide for good overall communication and clear messaging, which can be problematic for all of us at times. He builds the case that a well-defined, distinct message allows customers to understand what you—or your products and services—can do for them. It’s only then that they are willing to engage. Without a crisp message, your communication is just noise (noise for which you pay), which costs you potential sales and opportunities for customer engagement and loyalty.
According to Miller, most businesses haven’t clarified their message, so they make mistakes, such as failing to focus on what about their products or services helps people succeed. The result is clutter and confusion.
“Building a Storybrand” helps companies with the steps to take customers through their own journey to effectively explain what a company offers. Its premise is that all customers have a story and businesses need to understand those stories to create a connection. It goes deep on:
- the seven universal story points to which all humans respond, including a character, a problem, a guide or mentor (hello, Gandalf), a call to action and a plan. Most importantly, Miller includes a story point that’s key in B2B: Avoidance of failure. Read the book to learn more.
- how to simplify a brand message so people understand it.
- how to create effective messaging for websites, brochures and social media.
Takeaway Tidbit: “The customer is the hero, not your brand.” – Donald Miller
2. “The Customer of the Future: 10 Guiding Principles for Winning Tomorrow’s Business” by Blake Morgan
If your company or job revolves around customer experience, you may want to sleep with this book under your pillow. Morgan offers 10 guidelines that drive today’s top-notch customer experience, including customer-focused leadership, personalization and intentional zero-friction design (alluding to the emphasis on technology and digitalization in customer experience), and shows how tools can improve the customer journey. A bonus in the customer service arena is Morgan’s addition of analytics, ethics and data privacy. Although “The Customer of the Future” isn’t written specifically for B2B, show me a B2B company that doesn’t rely heavily on good customer experience to succeed.
Takeaway Tidbit: “The challenge is this– most companies are product-focused rather than customer-focused. This lack of a customer experience mindset is the reason customer experiences are varied and often fall short.” – Blake Morgan
3. “How Brands Grow” by Byron Sharp
It shouldn’t be a surprise to know many branding efforts rely on conventional wisdom (hello, 1986) and guesswork, much of it grounded in myths. Sharp’s book is different from other branding-centric books because it’s focused on debunking the myths on which marketers often rely.
We like it because it uses data to illuminate what works and what doesn’t in the world of both traditional and digital marketing. If you appreciate evidence-based insights, you’ll probably relate. Sharps shows how much of the expense and time spent on branding efforts many of us thought were effective may be better invested elsewhere.
Takeaway Tidbit: “If your goal is to grow a brand and get more business, increasing the size of the “knows your brand” bubble is the best use of your time and resources. Brands grow by focusing on new customer acquisition, driven by increasing mental and physical availability, resulting in behaviorally loyal buyers.” – David Fallarme, who focuses on helping others learn marketing stuff in his blog, The Marketing Student.
4. “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D.
A book that gets reviewed and read by psychologists, as well as marketers and business decision-makers, is always going to get our attention. Marketing is about persuading someone to take an action and that means you need to alter their perceptions, stimulate their behaviors or just change their minds.
So, how best to do that change? Social psychologist Robert Cialdini has always advocated for focusing on people’s state of mind to lay the groundwork for persuading them. In “Pre-Suasion” Cialdini emphasizes what he calls the “privileged moment for change,” which is when and how you prep your audience to hear you and agree. It isn’t as much about the message itself as it is about understanding the moment to deliver it.
Takeaway Tidbit: “Cialdini draws on an array of studies and narratives to outline the specific techniques you can use on online marketing campaigns and even effective wartime propaganda.” (Yikes!) – The Wall Street Journal
5. “Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers” by Chip Heath and Karla Starr
Chip Heath and his brother, Dan, wowed us with their “Make it Stick” insights and we’ve been fans of Chip ever since. Heath and Starr create another dynamic duo with their book on communicating and understanding numbers and data.
Raise your hand if your eyes have glazed during a PowerPoint presentation shoved full of numbers that meant nothing without a skilled communicator translating. (And points to you if you’re the one who can make that presentation meaningful.)
In its synopsis of the book, The Harvard Book Store wrote about Heath and Starr’s book praising how the authors outline “specific principles that reveal how to translate a number into our brain’s language,” including how to use emotional measuring sticks and simple perspective cues. The book has relatable examples, including numbers-before-and-after scenarios.
Takeaway Tidbit: “We’ve come to believe, after working with these principles for years, that almost every gnarly number has something—an analogy, a comparison, another dimension—that will allow us to translate it into something we can remember, use, and discuss with others.” – Chip Heath and Karla Starr
This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course, but it will make for illuminating reading (or audiobook listening) about how to boost your brand voice this year.