what books improve us as marketers?


Old books 3/3

On more than one occasion, people have asked me a similar question: “What books would you recommend reading to learn about marketing?”

The truth?  I’ve never read a single ‘marketing book’ in my life.

I know that several thousand exist.  And I’m not deriding them for one moment.  But I genuinely believe that improving ourselves as marketers, as planners (and indeed, as people) needs not be limited to ‘marketing books’.

As a planner, your role is extremely varied from one project to the next, but consistently, it’s about trying to look at things differently; to place yourself in the shoes of others and connect with them in meaningful, powerful ways; to see the world from different perspectives:

While I can’t recommend a particular ‘marketing book’, I am an avid reader and can recommend many books – and reading, full stop.

I genuinely believe that the more we read, the more stories we consume, the more perspectives and views we consider, the better people we become.  The more empathetic we are.  And that is what makes you a better person; a better planner; a better marketer.

The list below comprises the 31 books I managed to get through in 2015, in order of reading them:

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (1937)

Meadowland, John Lewis-Stempel (2014)

Tales From Ovid, Ted Hughes (1997)

Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, Roger Deakin (2008)

Dialogues and Letters, Seneca (c. 4BC – AD 65)

Hot Water Music, Charles Bukowski (1983)

Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, Stephen Moss (2011)

The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd (1977)

Sussex Folk and Sussex Ways, John Coker Egerton (1892)

Lewes: Its Religious History, J. M. Connell (1931)

Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (2015)

Minor King, Jim Mitchem (2014)

The Man Who Was Sussex, Robert Thurston Hopkins (1933)

You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, Charles Bukowski (1986)

Franny and Zooey, J D Salinger (1961)

The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac (1958)

To the River, Olivia Laing (2011)

The Heart of England, Edward Thomas (1906)

On Love and Barley – Haikus of Basho, Basho (c. 1672 – 1698)

Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton (1941)

The Last Sheaf, Edward Thomas (1928)

Four Fields, Tim Dee (2013)

The Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude (1936)

A Wiltshire Diary, by Francis Kilvert (c. 1870 – 1879)

On Foot in Sussex, A A Evans (1933)

Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho (1998)

The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Charles Bukowski (1998)

One Green Field, Edward Thomas (1906)

The Gentle Art of Tramping, Stephen Graham (1926)

Sussex: Quotation and Picture Series, edited by J. B. Reynolds (1928)

Waterlog, Roger Deakin (1999)

(Image credit: Flickr, haribote)

what books improve us as marketers?

Uber’s Brand Rests Ultimately With Its Drivers


Several of my colleagues include highly talented designers, who would far better be able to pass aesthetic judgement on the merits of Uber’s newly unveiled redesign than I could.

But as a planner, two things about this redesign have been making me think.

1. Does Uber need a redesign – or even a brand?

Think about it: Uber has succeeded in embedding itself in society’s cultural consciousness as a service that is simply understood, omnipresent.  “Let’s grab an Uber.”  “If we run late, we’ll just Uber it.”  The service itself, its very existence, is simply part of modern vernacular.  With that said, is a redesign of branded assets required for a service that just ‘is’?  The very notion that perhaps it doesn’t need this redesign, or, controversially, ‘a brand’, is surely testament to the staggering success of the company itself?

2. Control of Uber’s brand is ultimately with its drivers

On the flip side, Uber owns no infrastructure.  You or I could become an Uber driver.  And from a branding perspective, that is surely where the brand lives or dies.  These humorous anecdotes merely scratch the surface of much more negative publicity.

Don’t get me wrong: Uber’s redesign is nice.  Clean, creative, concise.  Yet a service brand (and especially the rise of digital service brands fuelled by today’s hyper-connected society) lives or dies by the physical embodiment of its services.  It will be interesting to see whether its drivers can match the brand promise of a shiny new redesign.

Uber’s Brand Rests Ultimately With Its Drivers

Is Digital Killing the Art of Storytelling?


An article in today’s Guardian reported that canonical fairy stories such as Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin are much older than previously thought, with roots that can now be traced back thousands of years to prehistoric times.

Academics that have been studying the common links between fairy tales from around the world gave found that one tale even originates from the Bronze Age, illustrating just how old these stories, first written down in the 17th and 18th centuries, actually are.

The age of this storytelling is hardly surprising: these fairy tales have become enmeshed within the very fabric of our social and cultural identity on a scale that transcends many existing national and cultural boundaries. But as we stand at the forefront of a hyper-connected, global digital society, is this age-old art of storytelling under threat?

Let’s be clear: our role in marketing relies on storytelling: we craft stories designed to stimulate, engage, and inspire action within, our respective audiences. Storytelling as a communications art is more valid than ever. But has the proliferation of digital tools, social channels and indeed, authors, started to erode the cultural stories that we would pass down, themselves?

Research studies have proven that our social and digital behaviours are impacting the hard-wiring of our brains on an unprecedented scale: our ability to focus has been impacted greatly, while the way we consume content has become rapid, fleeting and passive. And the stories we tell as marketers are rapidly evolving to fit this mode of consumption, with the focus on the channels of distribution rather than the message itself.

As consumers’ relationship with digital hyper-connectivity continues to show signs of great strain, is it time we – as planners, marketers, creatives – start to focus less on the reaching audiences through multiple channels at multiple times, and return to the stripped back, raw, and real art of crafting the story itself? Is 2016 the year we shift from the focus on digital storytelling, to crafting stories for a digitally-connected world?

Like the longevity of Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin, only time will tell.

Is Digital Killing the Art of Storytelling?

Planning: Evidence or Argument?


Planning: a quest for the divine truth in any given situation, or a compelling construction of rhetoric designed to convey a desired perspective or point of view?

I was speaking recently with a fellow planner, who claimed that the act of planning is not about the regurgitating of facts, but (in fact) the art of constructing an argument so compelling, that everyone buys into it immediately.

The courtroom analogy was an apt one: it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong; the person that ultimately succeeds is the individual who can construct the most compelling and believable story based upon the evidence supplied.

And the more I think about it, the more of an apt analogy this actually is.

The supply of evidence varies wildly from project to project. I have worked on accounts where clients have supplied a veritable raft of insight, reports and information, facilitating the construction of a case that could, indeed, be built over many years. Conversely, I have also been asked to prepare a prosecution where the witness statements, evidence and facts have been nominal.

I’m familiar with both types of scenario, and have experienced differing levels of success in instances of either. But, especially when pitching, the real successes have indeed come when the insight and strategy has been an assessment of the situation, a validation of the facts, but most importantly, the creation of an argument and a consistent thread of rhetoric so compelling, that you’ve won the jury over at the very onset of the trial.

Planning is so much more than the reiteration of (often known) facts: it’s the creation of a convincing (albeit validated) argument that brings the audience into your way of thinking to achieve the desired verdict.

Planners should spend less time working on strategies that merely recite known truths and instead invest their efforts into creating compelling arguments that ensure the creative, projects and pitches are won over in the courtroom from the very outset.

(P.S. The above image is Tony Shalhoub, playing hotshot lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider in the Coen Brothers’ superb ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ – a highly recommended film.)

Planning: Evidence or Argument?