Savvy marketers often ask for book recommendations.
They’re looking for that extra nugget of wisdom, that new insight that will give them an edge.
In our latest article, we go one step further. Your marketing peers not only share a book that impacted them, they also show specifically how they put that new insight into practice. Read on for examples from SERVPRO, a language school, a SaaS and an email software.
This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
The best marketing books.
There are endless lists online that promise to tell you the best marketing books of all time. To truly provide you that in this article would require a rigorous analysis of every classic marketing book and new marketing book using a consistent, unbiased methodology. I can’t honestly do that.
But what I can do is provide specific examples of marketing campaigns that were inspired by the principles and insights your peers garnered from the books they have read – so you can learn from the examples, you can learn from the books, and most importantly, you can be inspired by the overall process these marketing professionals and business leaders used to drive results.
One lesson – when looking for basic principles and actionable insights, don’t only myopically search out books on content marketing or digital marketing or the like. Inspiration is everywhere.
For example, in the below podcast excerpt Flint McGlaughlin, CEO, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, references a classic book – Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” – that can help the marketer better serve the customer.
Here are four stories showing how marketing teams and business leaders learned from authors to achieve results.
“’Return on Courage’ by Ryan Berman was an excellent book that I gleaned a lot from,” said Michael Stahl, Chief Marketing Officer, SERVPRO.
The author spent several years shadowing various individuals and leaders and writes about creating a culture that allows an organization or individual to face their fears and take business challenges head on. “His insights are applicable in any industry – and I think the lessons in his book can resound with any leader. Personally, it has further motivated me to be more and do more within my role as a marketing leader,” Stahl said.
When Stahl joined SERVPRO in March 2020 as the world was essentially shutting down, he knew that the damage restoration service had a duty to do whatever it could to help others during the pandemic. Despite being fully remote and not even having the chance to meet his team members in person, the team developed and launched a new program to combat COVID-19 within Stahl’s first month on the job.
“We took that challenge head on and it was an incredible bonding experience, knowing that however far apart we were, we knew we could do something to make a difference and help others. That kind of motivation and need to take challenges head on is certainly a lesson I took from Berman’s book,” Stahl said.
The principle of the book is to take things head on and not to let yourself or anyone stand in your way. The team at SERVPRO did this by essentially developing a new line of business for the company that was in need during the pandemic – Certified: SEVPRO Cleaned. This deep cleaning process was built off of more than 50 years of cleaning industry experience to address viral pathogens like the novel coronavirus.
The company’s nearly 2,000 franchise owners throughout the country implemented this deep cleaning process in schools, nursing homes, office buildings, sports arenas, government facilities and more throughout 2020 and still today. It ended up becoming a primary revenue source for the company throughout the year, with more than 50,000 businesses and organizations throughout the United States implementing the program.
“A book that inspired us here at the UK Language Project, and me personally, has been ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss,” said Ed O’Neill, Academic Director, UK Language Project.
“The book is mainly about using automation and systematization to improve the effectiveness of tasks and save time. Hence its title,” O’Neill said.
His team took the time-saving ideas and put them to work in their blogging workflow.
Previously, the company’s freelance marketer – John Williams – would think up some topics and choose one, write the article, make any layout changes, source images, then post it on the blog and share on social media.
He did this every week.
“While this was fine, it required a very manual workflow and didn’t make use at all of batching (which Tim [Ferriss] specifically mentions in the book),” O’Neill said.
“Now we work together at all levels of the company to put together ideas for blog posts and put them in a Google Sheet,” he said. The marketer then runs with several ideas so he’s engaged in the same work (e.g. blog writing). Once finished, he does all the layout and image sourcing at the same time for several blog posts, usually around six or seven. This saves a significant amount of time.
“He then schedules them out on WordPress and social and makes a note of the scheduled time in another Google Sheet,” O’Neill said.
That way Williams is always scheduling around three to six months in advance. This keeps a continuous stream of content flowing and saves huge amounts of time, particularly during the layout/image sourcing phase. He is also free to work on other projects, safe in the knowledge there are three-to-six months’ worth of blog posts scheduled. If he is on holiday or sick for any length of time this is fine since posting is automated.
“The main result has been the time saved, which has a knock-on effect in terms of lower marketing spend overall. We are also able to deploy John on other projects (both marketing and non-marketing), which helps us improve the general effectiveness of the organization,” O’Neill said. “As a small business, this actually makes a significant difference to how much we can get done in a given period of time as we are working with scant resources.”
(Disclosure: While it has no bearing on our coverage, we should note here that MarketingSherpa CEO Flint McGlaughlin and MECLABS Institute, the parent organization of MarketingSherpa, are thanked in the Acknowledgements section of “The 4-Hour Workweek” as follows – “Thanks also to the elite team and great friends at MEC Labs, including, but not limited to, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Aaron Rosenthal, Eric Stockton, Jeremiah Brookins, Jalali Hartman, and Bob Kemper.”)
“One particular marketing book is following me everywhere I go – ‘No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies’ by Naomi Klein. Thanks to this book, I understood what the concept of brand really is and how important it is, in B2C as well as B2B sectors,” said Marilyne Dupuy, Head of Marketing, PickYourSkills.
“In her book, Naomi Klein explains that when you create a new brand (or go through a rebranding of an old one), it needs to evolve along with you and your business,” Dupuy said.
The book explains that a brand is not meant to be static, or it would become obsolete the very next day of its creation. To make your brand grow and adapt with you, you need to make it change, visually speaking, but most of all, you need to constantly find new spaces and ways for it to express itself as your identity. In other words, it is essential that, as a marketing professional, you innovate not only in the message you are delivering but in how you deliver it.
“At PickYourSkills, me and my team of marketers are trying to find new, innovative and original ways to get our long-time, no-talk prospects to get in touch and book a demo of our SaaS solution,” she said.
Last summer, the team at the resource management software explored its database of contacts and leads that the sales department hadn’t been able to reach for more than six months. Their job was to find a new channel to address those people. That’s how they came with a new idea of sending printed, handwritten post-cards to every cold lead.
They ordered 150 post-cards with a cool, summery design respecting the brand’s visual identity on the front side. The back side had a QR (Quick Response) code leading to a demo landing page along with a handwritten, personalized message from Clarisse Jactat, Team Lead SDR (Sales Development Rep).
On the front side, the postcard said “Go on holiday with peace of mind” in French. On the backside, the French line translated to, “The planning and skills management of your teams is in good hands!”
Creative Sample #1: Postcard to cold leads from resource management software company
Creative Sample #2: Handwritten note on postcard to cold leads from resource management software company
More than 70 people visited the landing page and many of them touched base with the French company during the summer when business is usually very low.
“Thanks, Naomi Klein, for that! My advice to every marketer out there is simply…always find a smart way to implement new ideas and don’t be afraid to try things that, on paper, look ineffective,” Dupuy said.
“A book that has changed the way I do marketing is called ‘No Rules Rules,’ by Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings [and INSEAD profession Erin Meyer],” said Cristian Ungureanu, Senior Growth Marketer, QuickMail. The book is aimed at managers and leaders, and it's about giving employees almost complete freedom and responsibility over their work, so as to increase creativity and productivity.
This book changed Ungureanu’s attitude from “I’ll do what my boss thinks will work” to “I’ll do what I think will work, even if my boss doesn't agree.”
“We are building a culture of decentralized decision-making ‘like Netflix,’” said Jeremy Chatelaine, Founder & CEO, QuickMail. Reading “’No Rules, Rules’ is mandatory at our company so people understand that it's not about pleasing the boss, but about doing what's best for QuickMail. It's an important reframe and Cristian grew a lot since reading this book. It also makes my life easier.”
Having the freedom to choose what marketing efforts to implement made a huge difference to Ungureanu. “It’s not only sunshine and rainbows, because your decisions still need to be informed and you are completely responsible if they don’t work out, but it's much better than not having any say whatsoever on what you get to work on,” he said. “This has allowed me to start quite a few successful initiatives for the company.”
One such initiative was in the area of SEO (search engine optimization). He saw an opportunity for an up-and-coming keyword that perfectly matched the email software’s product offering. Without asking for permission, he immediately jumped on it and created an article entitled “6 Best Cold Email Warm Up Tools in 2021 (Free + Paid),” and published it within a couple of days to get in on the algorithm as quickly as possible.
“One day later (no kidding), two major articles from competing companies surfaced on the same exact topic. Flash forward two months, our article is #1 on the SERPs [search engines results pages], it doubled our free plan user base, and our competitors are still one step behind,” Ungureanu said.
The article was published on July 6th, 2021, and it started getting impressions and clicks two days later. “This never happens so quickly unless there is an unanswered demand,” he said. The article got a 7.1% average clickthrough rate (CTR) and 727 total clicks, which he considered very good for a high-purchase-intent keyword.
The free plan user base grew by 134% and the team attributes most of the growth to this single article.
“This was possible because of the culture of freedom and responsibility taught in ‘No Rules Rules,’ which is encouraged in my company,” Ungureanu said. He was one day ahead of competitors because he didn’t have to ask for permission.
As a further proof point of the book’s impact on the marketing team, when I reached out to Chatelaine to fact check this story, he told me, “I was not aware of his HARO [Help a Reporter Out] answer until now actually, so that's another example of Cristian applying the concepts of this book.”
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