Episode #176: How to Become a Better Marketer

Grad Conn

January 31, 202222 min read

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The key to success for a marketer is to always be learning. And the key to learning is to read. In today’s episode I review some of my favorite marketing and advertising books — from new releases to timeless classics. Add a few of these to your reading list and your career with thank you.

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Marketing triumphs again. Another bloody battle. Customers won over. Employees excited. Marketers tired. Hey, welcome to the unified CXM Experience. And as always, I’m your host, Grad Conn, CXO, Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr. And I want to talk today about books. Yeah, we are in the midst of our How to Write a Marketing Plan series. And I have been getting a number of questions from people around how ‘do I get good content or ideas’ or how ‘do I stimulate my thinking as I think about being an innovative marketer’. So I’m going to sort of jump into that.

I am going to mention an article that you should probably read. I don’t do this very often, but I read an article today in Ad Age, and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s called Metaverse Marketing, everything brands need to know about virtual worlds from NFTs to virtual clothing to Zuckerberg’s meta, and it’s by Asa Hiken (a..s..a.. Hiken.. h..i..k..e..n) was published Jan 24, which is today, 2022. And it’s an excellent article on the whole growing trend with NFTs, talks about what Gary Vaynerchuk is doing, talks about what different brands are doing with NFTs, some upsides, some downsides. Very, very, very big downside for McDonald’s – the NFT they did for their McRib. And I would say that as you read the article, you should make sure you also click on the links to other linked articles like top marketers that are doing work in the metaverse, it’s actually a fantastic article in terms of content, some of the downsides, etc. And I would say that we’re all going to need to spend time here because the general philosophy, and this is clearly what Sprinklr’s done brilliantly, is you want to put your brand where your customers are. And as customers migrated from traditional channels to modern channels, Sprinklr allowed marketers and organizations to connect with their customers, and that migration continues in the virtual world as the metaverse gets built out.

It’s really early, it’s really early, but it doesn’t hurt to get in there now, and as a marketer, you always need to be a scientist and scientists like to experiment early with the latest technology. So take a look at that article. Read that, enjoy that. And it goes into a general theme I have about marketers and reading. I did once a long time ago, I don’t know how long ago but in my second Microsoft job when I was onboarding as CMO for Microsoft US, I was talking to everyone in the team. And I was talking to one of the team members, great person, super smart and she was doing a bunch of interesting things in the media field. And I made a recommendation of a couple of books that I thought would be fun for her to read. And she sort of looked at me with kind of a look on her face. And she said, “When would I have time to read, like books?” And I was like, “Wow what do you mean, time?” “Just like I’m super busy during the day”. “I wasn’t thinking you’d read it on the job. I was thinking you’d read it like at night or on the weekends”. And again, she sort of looked at me weirdly, like, “What? I don’t do marketing stuff outside the office”. I kind of had a little bit of a tingle on this one, kind of, “Really? What’s going on here?” I said, “What do you do?” And she said, “I’m really into music. And I’ve got all these other things that I’m interested in, and I’m not interested in marketing, enough to read about it”. All right. And I said, “Well, why would you do something for a living that you’re so uninterested in that you don’t actually want to read about it or study or get better, it just seems weird to me”. And ultimately, she actually ended up leaving and going into the music business and moving to LA where there’s sort of the music capital and has been doing great and has been having a really super time. And I love that because she’s now doing for a living what she was doing sort of as a hobby and following passion. And I think that’s a very, very important thing to do.

If you think about most professions, like lawyers go to legal conferences, and they’re always reading about cases, doctors go to continuing medical CME courses to make sure that they’re keeping their skills up and they’re reading journals and stuff on the weekends. My brother is an organic chemist. He has organic chemistry journals that he reads and he’s always staying up to date on latest scientific stuff and I can’t imagine Morgan ever saying, “Read about organic Chemistry on the weekend? I wouldn’t want to do that”. He’d never say that. Right? Like, Morgan’s passion is this field and biotech. And so he does it as a job and has been very successful at it, and also continues to educate himself on it, because, you know, the field keeps evolving. And if one field is evolving, it’s been evolving a lot over the last 150 years. But holy schmoly, marketing is going crazy right now. And if you have any hope of trying to stay up to speed, you’ve got to study it, like you’re a lawyer or a doctor, a scientist or whatever, pick your profession, and almost every profession out there upgrades their skills and talents on an ongoing basis. But for some reason, a lot of marketers don’t. So, read, read, read.

And so I have something that I put on my blog. And by saying I put it on my blog. I mean, Randy polished it for me. Thank you, Randy. Randy, are you still there? He’s there. Thanks for doing that. You did nice job on this one. Anyway, so Randy popped it up there. And I actually don’t really talk about my blog, I think at all. Right, Randy? Have I ever mentioned my blog on this? So, I have been writing a blog for fifteen or so years now. Yes, quite a long time. It’s called Copernican Shift. And it’s based on this idea that Copernican shift is one where you change the center of the universe, in order to gain true insight into what’s going on. So for example, it may seem like the universe turns around your product. But in fact, the universe really revolves around your customer. And when you get that picture and understand how your product fits into their overall universe, you have a much greater chance of being successful with your customer. So, and it’s obviously based on the Copernican insight that the Earth moves around the sun, the sun doesn’t move around the earth.

I’ve been writing Copernican Shift for a long time and there’s a ton of stuff on there. It’s all in WordPress, which has been great. And I have a reading list on there that we published originally, maybe a year or two ago, and got a lot of great reaction to it; it’s been read a lot. People are always asking me for books that they should read as a new marketer, I just flip them a link to this particular post. And we just updated it with a few new books. So what I thought I’d do is just go to the homepage copernicanshift.com. You can see it there; you can also do a search on “This reading list will make you a better marketer”, and that should pop it up as well.

On the list are some classics that you would have heard me talk about already, like Scientific Advertising and My Life in Advertising by Claude Hopkins, probably doesn’t really need an introduction if you’re an avid listener of the Unified CXM Experience. But Claude Hopkins wrote the first book on advertising. And you know, it was about how advertising is a scientific discipline, and can be used to sell products in a very measured way, which is essentially the world we live in today. I would say it’s an interesting artifact in a couple of ways. One is that, at the time, when they were doing a lot of print, they were able to measure the reaction that people had to their ads, by measuring people’s mail ins, coupon redemptions, and other reaction mechanisms they built into those print ads. When TV came out in the 1960s and the creative revolution led by Bill Bernbach, and many others, Mary Wells, etc., the measurability really disappeared. We could measure audience size, but we couldn’t measure reaction, impact. And so I think for a whole generation, or maybe even a couple of generations of marketers, accountability became very soft. And marketers got used to that softness. And I think in some ways, the profession gathered a bit of a negative reputation for being all about, you know, soft stuff and brand building, but not really generating sales.

And the sprinklr marketing generation that started around 2006 or so when Marketo launched. You could argue Eloqua, launched in 2003, that might have been the dawn of it. We’ve now moved into a more measured, potentially overly measured, but more measured marketing era, and it’s very similar today, to the world that Claude Hopkins lived in. So what’s fascinating when you read this book, is that you are reading a book from 1929, roughly say 1930. So a book that’s nearly 100 years old. There are some vernacular issues. So there are some words and examples that he uses that make it a little difficult to understand. If you aren’t familiar with them, he might have to look a few things up, but just push past that because the base of what he’s talking about, and the insights that he has are key, and they will help you today, just because selling is selling. People buy stuff the same way, no matter which generation it’s in. Stuff changes a little bit, but not that much.

Another good example, of a vernacular change or context change that can be quite challenging is, there’s another book on my list, which is by Rosser Reeves. And it’s called Reality in Advertising. And in that book, he talks about the greatest ad campaign of all time, which was the Pepsodent, no more pink toothbrush campaign. Now, that campaign has been a bit lost in the sands of time, people don’t talk about that as one of the greatest campaigns ever. But that campaign did single handedly create the daily tooth brushing habit we have now and revolutionized tooth care and dental care. And I would say our health in general, so a very, very, very important campaign. But he keeps talking about it, like you would know what he’s talking about because, you know, he wrote the book in 1960s. And the very first time I read the book, I was like, what’s with the pink toothbrush? I don’t understand that. What does he mean ‘no more pink toothbrush’, I don’t understand why the toothbrush would be pink? And in fact, it’s not that the toothbrush is pink is that the bristles of the toothbrush were pink, then you’re like, alright, so why are the bristles of a toothbrush pink? Okay, so what used to happen is people brushed their teeth so infrequently, with like tooth powder, that their gums would bleed, because their mouths were rotting. I know, I hope you aren’t listening to this over dinner. Sorry, mom. So when you pulled your toothbrush out of your mouth, you know, the blood mixed with, you know, water and stuff like that would make the bristles of your toothbrush pink. Pepsodent came out with a campaign which is ‘brush your teeth every day’ now, of course, two to three times a day, after every meal. But at the time, once a day was a pretty big leap. And it was a paste, toothpaste and then you know, they kind of, like I said, changed the history of oral care in the country. So that’s again another thing of context.

Now the point that he’s making in Rosser Reeves book, he talks about the universal selling proposition or USP, actually, excuse me, the unique selling proposition, not universal; that might be kind of cool, too. But the unique selling proposition or USP – always have a USP. I think we’ve gotten better at that generally. But at the time again, a lot of people just said get my name out there. He’s like, “Don’t get your name out there, you got to get your name out there with a promise, a promise that means something – like no more pink toothbrush”. So those are the kind of examples of the types of books that are on the original leading reading list, with some continuing to kind of move through the decades and I am a big believer in reading the historical stuff as well as the most modern stuff.

And probably the most contemporary book on there is one called The Idea Writers by Teressa Iezzi and it’s probably one of the most brilliant books. It talks about the evolution from one-way messaging to conversation. So the thing that we talk about all the time on this show is the move from broadcast to conversation. In The Idea Writers, Teressa talks about this as well and does it in a brilliant way. It connects to past history and is potentially the best book I’ve ever read on advertising. I cried when I read it partly because it was so brilliant. I literally cried. I was potentially a little tired at the time so there may have been some exhaustion in there as well. I was on a flight to … I think I was going to fly to Singapore … I had a flight to Singapore where I flew from Raleigh, North Carolina, I spoke at a conference there with John Chambers, got on a plane, flew from there to JFK, flew from JFK to, I think it was Netherlands, and then flew from there to Singapore. And then did a speech in Singapore and 10 hours later, got back on an airplane, flew to Dubai, and then flew to Toronto. So that was a 23-hour flight to Singapore and a 21-hour flight back from Singapore with a 10-hour layover. So maybe the crying was for other reasons as well. But to give the book some credit, the other reason I think I cried is I wish I’d written it. It’s just like the book I wish I’d written. It’s just so good. So if you really want to start at the most contemporary end of the scale, that’s kind of near the end.

And one of the last books written or the most recent books written is one called Mad Women, by Jane Moss. Jane Moss is one of my heroes. I’m deeply regretful that I did not reach out to her earlier in my life. I don’t know why. I literally started an ad agency because of one of the books that she wrote. And, and she died recently, and I’ll never get a chance to meet her but, but she wrote a book called Mad Women, which is a modern book, but it was a reflection on what it was like to really work in an ad agency in the 1960s. And she sort of takes down some of the stereotypes from the show Mad Men.

Anyway, we’ve done some updates though. So kind of check out the original list, but the updates are not just strictly advertising books. And I’ll start with the last one on the list, because it’s got nothing to do with bad advertising or business. It’s a book called The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. If you’re a science fiction fan, I’m sure heard of this book. Jules Verne wrote this, you know, 150 years ago. And I’ve always thought this is a great book to have if I got lost on a desert island, because he does a great job of talking about what plants to eat, which plants not to eat, and how to build a hut, how to make a telephone out of bamboo, that kind of stuff, all Gilligan’s Island stuff. And it’s just a wonderful book in terms of competing against the elements. One of the things that we’ve talked about a little bit, maybe about a year ago, and we’ll talk about again, probably as we get into the summer is this concept of grit in both business and in life. And they find that people who have got grit, and are gritty, tend to succeed because they stay in the fight. Mysterious Island is a book all about grit. And it’s a wonderful way of thinking about your day and as bad as your day may be, you’re not on the mysterious island. Plus, it’s a nice revisit of Captain Nemo and a whole bunch of other things, I won’t give it all away, but it’s great. It also was made into a movie in the 1960s and is one of the first movies I ever saw as a kid, so it sort of has a lot of nostalgia for me as well.

The other books on there that I’ve added –The First Ninety Days, if you’re changing jobs, and who isn’t these days, it’s a great book to understand how to onboard in a new job. I don’t switch jobs often. But when I have, I always reread this book. And what’s so weird is it’s like a new book every time because I’ve tended to switch industries, and I’ve tended to switch sizes of companies and stuff so I’m in a radically different situation than I was before and so the book feels new because they’re talking to me in a different way. One of the insights that they had when they wrote this book was, they were looking at the management research that existed at the time. And what they found was that all the management research was based on how professors were being hired by businesses to consult on problems the businesses had, but one of the most common manager experiences is job change, sometimes within the same company, but job change. But because managers were in the midst of a job change, they didn’t have the money or resources to buy the time of a consultant. So it’s this entire branch of management science that was essentially missing because professors weren’t being paid to consult during that period of time. And so they wrote this fantastic book, which has, I think, sort of closed the door on anyone else going after it because it’s just so perfect. And it’s a great way to onboard. I actually tell a new team, “This is what I’m using to onboard. Here’s where I am in the process and all the things that I’m doing, and how they relate to that. And if you want to know exactly what the next ninety days are going to look like, go read this book, and you’ll know what I’ll be doing”. It’s actually very relaxing for people because they’re like, “Oh, he’s walking through a process. He knows what he’s doing. Maybe he’s not paying attention to this thing over here. But that’s because he’s focused on this other thing. And he told me, that’s what he’s doing. And he’s going to get to this next week”. So a great way to onboard.

Another one is a very, very new book. In fact, I think it was released this week, if I’m not mistaken, called Amp It Up by Frank Slootman. May be just available in dead tree versions and last week in the Kindle version, and it’s his bible for leading hypergrowth companies, how to raise expectations, increase urgency and elevate intensity. Frank Slootman is famously the CEO of Snowflake. And before that ServiceNow and before that Data Dynamics, [Editor’s Note: Data Domain] I think, and has sort of had three massive hits, going in there as an operator and making a company accelerate its momentum. So, a great book from somebody who knows what he’s doing, and definitely worth reading. He has been actually all over my LinkedIn. So I did an interview with him and asked him, “Why are you writing this all down? Why are you doing so many interviews?” He said, “I feel an obligation to share what I’ve learned with others as a way of giving back” which is pretty cool.

Another book, which is again, not really a business book but maybe is one, is called Team of Rivals. This book has been out for quite a while. It’s about the political genius of Abraham Lincoln. It’s by Doris Kearns Goodwin, who is a national treasure, let’s just put it that way. And what she does in this book, she talks about how Lincoln brought his political rivals into his White House. So they sat in the White House, around his … (What would it be called, Randy? This is where my Canadian is showing through. What would be the staff function in the White House when they sit around the table? That’d be called his cabinet) … Cabinet. Thank you. Exactly. His cabinet. He nailed that one. I knew that. I was just testing. I’m just kidding. I didn’t know. So yeah, his cabinet was composed of political rivals. And by bringing them in, he was able to form a coalition and get different kinds of ideas. People weren’t just telling him what he wanted to hear, often they were telling him what he needed to hear. And you could argue, that to large measure, it’s very likely this country is a country today because of that type of structure. It’s a good lesson for how we think about what we build as our teams, when we’re building a marketing team. I’m a fan of having people on my team who will push back and who will say, “That’s stupid” and yell at me. I think it works because it helps you get better, think better, and be surrounded by people who are doing things the way that they think they should be done, not the way you think they should be done. That’s really important to make sure you’re surrounded by independent thinkers. So great book, probably one of the best history books ever written. So definitely worth reading.

And the last one is a classic that has kind of fallen off the favorites list, but never gets tired, which is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It is a really important book, I think, to read because what he talks about is that you can’t truly engage with someone, unless your mindset is correct. I don’t think he used the word ‘mindset’, but unless you’re thinking about them in the correct way, for example, if I want to be friends with somebody, but I think they’re an idiot, but I think they can help me, it’s unlikely I’m going to make that successful. I have to get my head wrapped around the fact that this is a unique, special individual, who’s really amazing, who I should know. And then I’ll be able to follow it. And it’s the earliest book, or one of the earliest books on this concept of how mindset drives outcomes. If you think something negative is going to happen, it’s likely to happen. Because the more you say, “this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to work”, the more likely your subconscious mind will say, ‘okay”, and help it not work. So the power of suggestion, the power of mindset, is what these books are all about. You can’t read enough of those. So read Dale Carnegie if you get a chance.

So that’s kind of a quick review of the book list. And we’ll keep adding to it. I probably should have added something to it last year, but you know, I got distracted with these podcasts, I guess. I have found that these reading list suggestions have been well received, and people like to have them. And if you’ve got suggestions, and if you want to add something, drop us a line, just DM me on X, formerly Twitter @gradconn and say, “Hey, this is a really great book that every marketer should read” and we’ll pop it on the list, and we’ll credit you. So that’s it for today. For the Unified CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, CXO, Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr and I’ll see you … next time.

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