Marketing Classics: Two Places to Find Inspiration and Insights

One of the great (and sometime frustrating) things about marketing is its near-universal appeal. Almost everyone has an opinion of some sort about marketing and the best way to do it. Most of us have spent time with friends and coworkers just chatting about the latest ad we saw on TV or the great Web site experience we had the night before. We’ve become a culture for which marketing is a key form of communication and shared experience.

Of course, talking about marketing and doing it professionally are very different things. As marketers we are often faced with difficult situations that challenge our creativity and our business acumen. Our bosses and shareholders hold us accountable for driving sales and providing a reasonable ROI (define) on everything we do. The Web has shattered traditional notions of engagement with and relationship to our customers and shifted all the traditional power dynamics of marketing to a whole new model.

In short, marketing is hard.

We ClickZ columnists aim to provide valuable insight and guidance based on our knowledge and experience across modern marketing’s many specialties. Sometimes, however, it makes sense to look for more in-depth thinking on marketing’s challenges and opportunities. I do this by revisiting some classic books for insight and inspiration. I thought I would share these with you.

Cialdini’s Influence

I suspect many of you have already read Robert B. Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” perhaps in college or graduate school, and are converts. If not, then I’m pleased to introduce you to the single most important book on marketing ever written. Forgive the hyperbole, but I truly mean this.

Cialdini, a Regents’ Professor of psychology at Arizona State University, is one of the world’s leading experts on the study of influence and persuasion. What separates his book from any number of other tomes on how to persuade others (I sometimes refer to influence and persuasion as “marketing”) is the combination of real psychological research, actual field experience, and practical guidance. Everything he discusses he has both done in the real world and tested in the lab.

At the core of “Influence” are the six principles of persuasion and the best ways to apply them to life situations. This is valuable for talking your way out of a traffic ticket (trust me, it works) and for getting millions of users to click and buy when they come to your site. Every marketing tactic you have ever used is based on one of these principles. And this book explains the why and how. By the end of “Influence,” your belief in marketing’s power will be reinvigorated.

Porter’s Strategy

Competitive Strategy” by Michael E. Porter is another book you may have encountered in business school or had someone give you at some point. Now’s the time to take it off the shelf and review its core lessons.

“Competitive Strategy” isn’t an easy book to read, and I often just flip through it, looking for gems. But the important thing I’m reminded of each time I pick it up is that no matter the industry, no matter the channel, and no matter the economy, there are only three strategies for competing: market differentiation, cost, and focus.

As the way we do business becomes more complex and the relationships we have with customers and partners endlessly shift, reminding ourselves that we still have to compete and keep competing is essential. It’s easy to get caught up in creating new business models and delivering services through the cloud, but we must differentiate our offering, compete appropriately on cost (this can be everything from undercutting competitors to staking out the higher end), and clearly define and defend our market focus. These are simple lessons, but easy to forget in the day-to-day activities and endless onslaught of data.

Both books have sold millions of copies around the globe and sit on the bookshelves of business leaders and business novices alike. Their lessons are universal and are as relevant today as they were decades ago when these books were written. Grounding our Internet-speed thinking in these strategic ideas makes our marketing more actionable and our results more powerful.

Related reading