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Three (Plus One) of the Best Marketing Books of 2005: Start Reading Here

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With the start of autumn and a new school year comes a renewed emphasis on learning. That's true for those of us who haven't ridden a big yellow bus for many years.

So, among the dozens of marketing books published every year, here are three published in 2005 that are worth reading (and buying).

Bag the Elephant: How to Win & Keep BIG Customers by Steve Kaplan (Bard Press, 190 pages, $19.95, hardcover, August 2005)

Steve Kaplan has written a book that is very near to my cold capitalist heart. I have been a believer in "bagging the elephant" for years—with limited success.

What's an "elephant?" It is a big client. This is the book that will teach you how to do it. The book is one of the most detailed "how-to" sales books I have come across. To give an idea of my feeling for the book, once it leaves my hand it will be on my sales guy Aaron's desk with the instruction to read it right away.


The book shows you that "shoot high" can be done, but needs some preparation. Kaplan explains the challenges of bagging the big one. Here is what he says about elephants:

Why do I call these giant companies "elephants"? Because they are huge, slow-moving, ponderous, strong, slow to react, often loveable, sometimes stubborn—and because they require enormous amounts of input, which, if you can make it your job to supply, can bring you great financial rewards. Elephants are also smart, sometimes dangerous, uniquely individual, and equipped with long memories—all reasons for you to be super-cautious and respectful when dealing with them.

Based on my experience, Kaplan really nails the process of getting the "big one" with this book. (As an aside, I could have retired by now had this book been written 15 years ago! It's that good.) The book is loaded with important, valuable down-to-earth advice. I haven't even mentioned yet that it is loaded with color pictures—it has great graphics and fun stories. Check out the author's Web site at www.differencemaker.com to get a better idea of this book's offerings.

All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World by Seth Godin (Portfolio Publishers, 175 pages, $23.95, hardcover, May 2005)

Seth is back!

This is a tough review to write. When I write a review, I read the book and place Post-its on pages I want to re-review before putting pen to paper. After I used a full pack of Post-its in the first half of the book, I abandoned that habit.

There is just too much good stuff in this book to be able to highlight a best chapter or best part of the book. But here is what the publisher says about the book:

Every marketer tells a story. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Tourareg, which is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better—and look cooler—than $20 no-names...and believing it makes it true.

The publisher adds, "Successful marketers don't talk about futures or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story. A story we all believe," and continues:

This is a book about doing what consumers demand—painting vivid pictures that they choose to believe. Every organization—from nonprofits to car companies, from political campaigns to wineglass blowers—must understand that the rules have changed (again). In an economy where the richest have an infinite number of choices (and no time to make them), every organization is a marketer and all marketing is about telling stories.

Marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and then share with our friends. Think of the Dyson vacuum cleaner and the iPod.

But beware: If your stories are inauthentic, you cross the line from fib to fraud. Marketers fail when they are selfish and scurrilous, when they abuse the tools of their trade and make the world worse. There's a lesson learned the hard way by telemarketers and Marlboro.

I think that this could very possibly be the book of 2005. Enjoy!

Brand Hijack: Marketing without Marketing by Alex Wipperfurth (Portfolio, 288 Pages, $24.95, hardcover, February 2005)

There are thousands of books about brands, brand management and branding. Believe me, I have seen and read most of them in the last 20 years. I think in this book Alex Wipperfurth takes a different path with his idea of branding.

For one thing, this book has a great case study on Red Bull and how it allowed its customers to hijack the brand. Red Bull's first expansion from its native Austria was to Germany. The importation of Red Bull took five years for the government to approve. During that time, there was a huge black market in Munich for the drink, and people started questioning its illegality. Rumors started to fly about the effects of the drink (speed in a can?), and its source (bull testicles?).

When the product was approved in Germany, a concerned-mothers group stepped forward and campaigned to have the drink banned. This organized resistance made Red Bull more popular with young people. Wipperfurth believes that the Red Bull's brand has the "fingerprints" of its early consumers all over it. The important thing is that Red Bull let the myths and the controversies persist. This is a great example of letting your customers co-create the brand with you.

The author has a lot of other great insights: He believes that one has to start with a compelling idea, and cautions companies that believe nontraditional methods are cheap. They are often multiyear projects with very specific plans and goals. At the end of the book, Wipperfurth lays out a framework for allowing a successful hijack. Consider yourself warned—let your company be hijacked. Really, it's a good thing.

And, finally, coming next month (October 2005) is a book about which I am very excited:

The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable by The Group of 33, edited by Seth Godin (Portfolio Books, 180 Pages, $19.95, hardcover, October 2005)

When I was at a book convention last year, someone mentioned that when it comes to interesting business books, everything seems to be within six degrees of Seth. As you know, Seth wrote a great one a few years back called Purple Cow. In it, he states that all cows are boring, but a purple cow is remarkable. As he states in the introduction, "A big moo is the extreme purple cow, the remarkable innovation that completely changes the game." What's more: "Remarkable isn't up to you. Remarkable is in the eye of the customer. If your customer decides something you do is worth remarking on, then, by definition, it's remarkable." This is simple to understand, but difficult to initiate.

Seth asked 33 of the world's smartest business thinkers—Tom Peters, Guy Kawasaki, Kevin Carroll, Jackie Huba, Dan Pink, Alan Webber and other interesting people (alas, not me!)—to talk about being remarkable. Now what is extremely interesting and great about the book is this: Every word in this book was written for free. All 33 of the book's authors are donating 100 percent of their royalties to charity. The proceeds from the sales of this book are going to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Acumen Fund, and Room to Read. (Read about these charities by visiting www.thebigmoo.com. Read more about the work of some of the authors in the Group of 33 by visiting www.remarkabalize.com.)

Another intriguing part of this book is that none of the stories have bylines. Each story has its own tale without being dependent on an author's name.

You need to read all the stories. Some of my favorites are "Tuesday with Shecky: a Play in Three Jokes" and "Panic at Inappropriate Times," which contains one of my favorite last lines, "Panic early, not late, and your fire drills will actually pay off." I believe in this book enough to issue my second "I guarantee you will like this book or your money back" promise. I know I'll be rereading this book.


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Jack Covert is the president and founder of 800-CEO-Read (www.800ceoread.com). Reach him at jack@800ceoread.com.

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