You want to keep up with your marketing reading. But there's so much out there that you don't where to start—or, if you do... whether there'd be an end in sight with all the possibilities. Well, here are four from '04: recommended titles published last year. And as good a place to start as any.

Free Prize Inside: The Next Big Marketing Idea by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 256 pages, $19.95, Hardcover, May 2004)

In 2003, Seth Godin published a wildly popular book called Purple Cow. You may have heard of it. (I'm kidding.) That book was all about creating remarkable products and services. It answered the question, "What is a remarkable product?"

Well, Seth was back in 2004, wanting to show us how to make a remarkable product with his Free Prize Inside.

The book focuses on who within an organization should be doing the work of being remarkable. The idea is not to throw more money at R&D or advertising, but to come up with what he calls "soft innovation."

And that is as simple as coming up with a remarkable idea, he says (think Tupperware parties and frequent flier miles)—The Free Prize: the thing that makes you or your product remarkable. A Free Prize is about satisfying wants versus needs. Don't give your customers more; give them something extra.

The book takes a fresh look at coming up with remarkable ideas but also implementing them. It is not only the marketing folks' job to introduce new products and services. Every person in an organization can come up with these ideas.

Getting people in your organization to go along with your idea is crucial, of course, and Seth has nifty tactics for getting others to co-champion an idea with you. No more brainstorming. Instead, try "edgecrafting." Products and services have lots of edges, and he spends 30 pages talking about how you can find yours.

And just to prove his point on the importance of The Free Prize, the first print run is packaged in a cereal box. The other "free prize" included is a spoof copy of the Wall Street Journal titled, "THIS IS NOT THE JOURNAL." It is loaded with quirky bits about the book.

The thing about Seth Godin is this: he doesn't beat around the bush. And he puts his money where his mouth is on how to do it: Free Prize Inside includes an actual free prize and is a remarkable Purple Cow.

The Marketing Playbook: The Battle-Tested System for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market by John Zagula and Richard Tong (Portfolio, $22.95, Hardcover, 288 Pages, October 2004)

There are two basic types of business books: descriptive and prescriptive. I gravitate toward the prescriptive. I like books that give 10 ways to solve a problem. Many business book readers are the same. They want a "how to" book to get them started. The Marketing Playbook by John Zagula and Richard Tong fits into this category perfectly.

While at Microsoft, the authors noticed patterns in the marketing plans the company was implementing. The main thing was that there weren't many variations.

In the book, they describe five "marketing plays" that will works for any situation. They have given them easy to remember names (Drag Race, Stealth, Best of Both, High-Low and Platform). They describe in detail how to run each play, how to identify which play to run, and what play to run if the current one starts to fail.

As venture capitalists with Ignition Partners, they now use this technique with every company that comes through their doors looking for funding.

Zagula and Tong say they wrote this book because they were told repeatedly by colleagues that there is a need for "a helpful, straightforward marketing guide rather than the hype, buzzwords, or academic theory they typically see." The add:

They told us that they would like to read a book that not only shows them how to gain and hold on to their rightful leadership position but also helps them repeat the process over and over, a book they could believe, a book whose methods and suggestions have been proven in the heat of battle, a book written by people who knew from experience how to attain and retain the lead in a market but who also knew how to make the process easy to follow and implement.

So, if you want to play like the big dogs, here is your playbook. It's not only a great first read but also a book that you will return to again and again.

Overpromise and Overdeliver: How TouchPoint Branding Brings Customers by Rick Barrera (Portfolio, 256 Pages, $25.95 Hardcover, December 2004)

Rick Barrera explores how companies like TiVo, BestBuy and Washington Mutual became industry leaders simply by following one simple rule: overpromising and overdelivering. Not by increasing marketing and advertising costs, but by attracting customers with ambitious promises and then actually keeping them. The author explains:

Hard times create amazing success. Despite all the talk today of an oversupply of goods and services, industry consolidations, menacing imports, and shrinking markets, a few remarkable businesses have discover how to make their brands irresistible to customers? After studying these thriving businesses, I've identified their key strength: a new approach to branding that beats the competition because it's infinitely faster and less expensive than any of the traditional methods.

After explaining the basics of making and keeping a brand promise, Rick elaborates on what makes the real winners different—the effective use of these three "TouchPoints":

  1. Product TouchPoints: Where the customers interact with the products. This includes not only buying but also handling and using.

  2. Human TouchPoints: When the customers interact with the company's people.

  3. System TouchPoints: When the customer deals with systems or processes such as Web sites, ATMs, invoices, etc.

This book explains how to use the TouchPoint branding system to build your brand more efficiently and cost-effectively than can be done with traditional advertising models.

For example, Google overpromises by offering anything you want to find on the Web, and then overdelivers with an average search time of 0.2 seconds. Barrera's principles can be applied to any individual or company wishing to create unshakable customer loyalty.

Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy—and How to Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market by Lisa Johnson and Andrea Learned (AMACOM, 224 pages, $23.00, Hardcover, June 2004)

Women aren't all about pastels and flowers. Everyone knows that, right? Apparently not, else these two marketers wouldn't have had to write this how-to-market-to-women-effectively book.

But, luckily, they did. Written with style and wit, Don't Think Pink is not only for girls. It's for everyone who wants to sell something to women and understand the way they think.

Just take a quick look at what "pink thinking" is. It's a "recipe" they start off with in Chapter One, and it's not only very funny but also spot on if we think about ads targeted at women:

One part dated assumptions and information
Two parts superseded stereotypes
One part limited staff and budget
Two parts internal resistance to new ideas
Three parts fear of turning off men and making expensive mistakes
A generous dollop of pastels, butterflies, hearts and flowers
And a double shake of good intentions and sincerity
Do not stir or integrate with other departments
Serve to women customers

But more importantly, of course, is not thinking pink. A very valuable lesson in this book is about choosing the correct method of marketing: visible or transparent.

Visible marketing refers to products that are physically marked for women, like women's vitamins or razors. Transparent marketing, however, is much more sophisticated and relies on a thorough understanding of the target market and its needs. You truly need to understand what makes women tick. Yes, it's more work, but it pays off in the end.

The authors illustrate the difference aptly: the difference between a tailored suit that fits perfectly, and an off-the-rack mass-produced item that is not tailored to your specific needs. This type of positioning is what all marketers who hope to sell something to the vast majority of women buyers out there will have to become skilled at. It's the future.

There are many great chapters with useful information. But the chapter I got most miles out of was Chapter 10: connecting with women online. This is a large market, and the authors give simple, hard facts about online women shoppers that all marketers should be aware of. An example:

Women are online for both community and shopping. In December 2002 alone, women's online communities reached approximately 30 percent of all female Internet users age 25 to 64, attracting a total of nearly 35 million visitors. The segment of the online population that shops there will grow 29 percent to 121 million in 2005.

This book will help marketers target women more effectively, whether it involves selling cars, coffee or clothing. Get to know how women's minds work, get to know your brand, and be authentic; and remember that women can smell bull a mile away.

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Jack Covert is the president and founder of 800-CEO-Read ( Reach him at