2016 Top-Drawer Business Books

It is that time again. We are happy to share our annual business books picks. Welcome to the 9th edition of the Top-Drawer Business Books of 2016. Too many business book lists are narrow in definition. Our list is less traditional and duplicative to others. That is why it includes, and is sometimes dominated by, screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-3-32-04-pmbooks not categorized purely as “business”.

We always avoid books promising four-hour workweeks because they are fables, over-simplified and prescriptive how-to works that are vacuous and dangerous, and so-called inspirational books that are trite, lite and ineffectual. These are all tossed aside when one experiences the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

There are no shortcuts or magic panaceas in business. We have to do the work even when reading. As John Locke stated, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” We encourage you to read the selections here and make the knowledge yours.

The list includes books released in 2016 that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, Famous_Nathan_jacket_revise_new_trim_size.inddwell written, applicable, thought-provoking, and innovative. Our last bit of criteria makes the selections tougher to determine and that is timelessness of content. We love sharing the Top-Drawer list because so much of success in business is predicated on great storytelling and these selections exemplify that skill.

This year 13 make our list, 4 more than last year, and are presented in no particular order. For the first time, fiction efforts are included for the amazing lessons they carry if one is open to the education. For fun, we have included a separate list of 8 timeless business novels.

Remember, life is too short to drink cheap scotch or to read books that are not Top-Drawer. So keep these selections within easy reach for repeated reference. Access the list here, topdrawer2016final.

Narrative Psychology in Brand Storytelling

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past. A bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a 140 character tweet, or captured in an oversimplified to-do list. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy.

Marketing and advertising agencies claim to be professional storytellers. Methodologies at agencies deliver a brand story as part of engagements. Creative briefs bring the story to life. Agencies pump out papers on the subject and profile case studies where the story is key to client success. Within the industry, marketing conferences make room for storytelling as part of the agenda. Media and publications write on the topic with frequency. Storytelling permeates the profession.

Still, storytelling is constantly critiqued. It is viewed broadly as integral, over-used, irrelevant, or even dead. Storytelling is constantly evolving in interesting ways. Here are three changes taking place in business storytelling:

They Don’t Tell: by its very definition, storytelling is broadcast in nature. We tell a tale. It is ‘one-to-many’ like the Mad Men era of advertising. We know that no longer works. Stories must now invite consumers in and let them be both character and storyteller. It is now about storyparticipation not passive absorption.

They Are Organic: the best brand stories take root organically and get consumers involved. Then they really evolve. This scares traditional marketers. They fear ceding control. Still they control context and that is critical. Context provides the story’s framework. Granted it is a bit of a wild ride when consumers help build the story but this is what is taking place with Uber and Airbnb and has taken place with Apple and Red Bull.

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100 Staff: An Advertising Agency Tipping Point

Starting any business is a bold move. Not all survive and few truly thrive. Those that do face the challenges of managing growth and staying true to what made them successful in the first place. This is an interesting tension that I recently discovered in working with four advertising agencies.

These businesses had grown to 100 or more staff. Of course, that metric in, and of itself, is not an indicator of sustained success. The good news is the agency leaders know that. In fact, these leaders were concerned because interesting things happen when the payroll hits 100. Here are some issues that arise:

  • Agencies of 15 or 30 or even 75 employees possess a start-up or boutique feel. When you hit 100 this weirdly begins to dissipate.
  • You don’t know everyone any more. Small agencies talk of being saatchi-saatchi-office-funkt-1“family” where everyone has each other’s back. While a strong culture can keep this rolling as staff size grows, it cannot mitigate the realities of being larger. This is compounded when they open up other offices.
  • A bigger payroll and presence prompts new business pressures. This can mean chasing the wrong work to keep the machine humming.
  • Founders and principals move from client service oversight to functional roles. Marketing, people, service and product development and other areas need full-time leadership. This transition can be bumpy and skill-sets are stretched.
  • Specialisms and differentiators begin to lose their luster. You simply cannot make the same claims. Being “nimble”, as an example, gets called in to question.

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Every Agency Needs to Obsess About Loyalty

The company, Access Development, tracked and recorded, and recently shared every publicly available piece of data available concerning customer engagement and loyalty. They call it the Ultimate Collection of Loyalty Statistics. These data points, insights and themes are interesting unto themselves but add up to one big fat fact they did not note…any marketing business is in the business of loyalty.

I mean advertising agencies, marketing consultancies, public relations firms, market research bureaus, digital agencies, performance marketing shops, telemarketers, brand consultancies, social media marketers, media buying services, promotional material providers, influencer and celebrity marketing 200464106-001advisors…well, you get the idea. Any agency, firm or service that is in the business of marketing exists for one purpose. Of course, this includes those prescient to be specifically in the business of loyalty marketing.

The past, present and future of marketing has and will always hinge on loyalty. No company wants a one-time customer. Even businesses selling bomb shelters in the 1950’s wanted a client’s second home or to upgrade the first. Apple wants to sell customers a new cellphone every time there is a new release or every 22 months which is the smartphone adoption average.

Agencies and consultancies continue to talk about brand positioning, awareness, consideration and trial. Important stuff for sure but only the start. All efforts and spend should have loyalty as the end goal. Anything else is a dodge, a feint, a run from the real focus and fight.

Not one single advertising agency, brand consultancy, PR firm, media buyer is really talking about loyalty.

I see not one single advertising agency, brand consultancy, PR firm, media buyer talking about loyalty. This leads to churn, inefficiency, ineffectiveness and the regurgitation of the same ideas whose only result is a client’s frustration and dissatisfaction…and poor results.

Why spend money on branding and advertising if not to have repeat customers?

Let me say it again, no company wants a one-time customer. That is why marketing’s purpose is loyalty. You only need to give a cursory examination of Access Development’s aggregation to arrive at the same conclusion. We thank them for the following…and for also proving loyalty programs are a tactic not a strategy.

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What’s Happening in Brand Storytelling?

Storytelling has its sceptics and detractors in the business world. I fear the word and practice is both being overused and misapplied much like “business design” and “branding”. The only way to conclude its effectiveness is to give it a try. That starts with understanding by reading the latest thinking on the subject.

Moving From Fiction to Non-Fiction
Many brand and product stories “are just pretty commercials made to wear beat up sweatpants to try to boost authenticity and believability”. Jay Baer recently admonished such efforts saying, “Storytelling has to shift from an emphasis on the story to an emphasis on the truth.” He goes as far to suggest that this “will be the big content and social story in 2017.”

The Resurgence Of Storytelling
Devishobha Ramanan writing in The Huffington Post suggests that oral storytelling is needed in company leadership. Her introduction is an eloquent example of storytelling, “Stories are powerful. imageThey can teach us to be moral or immoral. They can help us cut through a situation analytically. They make us cry for someone else we didn’t know. They make us happy for someone we only wished we had met.” She calls for business leaders to draw on ancient practices. India’s Harikatha is an oral storytelling tradition with a primary storyteller and two other storytellers in support. China’s Shuosh and Japan’s Rakugo are other examples whose use can motivate and educate audiences.

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The Real Reason Clients Hire You

I have spent my career in professional services. From Price Waterhouse to Interbrand to DDB to now running my own agency. Over that time I have become an expert in branding and marketing professional services. At least that is what peers and clients say. To make that claim myself is analogous to me telling you that “I’m cool” or “I’m funny” or “I’m smart”. The credibility is in others saying it. Having others speak well of you is the goal of branding.

This specialty allows me to work with law firms, management and marketing consultancies, advertising and digital agencies, and accounting firms. An engagement with an investment management firm led to an insight about how and why clients truly decide on one professional over another.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-8-58-40-pmFor a long period we assumed that clients first and foremost chose expertise. This assumption led ad agencies to talk about themselves way too much, law firms to numb clients with superior high-minded jargon, and management consultancies to dazzle with mysterious black boxes of proprietary processes. To their credit many professionals identified this as a problem but mistakenly identified the solution. They chose to switch emphasis and focus on the prospective client’s situation.

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Remember When Marketing was About Selling?

Checkout these thought posters and share them widely. They address brand storytelling, the loss of meaning in branding, the need for real results, and how marketing must get back to selling.

1Complexity

2Brand

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Chief Marketing Officer Turnover Persists

Spencer Stuart, a global executive search and leadership consulting firm, first brought attention to the short tenure of Chief Marketing Officers. In 2004, they reported that CMO’s lasted less than two years (that number now is now four years). Spencer Stuart’s work prompted McKinsey, Bain, and other consultancies to examine the role in papers and articles. All this analysis could be Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 9.29.27 AMboiled down to two primary reasons for short tenure: too-high expectations and poor cultural fit.

There was a fad-like quality to the early rounds of hiring CMOs. It was like CEOs looked around and said, “Hey get me one of those!” I recently interviewed Chris Hummel, CMO at United Rentals, for my upcoming book, Needs and Wants: The Universal Truths of Marketing. Chris has been CMO at Unify and Schneider Electric prior to his current position. He believes the hiring company often defines the position too broadly or may not know what they really need so it is critical to be specific in what the role is to deliver while ensuring solid chemistry with the company and fellow executives.

Executive Search consultants, Russell Reynolds, recently added to the discussion with their own report on marketing executive turnover. You can access the PDF here: RRA Marketing Moves Q1-Q2 2016 or read it below. You will find that being a marketing leader is not for the feint of heart.

MARKETING MOVES
To better understand current trends in the appointment and turnover of marketing officers, Russell Reynolds Associates tracked and analyzed 175 notable, publicly disclosed marketing-leadership moves in the first two quarters of 2016.

Key Findings

Record turnover. So far, 2016 has witnessed the highest level of marketing-leader appointments and turnover since Russell Reynolds Associates began comprehensively tracking all major appointments four years ago. In the first six months of this year, we recorded 175 marketing-leader appointments, compared to 147 in the prior six months and 134 in the same period of last year.

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Social Media Officially Failed on February 7, 2009

I often joke with clients and audiences at conferences that social media officially failed on February 7, 2009. It is a completely arbitrary date. My point is, around that time it became clear that the promise of social media would go unrealized. That promise being that social media would be premised on conversation.

Instead what happened is brands and their agencies feared lack of control over dialogue. Ceding that control to customers was a scary idea. So they reacted by using social media as just another broadcast tool. They fell back on their comfort zone as in television, print and radio. Years later this persists.

This is not to say brands are shying away from social media. In fact, Forrester predicts $16 billion in spend in social media by US marketers alone in 2016. Lithium, the owner of Klout, that tracks social media influence, commissioned independent research firm ComBlu to take a look at social media. According to their site, “Combining hard numbers with human analysis, the State of Social looks at eight industries and 85 Fortune 1000 companies to determine how strategic and effective brands are across their social ecosystems.”

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Before we get to the insights it is important to state that though I am on Klout, I am not sure of its ultimate value. An aggregate score based on my social media activity has not caused me to alter anything when it comes to social media. And it is clear this report has an agenda and that is to further advance the idea that influencer marketing is valid and works. Social media was always intended to be an egalitarian grassroots tool. Obviously some will attract more followers than others but that should be based on their value and relevance rather than by a campaign using brand dollars.

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Write On with this Advice

God I love writing. Too bad the ‘Gods of Writing’ can be so demanding even cruel. That is why it is important to draw on the experiences of others. Take Ernest Hemingway who said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” There is both comfort and terror in that observation.

Enid Bagnold captured my own sentiments of writing, “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

Here are other quotes on writing that may cause you to slap your forehead and say to and for yourself, “That’s it!”

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” George Orwell

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” Stephen King

“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.” William Zinsser

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“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.” John Updike

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” Elmore Leonard

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” Larry L. King

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” Doris Lessing

“Style is to forget all styles.” Jules Renard

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.” Lawrence Block

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.” Leigh Brackett

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” Stephen King

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.” Jim Tully

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” Harper Lee

“Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.” Jack Kerouac

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” Ray Bradbury

“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.” George Singleton

“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.” Jim Thompson

“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.” Andre Gide

“When I say work I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.” Margaret Laurence

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” Annie Dillard

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