By Roger C. Parker published November 22, 2017

The Best Content Marketing Books of 2017 to Boost Your Creativity and Productivity

books-boost-creativity-productivity

If you’re a chief content officer, copywriter, designer, or programmer searching for ways to create more and better content in less time, you’ll find fresh ideas for improving your creativity, productivity, and writing skills with these best books from 2017.

Marketers seeking to learn through recent books suffer from an embarrassment of riches. A search of Amazon.com for “marketing books” returns 324,225 titles. Narrow the search to “content marketing books” and 2,736 options appear.

But, there’s more. Complicating the issue is that content marketing success requires ideas and insights from experts from dozens of other fields, including: creativity, design, HTML, productivity, project management, writing, and dozens more.

However, you don’t need to search through thousands of titles to find the ones most helpful to your needs. This breakdown guides you to the top books in 2017 for content creators – from strategies to enhance creativity, planning, and productivity for you and your team to fresh insights into writing for the web.

Efficiency: Building your team’s creativity, planning, and productivity

The books in this section share the keys to taking full advantage of the skills and expertise within your content marketing team, outsourced agencies, or freelancers.

Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction

by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn

problem-solved-cheryl-strauss-einhorn

Content marketing success requires making the right decisions over and over. Problem Solved shares a simple process to unlock answers that help you and your co-workers save time by learning how to identify and trust your instincts.

#ContentMarketing success requires making the right decisions over and over. @cheryleinhorn Read more >> Click To Tweet

In Chapter 1, Navigating the Gray AREA, Cheryl explains the origins of her AREA system:

“As a journalist, teacher, consultant, mother, sister, wife, daughter, and friend, I’ve learned that there are few absolutes – and many gray areas … I put together the AREA Method as a way to navigate the gray areas and avoid those mental shortcuts that enable us to make small decisions easily but may impair our judgment when making big decisions. In short, I was searching for a better way to make big decisions.”

However, she soon realized the AREA Method offered many additional benefits:

“(T)he process does much more than provide a research and decision-making road map: It makes your work work for you. It heightens your awareness to the motivations and incentives of others. It helps you avoid bias in your work and engage with people and problems more mindfully. Decision-making is about ideas, but ideas aren’t enough. There is an important gap between having ideas and making good decisions about what to do with those ideas.”

She explains the elements of AREA by chapter:

  • Absolute (Chapter 2) – Understand your target, where you are now, and where you want to be. It includes seven “Cheetah Sheets,” i.e., question-and-answer worksheets to guide you to greater clarity. The goal is to create a thesis statement that represents your research, your findings, and your interpretation.
  • Relative (Chapter 3) – Verify the accuracy of the information uncovered in the Absolute stage. The three Cheetah Sheets allow you to refine your critical concepts.
  • Exploration and Exploitation (Chapters 4 and 5) – Focus on the breadth (exploration) and depth (exploitation) of information. Cheryl refers to them as the “twin areas of creativity.” Exploration identifies new questions, answers, and understanding while exploitation challenges old or accepted certainties. The six Cheetah Sheets in Chapter 4 help you identify the right questions to ask the right people. The four Cheetah Sheets in Chapter 5 focus on creating and evaluating competing alternating hypotheses.
  • Analysis (Chapter 6) – Review what you have uncovered and correct for any inconsistencies using these four Cheetah Sheets.

Considered as a system and shared with your co-workers, Cheryl’s AREA system and the Cheetah Sheets that guide you will soon become a habit that you can use for simplifying complex decisions and making the correct choices.

Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into the Next Big Thing

by Bernadette Jiwa

hunch-bernadette-jiwa

 Learn how to harness the power of your intuition so you can recognize opportunities that others overlook. 

Bernadette Jiwa is one of my favorite bloggers. No matter how busy I am, I find time to read her latest The Story of Telling blog posts.

Why? They’re consistently concise, original, and provocative. Plus, the last sentence is usually a zinger that summarizes the key idea in a memorable way.

Hunch is part manifesto, part how-to discussion of the origins of innovation. Her “anyone could have done it” title to the introduction is masterful. The basic idea is: “Every day is filled with those opportunities either seized or missed, that are ours for the taking if only we can learn to listen for them.”

Hunch contains numerous observations like:

  • “Empathy is still our most undervalued and untapped resource.”
  • “Discovery is ignited by behavior.”
  • “Curiosity is the ability to notice.”
  • “True innovation isn’t about finding an alternative that gets us from A to B: It’s about envisioning new As and Bs.”
  • “Scientific discoveries happen not through method or magic, but from being open to discovery by listening to one’s emotions and responding to intuition. Like a poet, the researcher as well as the therapist, needs the ability to imagine what the truth might be.”
Empathy is still our most undervalued and untapped resource, says @bernadettejiwa. Read more >> Click To Tweet

Here’s my favorite Hunch quote, which summarizes the book for me:

 This ability to be imaginative and curious in the face of uncertainty and to act on the information we have, the things we sense but may not yet know to be true, is what enables us to pioneer, recognize opportunities, and make a difference. And it’s a skill we can cultivate with practice.

Bernadette identifies three characteristics common to individuals who have killer hunches – curiousity, empathy, and imagination. The good news is these qualities can be nurtured through mindful intention and practice. In her words:

  • Curiosity is interest plus attention. Learn to see problems and discern which ones are worth solving.
  • Empathy is worldview plus understanding. Understand how it feels to be the person with the problem.
  • Imagination is context plus experience. Build on what is understood to connect ideas and describe new possibilities for the future.

To help you cultivate these characteristics, she offers Hunch Log, which you can use to create the discovery process from insight to opportunity over four sections:

  • Inspiration – the spark
  • Insight – the revelation
  • Idea – the solution
  • Implementation – the execution

Hunch includes dozens of case studies, examples, and scenarios. It uses a simple three-word structure to walk you through the examples: prompt, action, and insight. 

The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months

by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington

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Revolutionary in its simplicity, practical in its understanding of behavioral psychology, The 12 Week Year offers an alternative to the familiar, but problem-plagued, year-long marketing plans. 

The 12 Week Year is a breakthrough book that reflects true innovative genius. It offers a practical alternative to the typical 52-week marketing plans and yearly editorial calendars. In the authors’ words:

The number-one factor holding people back from achieving what they are truly capable of is not a lack of knowledge, intellect, or information. It’s not a new strategy or idea. It’s not a larger network of connected people. It’s not hard work, natural talent or luck. Of course, all of these things help, they all play a factor, but they are not the factors that make the difference.

You may be thinking, “What separates the top performers from the also-rans?” Brian and Michael have an answer:

Execution is the single greatest market differentiator. Great companies and successful individuals execute better than their competition. The barrier standing between you and the life you are capable of living is a lack of consistent execution. Effective execution will set you free. It is the path to accomplish the things you desire.

Great companies & successful individuals execute better than their competition. @brianpmoran @MLennington Click To Tweet

The 12 Week Year describes many case studies like that of Ann Laufman, a financial advisor with Mass Mutual in Houston. After implementing the program, she experienced a 400% increase in production and became the first female Associate of the Year in the 103-year history of Mass Mutual Houston. What made the difference?

… Ann didn’t start to work with more affluent clients, write bigger cases, or expand her target market … Ann focused on improving her execution by doing what she had already been doing, just doing it more steadily … without working longer hours.

The 12 Week Year is based on a wonderfully simple concept: It’s time to replace cumbersome and inflexible 12-month business or marketing plans with 12-week business and marketing plans. You must change monthly goals to weekly goals and view weekly goals as daily goals.

This approach frees you to:

  • Focus on activities that matter
  • Maintain a sense of urgency to get the truly important things done
  • Shed low-value activities that keep you stuck

What’s wrong with conventional 52-week business and marketing plans?

  • Distant deadlines – The further away a deadline, the easier it is to allow yourself to delay starting. Tasks and unexpected interruptions take higher priority.
  • Delays build on each other – It’s easy to be discouraged when you miss a weekly deadline. At minimum, it doubles the amount of work the next week. Worse, it leads to negative, guilty feelings that can further reduce your productivity.
  • Unpredictability and lack of flexibility – It’s impossible to predict market conditions a year in advance. It’s also difficult to be agile when changes are needed.

This book will make a profound difference in your personal as well as your content marketing team’s 2018 productivity.

The Spark and The Grind: Ignite the Power of Disciplined Creativity

by Erik Wahl


spark-and-grind-erik-wahl

Many content marketers often ask the wrong question. Instead of asking, ‘Which is more important: creativity or discipline,’ they should be asking ‘How can I combine the best aspects of both?’

The Spark and The Grind is based on a simple premise: Great creators embrace a principle of thinking and a discipline of doing.

Great creators embrace a principle of thinking and a discipline of doing, says @ErikWahl. Click To Tweet

Erik Wahl says ongoing, original creativity requires the spark and the grind; the initial flicker of hope and the work to make it into something that changes the game. Always both; never just one.

By itself, each has its own critical limitations.

  • Spark without the grind – The final measure of creativity, innovation, or revolution is neither ideas nor dreams. It’s whether those sparks grow into something that matters. People who chase the spark but don’t embrace the grind are into igniting big ideas but not fanning them into a tangible blaze. Erik refers to them as igniters. They are tempted to enjoy the reputation of creativity but not the reality of creativity. He concludes, dreamers and visionaries are wholly necessary in our world, but, left alone, the ideas they ignite would remain undeveloped. (Ouch!)
  • Grind without the spark – Erik is equally critical about grinders. He defines this group as those who “work for the sake of working, spinning your wheels, continual effort without meaningful progress.” He continues: “The results that grow your strength and willingness to keep grinding – that give meaning to the grind – are visceral. Meaning lives inside us. But it is manifest through the act of creation. When your work does not bring pieces into being, it quickly becomes a maddening grind. In short, the only grind that matters is the one that illuminates and fans the sparks within us.”

The chapters that follow lay out – through study, experience, and personal application – the seven practices you must embed not just into your daily routine but also into your mindset and spirit if you want to be creative on a regular basis in any area of your life. It is your road map to creating a unique and replicable process to cultivate creativity.

Writing for better content marketing results

Writing is the core discipline needed for content marketing. Words are the building blocks of articles, blog posts, e-books, speeches, podcasts, web pages, and videos. Yet, each year, content marketers are expected to produce more and better content that satisfies increasingly detailed tracking metrics.

Writing is the core discipline needed for #contentmarketing, says @rogercparker. Read more >> Click To Tweet

Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean

by Josh Bernoff

writing-without-bullshit-josh-bernoff

A must-read for anyone who communicates via the written word online or offline. The simple 10-word sentence resonates throughout the book, illustrated with hundreds of examples.

This may be the single most important book that can help you and your team write better and more confidently. Regardless of what you think of the title, Josh Bernoff has written one of the most effective writing books I’ve ever encountered. The book’s power comes from the simple, practical 10-word philosophy that resonates throughout the book. Josh calls it The Iron Imperative.

The 10 words are deceptively simple: “Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.” Josh continues, “Everything that’s wrong with the way businesspeople write today stems from ignoring this principle.”

Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own, says @jbernoff. Click To Tweet

Josh writes with refreshing candor, as the following examples show.

  • “Unfortunately, each small step towards expediency erodes your own sense of integrity. You are no longer saying what you mean. That takes a moral toll on you even as it wastes your reader’s time … We’re drowning in text that was slapped together without a focus on meaning and directness.”
  • “When I talk about bullshit, I have something very specific in mind. It’s prose that makes you go, ‘Huh?’ Bullshit is communication that wastes the reader’s time by failing to communicate clearly and accurately.” Later, in the same paragraph, he writes, “Lies are not the biggest problem in business communication. The biggest problem is lack of clarity, jargon, overuse of qualifying words like ‘very’ and ‘deeply,’ confusing passive sentences, poorly organized thinking, and just general rambling on.”

Once you buy into The Iron Imperative and the corollary that readers aren’t going to read what you’ve written unless you’ve taken the time to communicate clearly and accurately, Josh organizes his advice and examples in a four-step process:

  • Part One: Change Your Perspective
  • Part Two: Change What You Write
  • Part Three: Change How You Write
  • Part Four: Change What You Produce

Chapter 11, Reveal Structure, is my favorite. It illustrates how he manages to package a lot of information in just a few lines:  

Anything that’s worth reading and is more than 300 words long has a structure of some kind. Reveal that structure, and you’ve given the reader some signposts. They see what’s coming, and that it looks interesting. That is why you need to mix up your text with headings, bullets, lists, tables, graphics, quotes, and links.

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

by Robert Cialdini

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The pioneer in behavioral psychology and the hundreds of books that relate the way we buy, make decisions, think, or write to the way our brains are wired adds a seventh principle and a fresh perspective on influence.

In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote the first edition of his now mainstream book, Influence: The Power of Persuasion. It described six universal persuaders that can be used to change a voter’s mind, make a sale, or propose marriage. These include:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Liking
  3. Social proof
  4. Authority
  5. Scarcity
  6. Consistency

It was a book ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it was considered a social psychology book rather than a serious psychology text. This was because the advanced research tools we have today for studying electrical activity in the brain and how the brain responds to various stimuli were not available.

In Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Robert provides updated perspectives on the original six persuaders and introduces a seventh – unity. It involves more than simple similarities, but shared identities based on region, locality, home, and acting together for ceremonial or material gain. Joint projects, like making music, also reinforce unity’s power.

Proximity, such as when a request is presented, is evaluated in consistency terms. Timing plays a major role. The action and words exchanged immediately before a request is made play a major role in whether the request will be accepted or rejected. Unity also is about the categories that individuals use to define themselves and their groups.

The Workplace Writer’s Process: A Guide to Getting the Job Done

by Anne Janzer

the-workplace-writers-process-anne-janzer

Have you ever wondered why so many employees take their important writing assignments home with them on evenings and weekends?

As a follow-up to last year’s The Writer’s Process: How to Get Your Mind in Gear, Anne Janzer has turned her laser focus to completing your writing work. It is a topic that Anne is intimately familiar with, as she’s worked both on staff in several leading Silicon Valley corporations, as well as with agencies and firms on a freelance basis, encountering where the environments lend themselves to distractions and interruptions. She knows how hard it can be to do your best work on company time whether you’re in a cubicle or remote.

Anne offers six species of writers from which you should identify yourself and/or someone you work with. Knowing the categories opens the door to exploring the best practices for dealing with each one:

  • Inadvertant writers – see writing as a byproduct of their real responsibilities
  • Unproductive writers – want to write but don’t have the time or aren’t efficient
  • Aspirational writers – wait for the perfect time to start to write
  • Reluctant writers – don’t feel comfortable writing
  • Frustrated artist/creative/writers – struggle to complete projects and feel unappreciated
  • Overburdened writers – take on all the writing-related tasks for their teams

Her Workplace Writer’s Process then describes the practical solutions to handle real-world problems like:

  • Approvers – want to second-guess every word choice
  • Subject-matter experts – are unwilling to share content
  • Clients – keep changing their minds about the objectives of the projects
  • Content – languishes in a never-ending approval process

A glance at the book’s table of contents reveals the level of practical detail she covers in 31 short chapters organized into six sections, including the planning, drafting, revision, and review process along with the writing rules no one teaches you, and troubleshooting writing success.

There’s also a bonus. Readers can download numerous resources for successful workplace writers, including checklists and worksheets for each of the six phases of project planning.

Leveraging your content into higher profits and new markets

Content marketers may differ in how they create and curate content, but they agree on one thing: Even the most well-crafted content must be amplified, i.e., promoted, to convert into sales. The books in this section create a foundation for that stage of content marketing, when content is baked into every aspect of a customer’s interaction with the firm.

Even the most well-crafted #content must be amplified, says @rogercparker. Click To Tweet

Vlog Like a Boss: How to Kill It Online With Video Blogging

by Amy Schmittauer

vlog-like-a-boss

This is the first video book that really resonated with me. In a lighthearted and self-deprecating way, Amy communicates an incredible amount of detail and wisdom based on her hard-earned experiences. Amy did something else that I hadn’t encountered in previous video introduction books. She avoided wasting space on topics that would be outdated by the time the book appeared, like cameras, microphones, and lighting.

One of the first content marketing reinventions involves making a strong commitment to video. Amy’s book is built around a simple premise: “If you believe you have a message worth sharing, you should be creating a vlog presence to get it out there.”

If you have a message worth sharing, you should be creating a #vlog presence to get it out there. @Schmittastic Click To Tweet

By 2021, 82% of all internet traffic will be people consuming videos, according to networking giant Cisco. If you want to increase brand visibility and engagement, video presents a clear opportunity for your content marketing strategy. Video also has the potential to improve brand recall and boost your website’s SEO.

By 2021, 82% of all internet traffic will be people consuming #videos, according to @Cisco. Click To Tweet

If I had to choose just one book for individuals getting involved with video for the first time, I’d recommend Vlog Like a Boss, alternating chapters of her book with binge-watching her hundreds of brief YouTube videos.

Amy was a “cubicle escapee” from the corporate world who committed to building a powerful brand with her stream of Savvy Sexy Social YouTube videos. Amy understands marketers who are new to the medium because she had no previous video experience. But, unlike most people, she had the self-confidence and grit to put aside her quality concerns. Though she expected her first videos might be “pretty rough,” she was confident if she committed to producing several every week they would get better.

Hundreds of episodes later, Amy now provides viewers a balance of straight talk and tightly organized information that delivers a blend of detail and inspiration.

I wasn’t prepared to appreciate her writing style and learn as much from it as I did. But Amy’s a great simplifier. In her videos and book, she doesn’t pull her punches; she’s a master of short sentences that share important ideas in a memorable way. Examples include:

  • “Talking head videos are not the way to get ahead.”
  • “Keep the viewer’s eyes moving – every eight seconds.”
  • “Do the work to go after what you want.”
  • “Speed up the video: eliminate or speed up space between words or unnecessary syllables.”
Keep the viewer’s eyes moving – every eight seconds, says @Schmittastic. #video Click To Tweet

My favorite Amy-ism: “You’re not finished until you press publish!” Create, publish, and – if necessary – replace. But, recognize that it will never be perfect.

To get the most out of Amy’s book, I encourage you to read it while working your way through her videos. I wasn’t aware I had learned as much as I did until I saw the techniques employed on-screen.

Financial Services Sales Handbook: A Professionals Guide to Becoming a Top Producer

by Clifton Warren

financial-service-sales-handbook-clifton-warren

Clifton Warren’s book provides a template for you to adapt your existing content marketing knowledge to establish your expertise and visibility among your ideal clients and prospects.

One of the most popular topics in the Content Marketing Institute blog and at Content Marketing World events is reusing your content. Good content deserves more than one exposure. That’s why I included Clifton Warren’s Financial Services Sales Handbook. It offers content marketers several relevant lessons.

  • Go from blog to book (and back) – Often, the easiest way to do this is to convert your blog posts into a book or e-book. You can harvest posts from your blog and assemble them as they originally appeared, or build upon your original blog post by adding and updating information. Another way is to distribute the first draft of your book as blog posts (or podcasts, videos, webinars, etc.) After your book appears, you could respond to comments and reviews as blog posts.
  • Narrow the focus and republish – As a subject-matter expert in your field, you are familiar with the core topics newcomers need to know. Consider adapting your existing core content into one or more books for specific target markets. For example, Clifton could adapt the ideas in his Financial Services Sales Handbook to categories of financial services firms such as ones targeting agricultural markets, emerging markets, banks interested in serving small and medium-sized businesses, or financial services firms serving international markets. You might find it useful to offer versions tailored to countries or regions of the world.

Winning Lifelong Customers With the Five Abilities: Vis-ability, Cred-ability Vi-ability, Cap-ability, Reli-ability

by Rick Wong

five-abilities-winning-lifelong-customers-rick-wong

Content marketing may attract your ideal clients, but if you can’t close the sale, your carefully designed and written messages won’t produce the results you were looking for.

How you present yourself in selling situations is as important a consideration as the quality of your content. Rick Wong’s book is especially relevant for content marketers in the B2B world where sales cycles are long, the stakes are high, products are complex, and competition is fierce.

In these conditions, personal relationships and trust play crucial roles. Rick shares the lessons he learned in trust-based selling as the vice president of sales at Microsoft and now as an advisor to the CEO/founder of Simplicity Consulting, a marketing consulting firm on the Inc. 5000 list for five years.

If your content marketing firm is reinventing itself by going after higher-stakes accounts from larger and larger clients, you’ll find Rick’s advice fascinating and practical. This book is as much a workbook as it is a conversational narration with one of the country’s largest sales leaders. End-of-chapter worksheets also make it helpful to put into practice.

Digital Sense: The Common Sense Approach to Effectively Blending Social Business Strategy, Marketing Technology, and Customer Experience

by Travis Wright and Chris Snook

digital-sense-travis-wright-chris-snook

 They sold me by using ‘blending’ in the title. And, I’m pleased to report, I received a lot more than I expected.

Digital Sense was not the book I expected when the cover attracted my attention. I thought it would be a practical, template-driven approach to coordinating content marketing, social media, marketing technology, and customer experience. I thought it would be a silver-bullet, formulaic approach to juggling too many messages, in too many places, and with too many deadlines.

To my pleasure, it turned out to be a thoughtful, insightful book – a book about thinking and taking a fresh, higher-level look at my digital footprint and the experience I was offering my customers and my would-be/should-be customers.

Best of all, as a visual thinker interested in mind mapping and back-of-the-napkin approaches instead of screenshots of a computer, I found numerous examples of information graphics that I can use to audit my current marketing and deliver a more appropriate customer experience.

Here’s an excerpt of how foreward author Brian Solis describes the authors’ goals:

 …All of this is designed to help you be more in tune than your peers in grasping the gravity of change and do the things that put you ahead of your competition. And more so, you’re learning how to step outside of what you think your role is in marketing to lead your organization into a digital-first era. This is a story that’s equally about changing the future of marketing as it is a story of personal transformation.

In serving the above goals, the next 250-plus pages provide hundreds of insights, links, suggestions, and tips in the 15 chapters organized into five sections:

Conclusion

These 11 of the 2017 best content marketing books will give you a head start in growing your content creation skills, improving your productivity, and expanding the possibilities of your content in 2018. What area do you most want to improve in 2018 – for yourself or your team? What other books on these topics have you found helpful? I’d love to hear. Please share in the comments.

Want to supplement your book reading with daily snacksize and in-depth pieces to improve your content creation and productivity in 2018? Sign up for the daily CMI newsletter (or weekly digest.)

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Roger C. Parker

A lifelong content marketer, copywriter, and author, Roger enjoys helping clients write books and simplify their content marketing. Follow @RogercParker on LinkedIn at ContentMarketingHelp. Download a free copy of his 4-page 8 Commitments of Content Marketing Success.

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  • heidicohen

    Roger–Thank you for surfacing books that weren’t on my radar. You give a different perspective on how to be creative even if you’re not a “creative” in the traditional sense. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/author/roger-c-parker/ Roger C. Parker

      Thank you, Heidi. I appreciate the phrase “surfacing books that weren’t on my radar.” I’ll be interested in what you think of Josh Bernoff’s “Writing Without ….” and the 12 Hour Year. And, Happy marketing to you!

      • https://www.rankwatch.com RankWatch

        Hey Roger, Thanks for your research and advice.Will surely use the tips from these books. Very informative and thorough overview indeed.

        -Shivangi, Marketing Head, RankWatch

  • http://www.lainehmann.com Lain Ehmann

    Great variety. Many I’d heard of, but many are new. Thanks for the thorough overview as well!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/author/roger-c-parker/ Roger C. Parker

      Dear Lain: Thanks for your comment. I’ll be interested in hearing which of the “new ones” are your favorites, if you care to share. Have a great Thanksgiving. Roger

  • http://www.anandsoft.com Cert Exams

    Nice review of books and resources on marketing. There is so much that one needs to know, it is surprising to know that more and more users will be depending on video content during the years to come.