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Latest Must-Reads: Summertime Books for Content Marketers on the Go (or on Vacation)


It’s that time again, time for my third annual mid-year roundup of recommended recently published books for content marketers. Self-education never ends for content marketers … even when vacations roll around.

As always, one of my goals is to highlight the latest must-reads from within the content marketing community. And, several of the following were written by familiar content marketing all-stars.

But, in a larger sense, my goal is to draw attention to equally important books from beyond the content marketing community. Paradoxically, often the most productive content marketing ideas originate outside the content marketing world, in books on traditional advertising, creativity, personal branding, and psychology.

Either way, because of their hybrid origins and each author’s unique perspective, the following books have something for everyone, from entrepreneurs and freelancers to top-tier corporate marketers and consultants. And, they can turn rainy days or delayed flights into career-enhancing learning opportunities.

An added bonus: The following provide inspiring examples of the types of books that are popular today in terms of content structure, length, and style.


The Advertising Concept Book: A Complete Guide to Creative Ideas, Strategies and Campaigns by Pete Barry

One of the reasons I’m a big fan of Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose’s weekly This Old Marketing podcast is that they take a thoughtful approach to traditional advertising. They acknowledge the lessons to be learned from advertising, and that there is a time and a place for it within content marketing.

The Advertising Concept Book is an excellent example of learning from history. It offers content marketers a valuable source of content and design inspiration based on the best examples from the past.

I’ve been reading advertising books since Gutenberg printed the original edition of David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man, but I’ve never encountered a book like The Advertising Concept Book.

It’s certainly not for everyone. It’s larger, thicker, heavier, and a bit more expensive than most of the books that follow. (It’s definitely not a book to read on the plane to Content Marketing World in September.) But, in return, your investment will be repaid in depth and reading pleasure. You won’t find this much content and design analysis and detail in one volume anywhere else.

Each page is a visual treat. Classic ads have been redrawn to highlight the key ideas, free from distraction. This is a book to be read slowly on paper, giving your mind time for the ideas to digest.


Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It by Dorie Clark

Stand Out is a companion, implementation guide for her first book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. Her first book described the importance of reinvention. Stand Out describes a three-step process for:

  1. Finding your breakthrough idea
  2. Building a following around it
  3. Making it happen

Stand Out covers the tasks and details involved with each step with examples, interviews, and tips. To help you begin your journey, each chapter ends with challenging questions. These are not “summary” questions; they are thought-provoking.


Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman

This is the easy-to-read and immediately applicable development of the ideas he introduced 10 years ago in his best-selling Emotional Intelligence. It’s significantly shorter and focuses on career and workplace issues. The 21 chapters are organized in terms of activities, e.g., self-awareness, reading others, well-focused leaders. As a result, it’s less of a general textbook and more of a guide to best practices for day-to-day interactions when dealing with bosses, co-workers, and clients.

It’s an excellent example of psychological research boiled down to day-to-day acceptance, recognition, and self-management. (Note: Focus was originally published in 2013, but the much easier-to-read and take-to-the-beach paperback edition just appeared.)


Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive by Edward M. Hallowell

Ultimately, distraction is probably content marketing’s biggest productivity killer. There’s distraction everywhere in today’s 24/7, always-connected world. I suspect content marketers are especially vulnerable because those whom I have met are truly passionate about creating, curating, and sharing ideas, words, and visual images.

Pioneering ADHD researcher Hallowell coined the phrase “attention deficit trait” to describe today’s growing workplace problem. In Part 1, he describes “The Six Most Common Distractions at Work — and How to Overcome Them.” For better or for worse, I recognized most of them, screen-sucking, multitasking, idea-hopping, etc. Part 2, “Training Your Attention,” shares seven specific ways to increase your focus. Imagine how much more productive you would be by January 2016 if you mastered just one technique a month starting now.


Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn by Anne H. Janzer

It’s not easy to position a new book in the content marketing sphere – there are a lot of books available and many are entrenched bestsellers.

One of the things I most appreciate about Subscription Marketing is the book’s positioning. By identifying a key concern faced by all content marketers, and sharing a system to address it, Anne Janzer has created a niche that she can dominate within the content marketing world.

Anne has also positioned her book in terms of length and value. In less than 150 pages (print version), Anne convincingly describes:

  1. The problem (i.e., the symptoms and implications of the subscription shift)
  1. The solution (i.e., an alternative, a series of value-nurturing strategies)
  1. The implementation (i.e., putting the strategies into action)

I especially liked Chapter 10, “Help Customers Live Up to Their Values.” This provided a fresh insight into the opportunities highlighted by recent research.


Content Marketing Works: 8 Steps to Transform Your Business by Arnie and Brad Kuenn

Some books are so good that you want to buy the paperback version even after you’ve read the Kindle version. That’s how I feel about Content Marketing Works.

While reading the digital version, I found numerous ideas I wanted to underline, comment on, or reference in upcoming projects. (Yes, I realize Kindle offers a way to highlight and export key ideas and sentences, but I find there’s something tactilely pleasurable about marking up a book printed on paper.)

Content Marketing Works is an excellent one-stop guide for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and corporate managers who need to convince the powers that be to allow them to invest in content marketing.

The eight steps are well chosen and provide a useful framework for change. Each chapter contains enough detail to structure the tasks involved in each step. The cover and chapter title pages also provide a useful example of tasteful design and inside-page branding.


A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden

I love constraints! They’re the limitations that can drive productivity, as I shared in an earlier blog post.

Constraints can play an important role in content marketing because not only are they everywhere, but they’re inevitable. Constraints, however, are often considered obstacles, rather than the drivers of creativity they can be.

A Beautiful Constraint offers a comprehensive, detailed, and tastefully designed description of the “opportunity power” of constraints. (If you liked Robert Cialdini’s landmark Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you’ll love this book. It builds on many of the same principles in a real-world corporate marketing environment.) Its 11 chapters outline different approaches to turning constraints into creativity using resonant examples you’ve inevitably encountered or read about in the business press.

My favorite example of turning constraints into opportunities appears in Chapter 3, “Ask Propelling Questions,” and its description of the four sources of unreasonableness.


Buyer Personas. How to Gain Insights Into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business by Adele Revella

You may think you know all there is to know about buyer personas from Adele Revella’s frequent Content Marketing Institute blog posts and Content Marketing World presentations.

But no matter how much you already know, Revella’s book will show you how to take your buyer personas to the next level. It describes how to go deeper into the buyer personas in ways that your clients, co-workers, and C-level executives will appreciate.

And, if you’re self-employed, you’ll learn how to gain a better understanding of your own clients and prospects, and will be better able to align your content marketing to their needs.


Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing by Robert Rose and Carla Johnson

To achieve their maximum career potential, today’s content marketers have to look beyond the present. They need to step back and broaden their horizon beyond what’s happening today. They need to analyze the long-term trends and project them into the probable future.

In Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, Robert Rose, the Content Marketing Institute’s chief strategy officer, and Carla Johnson, a frequent Content Marketing Institute storyteller and contributor, offer an informed guide to what content marketers can do today to prepare for the future.

It outlines an action plan for serious marketers who want to escape the “copy and graphics business” and – instead – become mission-critical leaders and decision-makers for their firms. It’s an alternative to the frequently encountered dead end of creating great marketing without authority or responsibility for the customer experiences that follow.

Experiences is a manifesto for change. It’s a handbook for those who seek growing influence and responsibility at every touchpoint during the life of the buyer-seller experience. It can inspire a new enthusiasm for addressing the challenges you face every day.


The Content Code. Six Essential Strategies for Igniting Your Content, Your Marketing, and Your Business by Mark Schaefer

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sit next to Mark Schaefer on a coast-to-coast airplane ride, you’ll enjoy this book. A prolific blogger and multi-title author, Schaefer is a comfortable writer. His writing is full of “you” and “I” questions and suggestions.

The Content Code addresses the problem of “content density,” the tsunami of content competing for your prospect’s attention. It offers a simple but scalable six-step framework. It’s written in a conversational style, using colorful language like “content shock” and “ignition strategy.” I found Chapter 3, “Building Shareability Into Your Content,” and Chapter 4, “22 Practical Ways to Achieve Content Ignition,” especially helpful.


Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick by Alexandra Watkins

I’m a big fan of this book, even though it competes with my book about book titles (heresy!).

This is a slim, inexpensive book with a wealth of knowledge from the founder of a firm that specializes in developing product and business names for firms like Adobe, Disney, Dunkin’ Donuts, eHarmony, Hasbro, and Microsoft.

Although Watkins’ background is from the corporate world, her methodology can be applied by all. In Chapter 1, she shares her SMILE system, “The 5 Qualities of a Super Sticky Name.” In Chapter 2, she turns her attention to SCRATCH, “The 7 Deadly Sins.” Her corporate background also emerges in Chapter 6, “12 Rules for Building Consensus.”

Although less than 100 pages in length, Hello, My Name is Awesome covers all the bases, including tips for choosing the right domain names (while avoiding frequently encountered traps). There’s even a chapter comparing the pros and cons of name changes.

What are your recommendations for summer reading?

Have I omitted any of your favorite recently published content marketing books or books in adjacent areas like career management, creativity, or psychology? And, if you’ve read any of the mentioned books, please share your experiences, impressions, and key takeaways – including value.

Happy reading at the beach, at home, or while traveling to or from your favorite vacation destination.

Looking to read up on the latest strategies and techniques for successful content marketing? Browse CMI’s Essential #BestBooksReading List for Content Marketers to see Roger Parker’s other top recommendations.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute