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Category archive for: Marketing Strategy Book Summaries

Summaries and reviews of some of the many marketing strategy books I have read recently.

Summary – Win Bigly – Persuasion in a world where facts don’t matter by Scott Adams

Dilbert creator Scott Adams gives his take on why Donald Trump is President.  In Adams view, Trump is a “Master Persuader” and through this lens, it is easier to see why he won the Republican nomination and beat Clinton.

The popular interpretation is that Trump understood the American people and devised policies they wanted. Adams argues Trump convinced people his policies were the ones they should care about most.

Adams sees Trump as a classic “deal-maker” who starts with an outrageous position, but is willing, and expects to moderate that position.  But people remember the outrageous position.   Trump was never going to build a “Wall” but people saw that Trump agreed with them on an emotional level, and that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. That is all they needed to remember.

Adams argues that in debates and interviews, Trump was a master of the High Ground Maneuver, which takes the discussion out of the weeds, and elevates it to the high ground where no one can disagree.  Say something that is absolutely true while changing the context at the same time.  Once the move has been executed, others risk looking small minded if they drag the debate back down.

In contrast, Clinton had success when she effectively tagged Trump as “Dark”.  However, most of her communications attempts missed the mark.  Trump branded his campaign as something for all Americans and successfully tagged the “Deplorables” comment as “Contempt”.

Facts and reason?

Adams challenges the common world view is that we can understand reality through facts and reason.  We think we are the enlightened ones and people who disagree just need better facts because this view makes us happy.  But we all have movies in our heads that we believe are accurate views of reality.  And all those movies are very different.

People don’t change opinions about emotional topics just because some information proved their opinion non-sense.  The worst thing your brain could do is reinterpret your reality into a whole new movie with each bit of information.  That would be exhausting.  Instead, your brain takes new information and puts it into your existing worldview.

Thus, it is not easy to change someone’s aspirations, but you can improve the power of your persuasion by grafting your story onto people’s existing aspirations.

Adams weaves together familiar themes from Cialdini’s Influence and Pre-suasion, findings of Behavioral Economics Thinking Fast and Slow, and Made to Stick and other top books on psychology and persuasion to argue Trump just had a better understanding of human nature than the other candidates.  Concepts like anchors, cognitive dissonance, filters, imagination, pacing, and confirmation bias, are all discussed as persuasion tools, often using examples from Trump’s campaign.

Some other ideas Adams puts forward:

  • When there is confusion, people gravitate towards the strongest, most confident voice. We don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers.
  • People gravitate towards the future that they are imagining most vividly, even if they don’t want the future they are seeing.
  • Humans need contrast in order to make solid decisions and turn to action. People make decisions in the context of alternatives.  If you are not framing the alternatives as bad, you are not persuading at all.
  • People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
  • You need to surprise the brain or make it work a bit harder to form memories. We more easily remember things that violate our expectations.
  • In general, people are more influenced by visual persuasion, emotion, repetition, and simplicity than they are by details and facts.
  • Cognitive Dissonance – people rationalize why their actions are inconsistent with their thoughts and beliefs. It is a common delusion, but we can only see it in other people.  Having lots of reasons why something did not go your way is a sign of cognitive dissonance.

Of course, Adams has the benefit of 2020 hindsight, and can fit his narrative to reflect Trump’s victory, but there is a lot to chew on here as we increasingly communicate in a world where “Facts Don’t Matter”.

Pre-suasion – A Revolutionary way to influence and persuade – By Robert B. Cialdini, Phd

Presuasion Book Cover

This book builds on concepts in “Influence” and other ideas recognizable from behavioral economics studies.

The essence of Pre-suasion is that in many ways, the effectiveness of your communication is determined before you even open your mouth or make the pitch. The presentation and the recipients state of mind and focus when receiving a message can be large factors in determining if it will be accepted.

Pre-suasion “best practices” reflect the main principles from Cialdini’s “Influence”: Reciprocity, Liking, Authority, Social Proof, Scarcity& Consistency.

He also adds “Unity” defined as “Acting Together” is a new principle he felt needed to be added as a principle with a powerful influence on persuasion.  Shared identities and giving advice build a connection. Social Proof works, especially with those we are connected to in some way.

Key to Pre-suasion is state of mind.  What are people focused on? or what is top of mind when they encounter your information?  Things that are top of mind seem more important and more causal.  Pictures on your website can focus people on either price or quality.   Single Chute Evaluation keeps people focused on only one product or issue.   Focus can determine the factors people weight most in deciding, and block other considerations.  This is why framing the “ballot question” is so important.     However, sometimes the more attention people pay to something, the more polarizing the topic can be.

Acknowledging weakness/drawbacks in your case early on in a conversation will make a communicator seem more honest.  Especially if the audience may be aware of them.  Words like “yet” and “but” can take people from perceived weakness to counteracting strength.  Especially if you challenge the relevance of the weakness.

People want to be consistent. Put the honesty pledge/verification at the beginning of a form, not the end. One test – people were more than twice as likely to give an email address to try a new product when asked if they were “adventurous”.

Other arguments Pre-suasion makes:

People don’t want to know how much you know until they know how much you care. Tie pitches and persuasion to the target’s language and values.

  • Mentally, people focus on hits, rather than misses-what is there, or what they are prompted on, rather than what is not there or not asked about. You can focus on satisfaction, or dissatisfactions.  You can also prime people.
  • Digital display ads can persuade even though people do not recall seeing them. Lack of notice can actually make them more effective.
  • You can write better for your target audience when surrounded by pictures of your target audience.
  • The more relevant something is to someone, the more attention they will pay. Replace “people” and “they” with “you” when appropriate. Personalization is effective. Adding the names to Coke cans boosted sales for the first time in a decade.
  • Mystery and Lack of closure holds attention.
  • Counterarguments beat out arguments, especially if the source of the argument is shown to be untrustworthy.
  • People perform better and achieve more when working in the presence of “winning” photos.
  • Trust is a big factor – positive trust gains compliance. Untrustworthiness is the most damaging thing for any company or communicator.
  • Rhyme can enhance persuasion. Things seem truer, and are more likely to be remembered.

Cialdini’s argument, backed by many findings from behavioral economics and psychological tests, it that “by guiding preliminary attention strategically, it is possible for a communicator to move recipients into agreement with a message before they experience it.  The key is to focus them initially on concepts that are aligned associatively with the yet to be encountered information. “

Book Summary: Buy-ology – Martin Lindstrom

Truth and Lies about why we buybuyology

 “In fact, visit this site scientists have found and area in the frontal cortex of the brain called Brodmann area 10, medical which is activated when we see products we think are “cool”

 Neuro-Marketing: interesting, enlightening, taboo, and perhaps one of the best ways to gain insight as to why people make the purchase decisions they do.

The age old question: “Why do we buy what we buy?” has new light shed on the answer with this look at neuro-marketing, which at this stage is using fMRI and other brain imaging equipment to see how our brains really react to ads, shows, products, or ideas.  The results are insightful, and help to get around the fact that what people say they think or will do is not always really what they think or will do.  Neuro-marketing studies get beyond the difference between what we think and what we do.

For the most part, the methodology is good, however sometimes large generalizations are drawn from small sample sizes, and of course, what is probably more interesting a lot of the time it the small group of people who think differently.

Insights and Interesting Thoughts: 

  • Those cigarette ads and dire warnings do not work, and in fact stimulate the smokers “craving spots”.
  • Banned from traditional advertising, the tobacco companies have leapt ahead in the marketing field, creating ways of subtly suggesting their products to the subconscious.
  • Product Placement only works when the product is integrated into the show or movie, and if the product works with the story line.  Product placements can be a lot more effective than standard commercials that get blocked our as “white noise”.
  • Mirror Neurons, which make our brains ‘mimic’ actions we see, are a powerful marketing trigger.  They are responsible for human empathy and work in tandem with dopamine.
  • Done right, subliminal advertising can be very effective as it penetrates the consumers consciousness when they do not have their guard up.  Colour schemes, and smells are two ways of doing this if you have a strong brand.  Lindstrom also argues that if not dead, the logo is on life support.
  • Rituals like the Corona lime help people create a stronger, more memorable bond with their product.  Attachments to products can stimulate the same brain centres as religious ritual.   They speak to our need for a sense of control in an increasingly complex world.
  •  There are a lot of similarities between religions and strong brands: a clear vision, a sense of belonging, giving a sense of control, making member s feel ‘honored’, and storytelling.
  •  Somatic Markets are very important – they are the shortcuts in our brains that connect an experience or emotion with a specific action.  They are shortcuts to buying decisions.
  •  Sex does not sell, at least not directly.

Book Summary: Ca$hing in with Content By David Meerman Scott

How Innovative Marketers use Digital Information to turn Browsers into BuyersCashing in with Content

Looking at a number of top web sites, viagra 60mg Scott makes the case that:

“Marketers working at companies with innovative web sites know that first and foremost, site visitors want access to information, not just fancy graphics and advertising hype”

This makes the organization behind the site a “Trusted Source”, not just a place looking for your money.

To do this effectively, web sites must move beyond just answering the questions they expect their visitors to have, and provide information above and beyond that.

“Branding is for Cattle”: Scott is not a fan of branding – at least as far as image and logos go: “…the provision of quality web content, together with useful layout and reliable customer support does more to build brand than pretty logos, cool design, and hip colour choices.”

The book breaks into 20 solid, in depth case studies showing where a variety of sites, from e-commerce to politics, have used quality content to “Cash In”


  •  Content should speak with one voice and create a distinct site personality.
  •  Content will bring in customers when they are researching a purchase
  •  Quality, interesting content, designed right, can create buzz and propel viral marketing
  •  Lots of good content drives search engine traffic from people researching your product.
  •  Use tools to build interactivity and leverage the knowledge you have.
  •  Make increasingly detailed content available, with RFP or buy now options at each step.
  •  Content can show you are a good corporate citizen and respond to criticism.
  •  Make downloadable information like white papers available.
  •  A web site can reach different people than direct mail or other media.
  •  Quality content can propel a charity or political candidate.
  •  Segment your traffic into different paths – your content should not be “one size fits all”.
  •  Link your content to the sales cycle

Book Summary: Your Marketing Sucks by Mark Stephens


Marketing that Sucks: We are a wonderful firm composed of wonderful people and we have a wonderful product for wonderful people.  Buy us and you’ll feel wonderful, and your life will be wonderful everafter Your Marketing Sucks

 Most marketing is spending camouflaged as marketing – just money going out the window for little of no company benefit to the bottom line. Every Marketing Dollar spent should bring in more revenue, page or more customers, sickness or both.  The purpose of marketing is to drive profits.  Nothing happens until a sale is made. 

Welcome to “Extreme Marketing, which is ROI driven, and emphasizes innovative initiatives, persistence, strategy, and being counter-intuitive.

In the view of Mark Stevens, if your ad agency is applying for awards, fire them.  For the most part, ads that build buzz in the creative community do not actually sell, and are a waste of your advertising dollars.

 Insight & Ideas to Try

  •  Don’t follow the crowd in your market – differentiate your product and offer something your customers really want.
  •  Hammer on your “Unique Selling Proposition” or what your product or service can do for your prospective customer.  Use numerous marketing tools to do so.
  •  Personalize your direct mail pieces, and follow them up. Don’t ask them to call you.
  •  Things like Informercials and Advertorials are actually some of the most effective marketing out there.  Techniques like testimonials and adding value work.
  •  “Pick the low hanging fruit” – cross sell to your customers.
  •  Track every marketing stream – use unique 1-800 numbers and web analytics, etc.
  •  Go to extremes to get people to fall in love with your company or product.
  •  Use different marketing channels & public relations to re-enforce the message from different perspectives.
  •  Test ideas and approaches to see which ones will bring in the best return.

NOTE: the web stuff here is pretty basic, and a lot of it is outmoded now, but the underlying premises are sound.

Book Summary: Permission Marketing – By Seth Godin

Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into CustomersPermission Marketing

 “Permission Marketing encourages consumers to participate in a long-term, order interactive marketing campaign in which they are rewarded in some eay for paying attention to increasingly relevant messages…. Permission Marketing is anticipated, visit web personal, relevant”

 In a world with expanding media options and unlimited competition for a bit of you attention, how can a marketer break through?  In the well argued opinion of Seth Godin, it is only through building a “Permission Asset” and building a relationship with your customers.  In fact, businesses should increasingly expect to reward their potential customers in some way for their attention.  The internet is the best direct marketing system ever conceived.  u

5 steps:

  1. Offer the prospect an incentive to volunteer
  2. Offer a curriculum, over time, to educate the prospect about your product or service
  3. Reinforce the incentive to guarantee that the prospect maintains the permission
  4. Offer additional incentives to get more permission from the consumer
  5. Over time, leverage the permission to change consumer behavior towards profits.

Useful Info & Ideas to Try

  •  Make every communication interesting, personal, and relevant.
  •  When prospecting, getting an email or other contact info, particularly for an incentive, is much easier than getting a sale from a stranger.  The less you ask, and the bigger the incentive, the more you will get.
  •  An important part of permission marketing is to get your current customers to buy more from you.  Frequency is key to getting your message through.
  •  The ultimate goal is “intravenous permission”: the permission to take money from you every month.  Ie: Book of the Month Club. Many users sign up for this because they do not like to make a choice.
  •  Just about everyone wants to win something, and everyone wants to save a buck.
  •  Points passed promotions can be effective. Allow people to think they are ‘’gaming’ the system.
  •  Permission Marketing starts as an interruption, but becomes a dialogue.
  •  The “one Shot” anonymous user to you website is a sure route to failure.
  •  Test and measure – play your messages against each other, particularly your initial ‘offer’
  •  Godin recommends against buying lists, and definitely against spaming prospective customers.
  •  Godin points to Amazon and Radiohead as brands that have successfully built permission assets.
  • Despite being written back in 1999, this book still has excellent advice and case studies.

Book Summary: Words That Work – By Dr. Frank Luntz

It’s not what you say, It’s what people hear.  Words that Work

“You can have the best message in the world, cheapest but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, cost preconceptions, prejudices, and pre-existing beliefs.”

With years of work as a pollster behind him, Frank Luntz is in a position to offer empirically tested advice on the basics of crafting a message.  Whether you are marketing a product, an idea, or a candidate, there is a lot of excellent advice in this very interesting and readable book.

This book focuses on key messaging advice and strategies that can re-shape an idea or campaign –for example, the re-naming of “off-shore drilling” to “energy exploration” or “Gambling “ to “Gaming”

Words that Work also contains case studies and great lists like: “Ten rules for Effective Communicating”, and “21 words and Phrases for the 21st Century”, or “21 Political Words & Phrases You Should Never Say Again”

For any follower of US politics, the inside anecdotes and stories behind communications strategies, from Goldwater to Kerry, are well worth the read on their own.

 Useful Info & Ideas to Try

  •  Use short words and short sentences.  Use visuals if you can.  Inspire. Be Positive.
  •  Credibility, consistency, authenticity, and your reputation are important
  •  Speak Aspirationally, and beyond that, tap into people’s idealized self image – the place they want to be or can see themselves, preferably something they can visualize, or feel.
  •  It is essential to know what drives or motivates your target market.  Try to see the world through the eyes of your audience.  Build relevance and make sure you have the correct context.
  •  The order you present things in can be crucial – you can pre-dispose people to supporting your message.
  •  Getting people to use their imagination is one of the most powerful things you can do.  Your audience does the work, and it is relevant.
  •  Some Good Words: Hassle-free, Lifestyle, Innovation, Results, Renew, revitalize, Efficient, Investment, Certified, Peace of Mind, Prosperity, A Balanced Approach.
  •  Offer 3 facts to prove any point or assertion you make.

Book Summary: Unleashing the Idea Virus – By Seth Godin

Stop marketing AT people! Turn your ideas into epidemics by helping your customers do the marketing for youIdea Virus

This is a follow up to “Permission Marketing” – in answer to the question “How do we get attention to ask for permission in the first place?” It is another take on what Richard Dawkins defined as Meme’s in his 1976 classic “The Selfish Gene”.

There is excellent information, sildenafil suggestions, and ideas on almost every page of this very readable 225 page book.

According to Seth Godin, The 21st century will be about ideas.  Whether you are marketing a concept, product, or an issue, your ability to create ideas that travel easily, and use the tools that are available to travel is key to success.

Leveraging others to promote your message will be a key strategy in a world where mainstream media is expensive, and when “word of mouth or word of mouse messages are taken more credibly.


Underlying the idea virus world is often self-interest.  People will spread ideas if it puts them on the cutting edge, or profits them some way, including the benefit they get from helping someone else, or just makes them feel smart or show themselves as well informed.

You have to create an idea that one specific target market will get very excited an passionate about – “Target your Hive”. Trying to appeal to everyone will fail.

Idea-viruses have a life cycle: use it to extend the reach, or ignore it at your peril.

IMPORTANT: Idea-viruses abhor a vacuum: if your idea does not attach to something, someone else’s will, AND it will be twice as difficult to replace the ideavirus that has already occupied the place you want to be.

Viral ideas must be Smooth: they spread easily. A few words or a click of the mouse are ideal

Velocity: How fast an idea spreads.  If it is not fast enough, the idea will die.

Sneezers: Those special people who have an extra ability to really spread ideas: Bloggers, talk shoe hosts, people whose opinion is trusted.   Knowing and using sneezers is key to success.  There are powerful sneezers, promiscuous sneezers, and affiliates, who sneeze for money.

As pointed out in the “Tipping Point”, there are “Promiscuous Sneezers” – those who spread a lot of ideas quite readily.  These are important people to target.

True Viral Marketing means the product is the message: Hotmail or a Smart Car.

Fill your web site and marketing materials with tools that make it easy for people to spread your idea.

When it comes to digital content, and a lot of products or ideas, giving it away can help the ideavirus start to spread.

Get Permission to fully leverage your marketing message over time

Book Summary: The Long Tail – The New Economics of Culture and Commerce

Why the Future of Business is Selling More of Less

By Chris AndersonThe Long Tail pic

More selection, capsule and more individualized selection are key trends of our internet age.  “The Long Tail” refers to that part of the market where the quantities sold are small, but the overall numbers are very large, and targeted and promoted correctly, they are potentially very profitable, and less competitive.  Gone are the distribution and marketing bottlenecks of yester-millennium.

[Graphically, this is the y=x-1 shaped graph from the Cartesian Plane we all loved in high school]

Companies like Amazon (Books) Rhapsody (music) and Google (Advertising) are stars of the long tail world, becoming incredibly effective at micro-targeting their products and earning millions or billions selling what would otherwise not be available without the minimal ‘stocking’ and advertising costs that the online world offers.

To who remembers the days of only three American (and 2 Canadian) TV networks anyone familiar with Amazon or buying music online, the concept does not, on the surface, need a lot of explaining, but for the first few chapters, we seem to get the concept explained over and over again in different ways: The “Hit” is fading, the world of a thousand niches is here.

Soon, however, Anderson gets into more detail and strategy – stuff we can use:


Filters” – whether automated or through peer review/social networking are essential in making the long tail world work.  They are key in helping “long tail” consumers find the product they want through the huge selection available to them – cutting down the “Signal to Noise” ratio.

Viral Marketing is a key part of marketing to the long tail – and the “wisdom of crowds” has a lot of relevance here.

The old marketing and retail 80-20 “rule” is all but dead in any market that adapts to the long tail.

There is the interesting note on the “Long tail of time” where “Today’s Hit is tomorrow’s niche”.

The Long Tail effects on culture: News, Television, movies, etc. are only beginning to be felt

The Imperatives of a long tail business: Make everything available, and help me find it.

One price, distribution method, or product does NOT fit all.  Offer choice.

Point to Ponder: Economics is, at its very roots, the study of scarcity.  However, when marginal inventory, distribution, and product costs approach zero, where does that leave 230 years of economic study?