Book reviews, or what to give a marketing and PR professional for Christmas

In a fast changing marketplace with fast changing technologies and consumer behaviours we have no option but to work hard keeping ourselves up to speed, week in week out. Time and money constraints rule out keeping abreast simply via course and event attendance, and the only real option is books.

Reading. Lots. Lots of books. Here's a couple to make the Christmas List of any marketing and PR professional.

Real-Time Marketing & PRReal-Time Marketing & PR, by David Meerman Scott

Subtitle: How to instantly engage your market, connect with customers, and create products that grow your business now.

I got my copy of Real-Time Marketing & PR end-October and I just read it yesterday. Mmmm, not exactly a real-time book review then. My only excuse is that I've had to focus on completing my own book (the manuscript is now submitted and it's due out in April with Wiley, the same publisher of David's latest books).

Let's cut to the chase. Should every marketing and PR professional read this book? Yes; even those who consider themselves or are considered to be at the leading edge of this sort of thing. And I make that assertion simply on the basis that David peppers the book with many case studies and examples that will prove useful when attempting to convince the less savvy amongst your colleagues and clients of your point of view.

David Meerman Scott - an online thought leader...
Image via Wikipedia

The book is structured in three parts. Part one sets the scene, spanning a wide number of topics from United Breaks Guitars to Google's entry into the real-time scene, from the shapes of meme diffusion (my words not David's... he's much more disciplined at avoiding jargon), to the transformation of media relations and social Web analytics. I got particularly excited reading about the latter because David quotes me. Cool.

David calls those shapes of meme diffusion "the real-time power law" and "the real-time law of normal distribution". And, being pedantic, this is the only part of the book I felt uncomfortable with, if only because my best exam result at university was in mathematics. I couldn't happily follow David's assertion that these probability density functions map onto the topic in question – but fortunately that won't really detract from the message for the vast majority of readers.

Part one rounds off with an interesting overview of crowdsourcing.

Part two consists of three chapters covering real-time conversation with customers, the rise of the mobile device as the dominant channel, and real-time delivery of products and services. Again, it's easy to let this book wash over you, and David has this uncanny knack of getting the reader to think about the personal ramifications of case studies without feeling like you're being force fed. He's what book reviewers would call 'accessible' I guess. I'd say 'very useful'.

Part three drills down into the practicalities. How exactly do you effect change and get everyone in your organisation onboard? Despite having broached the issue in the incredibly best-selling The New Rules of Marketing & PR in 2007, I agree with David's reemphasis here on social media policy formulation, communication and training. In my opinion, too many organisations still neglect this must-do; or get it wrong. This really shouldn't be difficult and David leaves you feeling like you could do it yourself by ten o'clock Monday morning.

You have to wait until the penultimate chapter before confronting the first (and only) figure that looks like it belongs in a management textbook. Not a criticism, more of surprise to me that David has to lean on diagrams so rarely to get his point over. (I can only assume my book will be read as having a different tenor!) The figure relates to the technological potential for real-time business in combining CRM, Web analytics, social Web analytics, marketing automation, and media intelligence. (This is the point at which the book comes closest to mine... I discuss something similar that I refer to with just a little tongue in cheek as Awesome Analytics Advantage, or 'triple-A' for short.)

The last chapter seeks to embed some of the lessons of earlier chapters by covering three case studies: GM, Hubspot and Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls getting stuck in Iceland when the volcano erupted in April 2010. Honestly, it does make sense when you read it, and it makes you think. The number one take away in my own words => you get back what you put in.

This book can be read on Boxing Day, even allowing for a break for bubble and squeak. I recommend you do (read the book that is; you may decide to eat something else).

Chaotics – Kotler and CaslioneChaotics, by Philip Kotler and John Caslione

Subtitle: The business of managing and marketing in the age of turbulence

James Gleick's Chaos, is the best-selling seminal introduction to chaos theory, the science. Kotler's and Caslione's Chaotics is the first attempt I've come across examining how one might best prepare to manage business in uncertain times, and approach marketing in particular. Published in 2009, I read this book for reference in my own.

The book was obviously catalysed by the storm that hit end-07 / beginning-08 and lingers today after the best part of 15 years of steady state economics. Moreover, I'm not convinced, and neither are the authors, or Meerman Scott come to that, that marketing and PR will be able to "return to normal" – this is the new normal. Real-time. Fast-changing. Uncertain. Chaotic. Demanding nimble response and deft management processes.

Given the calibre of the authors you won't be surprised to hear be conclude that Chaotics is a worthwhile read, although I have some caveats to that.

It's worthwhile because it explores the new normal, thumping it home in case you were in any doubt. It brilliantly advocates that you determine the wrong responses to different scenarios in advance so that when you inevitably encounter choppy waters you don't have to waste precious time working out what might be wrong when you should be motoring on doing what's right.

The authors present a framework for building what they refer to as an early-warning system, sensitising an organisation to upcoming storms to avoid simply sailing right into them. They then have a chapter on designing management systems for resilience to such stormy weather, in terms of the finance function, IT, operations, purchasing and procurement, and HR. And then a chapter on designing marketing systems for resilience.

And this is a big ask given their starting point... here's a quote describing their opinion of today's typical marketing system:

Today, the typical company operates a marketing system that has emerged from years of trial and error. It has developed policies, strategies, and tactics for using marketing research, pricing, the sales force, advertising, promotions, trade shows, and other marketing tools. These practices are likely to persist because they deliver a feeling of safety and predictability. They worked in the past and are assumed to work in the future.

Need I continue but to say the authors assert most strongly that this status quo has about as much chance of surviving let alone thriving going forward as a koala in the middle of the Atlantic. Mmmm, not sure where that metaphor came from, but I've written it now and I can't get the picture out of my head.

So what's the caveat I referred to earlier? Well, I just felt the book stopped short of where I wanted it to go. It didn't appear to abut typical organisational life in a way that I felt was immediately actionable in the way Meerman Scott achieves. I felt the chasm left between the picture they paint and where most readers will find their organisation today was left too wide to attempt the leap. One could have dedicated the whole of the book to management systems or marketing systems, but they perhaps broke off more than they could handle in trying to crack both in a book this size.

Yet I can also empathise with the challenge they faced. My own manuscript attempts to break things down fundamentally and build it back up again to an operational whole, and this is no mean ambition in less than 60,000 words. Perhaps Kotler and Caslione will need to write follow-up texts in much the same way Kaplan and Norton have for the Balanced Scorecard philosophy for example. And perhaps I might need to too (should the first book sell sufficiently of course!)

The Marketing CenturyThe Marketing Century

Subtitle: How Marketing Drives Business And Shapes Society

Lastly, a book you might like to consider pre-ordering... it's available mid-February (Amazon). Celebrating the centenary of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the book reviews marketing from 1911 to 2011. As the publisher's description attests, it also describes the 21st Century – "a time when the ability to understand and connect with customers is more rewarding, complex and valuable than ever. It explains:

  • The three forces shaping the past, present and future of marketing: globalization, technology and ethics
  • How people behave and connect – and how businesses can benefit from these insights
  • The need to manage for the long-term as well as the short-term
  • Marketing′s impact on business strategy and leadership."

Personally, I'm as interested in the history of marketing and PR as the current and future. I advocate a thorough understanding of the history of marketing and PR as a foundation to delivering best practice today, particularly now that we're putting the public back into public relations (to paraphrase the title of the book by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge).

Each chapter of The Marketing Century is written by a guest author, and I'm delighted to be amongst them:

Interestingly, John Saunders and Veronica Wong have been co-authors of Philip Kotler (of Chaotics above) of various editions of the seminal text, Principles of Marketing.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas.