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From Growth-hacking to Neuromarketing: 5 Must-read Books for the Modern Marketer

We already know that things move fast, and thanks to social media and globalization, that’s particularly true in the marketing and advertising sphere
by Caitlin Schiller | Jul 12 2015

Today’s marketer has to be combination growth-genie, digital wizard, and human psychology oracle; to know code, to know copy, to know video and podcasting and more. To get your skills up to date (and keep them there) can be a pretty daunting proposition—and even moreso if you haven’t refreshed your reading list since that MBA of yore.


While you were busy working, a lot of good stuff has been published: books that offer insights that are fresh, surprising, and relevant to the way that marketing works today. We’ve put together a list of the top five best-loved marketing books in the Blinkist library, plus a little taste of what you can expect from each book. Following, get a quick intro to what today’s marketing books are talking about, from growth hacking to neuromarketing and customer care.

1. Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies  for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business

Classics are classics because they stay relevant despite the tides of time. First published in 1983, Jay Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing is just that. The strategies offered up here are 23-years strong—years of experience from which any company developing creative marketing campaigns or working to increase brand awareness can benefit. It’s full of useful tips for smaller companies to successfully compete with large competitors that have a much higher marketing budget.


Copenhagen Zoo’s guerrilla marketing campaign

So, what should you know about guerrilla marketing? The first step is to understand what exactly it is. Here’s how Jay Levinson stacks guerrilla marketing against traditional marketing:

Guerilla marketing finds new and innovative methods for reaching customers outside of more traditional channels like TV and billboards.

Where traditional marketing aims to generate sales or online traffic, guerilla marketing is only focused on the bottom line. In other words, a campaign’s success is measured solely by the profit it generates. Which, actually, makes good sense—you’d be shocked by how frequently a big company breaks a sales record thanks to a marketing campaign, but still loses money because the campaign was too expensive.

Another difference between the two marketing methods is that traditional marketing is usually a monologue, whereas guerilla marketing is a dialogue. A traditional TV commercial is an example of a monologue: the marketer transmits one message and consumers have to accept it as-is. Guerrilla marketing, however, brings both sides into conversation. An example might be an online contest where people are asked to give feedback on your business as part of their entry. You can then respond to this feedback with personalized messages, which starts a dialogue. It’s precisely this dialogue that gives small businesses an edge over bigger corporations: small businesses can take the time to respond individually to each customer.

Takeaway: Guerrilla marketing makes small, scrappy startups competitive with bigger brands by reaching customers in personal, surprising ways.

2. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising

Two decades after the guerrilla marketer macheted his way onto the scene, there’s a newcomer in the jungle: the growth hacker. Ryan Holiday’s book limns how popular online startups like Instagram and Dropbox achieved growth without mega marketing budgets.

One of the concepts that Holiday explores in his book is the ever-elusive marvel of virality. It’s 2015 and we’re well into the age of Buzzfeed, Clickhole, and Vine superstars, he says, but many marketers still don’t know why some content goes viral and some won’t. You don’t have to be one of the one’s here in the dark. Here’s Holiday’s take.

Growth hackers know that there’s a reason some things go viral and others don’t. All they need is a few simple questions to figure it out.

  1. Why should customers share this?
  2. Is sharing easy?
  3. Is this product worth talking about?

Whenever people share your content, it’s like they’re doing you a favor for free. So to really make it worthwhile for your customer, you have to give them something they want to share. You can do so by following a simple, two-step process.

First, make your product worth sharing. And second, encourage them to do it! Here’s an example from Groupon. Groupon launched a Refer-a-Friend campaign that gave customers a $10 credit when a referred friend made their first purchase. So essentially, Groupon encouraged and rewarded its customer base to spread the word.

Takeaway: Virality isn’t magic. Ask a few critical questions about the content you’re publishing, make it worthwhile, and reward people for sharing.

3. Legendary Service: The Key is to Care

In an age where dialogue between users and brands is plentiful and public, what may be the most relevant advice about modern marketing is “treat your customers with care.”

Legendary Service breaks down how you can move service in your business from average to exceptional, mapping the little changes in a brand’s or employees’ behaviour towards customers that make a big difference in the service experience and the bottom line.

In their book, Blanchard, Cuff, and Halsey offer a service improvement tool called the ICARE model. One of the highest-impact, lowest-effort components of the acronym is A, for attention, because it can positively alter your prospects’ perception in pretty significant ways. Here’s what the authors say about attentive customer care:

Attentiveness is a simple but powerful pillar of customer service, no matter what business you’re in. Start being more attentive by dividing your customer base into smaller groups based on common needs or preferences. This will allow you to create specific customer profiles.

Next, collect some information. Ask yourself: What are my customers’ preferences, what do they expect from me and how can I fulfil their needs? Here’s a shining example of amazingly attentive customer care:

Say there’s a man who visits his local bar two or three times a week. The bartender knows the man’s regular beer and often listens to his complaints about work. Once the man asked for popcorn, and since then, the bartender’s always made sure to put a bowl of popcorn on the bar when he sees the man walking in. This simple, human, attentive behavior is exactly what turns customers into regulars.

Takeaway: Notice the little things—from the types of articles your customers like on social media, to what color your clients choose for a manicure—and you’ll keep your customers loyal and raving.

4. You Should Test That! Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing

We all need data on how we’re doing. We crave empirical results, replicable experiments, and meaningful measures. We need proof that our experiments worked (or didn’t). We need to be able to test, tweak, and understand our conversions.

Does that all sound pretty daunting? Never fear—Chris Goward’s book is here to help. In You Should Test That, Goward advises on just how to get optimize your site, test by test by test. Equally important, he offers advice on what not to do when you’re trying to make improvements:

When optimizing their website, most companies look to design agencies. The problem, however, is that a good design agency can’t necessarily optimize your site for conversion rate or revenue. While they may excel at creating a sleek looking experience, they usually don’t know what your website’s business goals are. In fact, many design agencies have no clue which criteria are most important for creating a successful website. This is apparent in the very first question design agencies ask their new clients: “What do you want your website to look like?” But, really, the most important criterion is how the website works and how that affects revenue.

Another huge mistake designers make when redesigning a client’s website is using the HiPPO Method for decision-making: deferring to the “highest-paid person’s opinion.” When designers present their concepts to the client, the final decision is often left in the hands of one person, such as a department head or C-level executive. Yet, despite their fancy titles, such people are not always knowledgeable enough to make these kinds of decisions. Instead, designers and companies should formulate hypotheses about which page design will produce the highest conversion rate, and then test it to see if certain designs and layouts yield more conversions.

Takeaway: The biggest mistake companies can make when it comes to optimization is listening to their design agency or the highest-paid exec. Testing little tweaks yourself will yield better results.

5. Brandwashed – Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

We humans are amazingly suggestible, developing affinities and aversions without even noticing it’s happened. As the current neuromarketing trend proves, so much of selling works on a subtle psychological level, so it’s important you know how to work that particular breed of magic. Lindstrom’s book is a fascinating exploration of the tricks successful companies use to make a sale, and below, we’ve included one of the most surprising ones—how to get brand loyalty from cradle to grave.

While in the womb, a fetus is able to perceive sounds from the external world. So, if a mother likes a specific tune, she’ll share with her baby the positive emotions she has while listening to it. And because unborn children are able to recognize melodies – including the jingles of advertisements – hearing or recalling such melodies later in life will trigger the same positive feelings.

Once we’re born, the media bombards us with hundreds of brands every day, in web advertisements, in video games and on TV. In fact, a Nickelodeon study found that children are exposed to so many ads that by the time they’re ten years old they will have memorized 300–400 brands. Of these hundreds of brands, children will form relationships with some that last well into the future.

Such relationships are often formed because children believe that brands help them to establish friendships with others. One preschooler in a 2009 study demanded to have LEGO because he believed that otherwise, none of the other children would want to play with him, or even like him.

Takeaway: Winning cradle-to-grave loyalty is entirely possible. Get a customer when she’s young and you can rattle her wallet forever after.


Because there are too many good books out there to limit it to just five. This one is a great read for all the content marketers out there (I know you’re reading).

6. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! The Classical Guide to Creating Great Ads

Sullivan and Bennet’s book is an ad classic, but it made it into the list thanks to a modern-day update for digital creatives. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! has inspired generations of copywriters and ad folks. It dissects some of history’s greatest ads and breaks down what it takes to write really great ones. This fourth edition also explores how to tell brand stories with interactive media and online experiences to complement the sections on more traditional TV, radio, and print. Perhaps what’s kept this book so beloved in the advertising world is the practical advice it includes for creatives—like this example for how to get creatively un-stuck when you’re up against a block.

Without overthinking it, just write something. Start by scrawling down, “This is an ad about . . .” and follow it up with whatever comes to mind. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll discover the words you needed.

Another trick is to put yourself into the customer’s head by thinking hard about how they’ll feel when using the product. If you’re working for Hollister, for example—a company that sells casual clothes for teens—you’d want these teens to feel cool, comfortable and, most of all, confident. Why does this work? Because emotional appeals are far more powerful than rational reasons when we buy goods and services.

After determining what feeling you want to evoke, you’ve got to get into the right headspace. Sam Bennett once had to produce work for a magazine called Family Life, and show that raising a child is one of the most moving things you can do. The catch: he’d never raised a child himself. And so, he sat down to read a book about the joys and insanities that come with parenthood and sifted through photos of happy families. The right mood hit him, and soon he struck gold, with the tagline “Life is short, childhood is shorter.”

Takeaway: The best thing you can do to blow through a block is to start something—anything! It might be jotting down a few throwaway lines, or it might be diving into an old scrap book. The trick to getting a creative block out of your way is to throw your shoulder into it and move it yourself.

Like what you read here? All of these books are available on Blinkist in the form of high-powered, 10-minute summaries you can read on your tablet or phone. Come give them a read for free and pick which of the top 5 is your marketing must-read.

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