Book Reviews

Non-Fiction Book Reviews for Digital Marketing Practitioners


If you're too busy to research the best published business books about content marketing, then I can help you uncover the most worthwhile publications. My book reviews reflect my role as a digital marketing practitioner.

An Exploration of Content Syndication Trends
This review is from: Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture
I read this book through the lens of a content marketing practitioner that was curious what new insight Henry Jenkins and his co-authors would add to the information and guidance that’s already available on this topic -- both online and in other books.

The authors believe that “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” To me, that’s an oversimplified explanation of today’s environment. Also, most of their case studies are from the American entertainment industry. In contrast, I’m more interested in how these ‘spreadable media’ scenarios apply to commercial (corporate brand) storytelling.

What’s their primary focal point? The author’s acknowledgement of the “participatory culture” of the Internet is a reoccuring theme throughout the book. Likewise, they remind us how the leadership of Big Media corporations have historically misunderstood or intentionally resisted this phenomena -- often at their own peril.

Moreover, while the basic concept of sharing and syndication is not new, those people who do much of the ‘social’ sharing today are not sanctioned or encouraged by the content creator. To some people within the media industry, that’s very unsettling. But the authors present a somewhat optimistic outlook -- believing that those fears will dissipate over time.

At the offset they’re actually quite hopeful that socioeconomic advancement is likely, as a result of these progressive changes to the status quo. They say “The growth of networked communication, especially when coupled with the practices of participatory culture, provides a range of new resources and facilitates new interventions for a variety of groups who have long struggled to have their voices heard.”

They question the cultural logic of believing that you can make something “go viral” -- because this notion is proven [upon reflection of the available research] to be more akin to wishful thinking than fact. They also challenge the legacy marketer’s belief in content “stickiness” and point to the apparent limits of distribution models that merely count impressions or page views.

In summary, while I didn’t find a significant new revelation in their text, I believe the authors have compiled a very thorough assessment of the topic and they deserve credit for that achievement. I like the way that they characterize online ‘influence’ as a meritocracy -- and that to some degree we’re all capable of becoming taste-makers of good content. Also, that the new media landscape offers a huge opportunity for creative artists that are eager to experiment and grow.

As I read the conclusion of this book I thought about all the marketers that will attempt exponential distribution of their thought leadership by paying publishers for their Native Advertising services, and yet they fail to include a Creative Commons licence on their corporate blogs -- opting instead for the restrictive traditional copyright warnings that inhibit proactive sharing and syndication.

For those readers who want to learn more about the author’s point of view, they have an “enhanced version” of the book online at spreadablemedia.org

Exploring the Practice of Commercial Transmedia Storytelling
This review is from: A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences Across Multiple Platforms
This is the second "how-to" book that I've reviewed on the topic of Transmedia Storytelling. The Guide by Andrea Phillips is a pragmatic journal of all the creative possibilities -- and a welcomed addition to the body of practitioner knowledge and associated lessons learned.

Ms. Phillips describes her own experiences as a game designer and includes numerous insightful Q&A sidebars with contributions from her accomplished peer group -- they're primarily transmedia practitioners within the American entertainment industry.

The book is divided into five sections -- each one offering practical ideas and suggestions for transmedia storytelling novices, plus some creative examples of techniques that an experienced practitioner would appreciate.

She describes some of the lasting wisdom of early transmedia storytelling projects by the pioneers -- such as The Blair Witch Project. She also features the key take-away points from more recent examples of commercial transmedia case studies -- again, primarily from within the entertainment industry.

Ms. Phillips says that "...the long-term benefits of transmedia marketing are not in drawing in a completely new audience, but in hooking a peripheral audience more deeply and keeping it around longer. It's [about] the magic word: engagement." Indeed, the ongoing quest for capturing audience attention is a theme that she revisits throughout the book.

One of her very interesting revelations was a reference to the apparent geographic preferences. Such as "...South American audiences seem very enthusiastic about engaging in role-playing; [North] American audiences enjoy competitive elements and puzzle solving; and European audiences tend to be the most enthusiastic about attending live events."

Perhaps Ms. Phillips most helpful advice to beginners is this -- "If you have no applicable background, then your first step has to be making something - a series of websites, some light video, a puzzle trail, an interactive toy; the concept doesn't matter so much as the tangible proof that you can come up with a concept and see it through to execution."

In summary, I'll gladly recommend this useful body of work to anyone who would like to explore the possibilities of transmedia storytelling -- kudos to Andrea Phillips for bringing us one step closer to reaching the mainstream tipping point.

That being said, I'm waiting for an author to address the uncharted territory of non-fiction related commercial transmedia content development. Documentaries are a genre worthy of further exploration. To date, it remains the key area of our craft that would benefit from some equally instructive guidance.

How Storytelling will Drive Content Marketing
This review is from: Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future
Without a doubt, content marketing is gaining in popularity. According to the findings from a recent market study, 83.5 percent of B2B marketers surveyed say they are stepping up their efforts over the next 12 months. That's a significant increase from the 71 percent a year earlier. The same study concluded that superior storytelling skills are paramount -- in fact, 81.5 percent of respondents believe that successful content starts with engaging and compelling storytelling.

But some people still cling to the old ways. The quest for upbeat stories tend to be overpowered by the morass of negative inadequacy-centric messages that legacy marketers continue to produce as a key component of their traditional advertising and PR campaigns.

Jonah Sachs insightful book, entitled "Winning the Story Wars," shows us why only the most compelling ideas and stories -- those built on a foundation of positive empowerment messages -- will break through the social media noise and brand clutter in today's hyper-competitive marketplace.

Sachs believes that we can all prosper in the Digitoral Era, but first we'll have to stop talking about ourselves and our products -- instead we should make the heroes within our customer community the focal point of these stories.

"In a digital world focused on peer-to-peer sharing, you can't be successful if people are not sharing your message." says Sachs. "And, if your message isn't delivered in the form of a positive empowering story, people will be less motivated to share it."

This book includes examples of campaign strategies -- such as Dove's "Real Beauty" initiative -- that are emblematic of the empowerment marketing Mr. Sachs offers as proof-positive case studies. Likewise, Sachs presents several examples of poorly conceived and inauthentic storylines that eventually backfired.

He also outlines the essential elements of great storytelling, and provides you the chance to test your own marketing messages and stories -- to see how they stack up. In summary, Sachs believes that the most successful branding campaigns engage and activate people's innate quest for substantive meaning, values and ritual -- essentially taking them on a journey toward their higher purpose.

While the book provides a "Basic Training" section that lists step-by-step guidance (eight steps in total) on how to generate your stories, I really was hoping for a short-hand version as well. So, I was pleased to learn that the author is starting to offer exercise template materials on his website.


The Upside Opportunity for Commercial Storytelling
This review is from: Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand
We've all read reports about the decline of B2B trade media. As their print publications failed to attract enough advertisers, and online ventures delivered very low profit margins, many have reached insolvency. Those few publishers that survived now focus on "Marketing Services" -- thereby deemphasizing traditional editorial content. Meanwhile, academics and pundits lament the challenges of sustaining professional journalism.

But the marketplace outlook is not all doom and gloom. This rapidly evolving scenario is creating the unprecedented opportunity for savvy marketers to fill that void - by becoming publishers of meaningful and useful content. But are you ready to execute?

If you've read most of the prior books on this topic (and I have), then you were likely disappointed by the lack of actionable information about the known best practices.

In contrast, Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi have authored a practical "how to" guide that explains the whole process of adopting commercial storytelling methodologies to produce content that's designed to engage and inform your target stakeholders.

Granted, editorial narrative is just one of the many types of content that brand marketers could produce. That said, the book details the fundamental strategies and techniques that can be applied across a variety of common communication vehicles (presentations, white papers, e-books, etc).

The contents of the book are grouped in two parts - Content Marketing Strategy and The Process of Content Marketing. The authors systematically take you through a journey -- from beginning of prospect engagement to the end of the customer buying cycle. They clearly demonstrate the need for descriptive buyer personas and the contextual relevance of content segmentation. In summary, when you reach the end of the book, you'll be prepared to develop an action plan.

You can preview the author's thought leadership by visiting their Content Marketing Institute website to download a free "Content Marketing Playbook" - it's a useful companion document that offers a series of insightful case study examples.

Practical Guidance on Transmedia Project Development
This review is from: The Producer's Guide to Transmedia: How to Develop, Fund, Produce and Distribute Compelling Stories Across Multiple Platforms
Most of the guidance about transmedia production have not met my expectations - they were too academic or otherwise lacking in actionable insights. Few included the perspective of a transmedia practitioner.

This is what makes Nuno Bernardo's book so unique - he has a proven track record of producing transmedia projects, and he provides "how to" recommendations that come from many years of practical experience.

Moreover, my interest in transmedia is from a non-fiction documentary storyteller's point of view. While this book includes examples of fictional story worlds, I found that the vast majority of the recommendations are equally relevant to non-fiction scenarios.

Some examples of the useful contents of this book include: where to start with a transmedia project idea; how to develop your transmedia bible; writing goals and objectives for transmedia storytellers; what content to produce for multiple platforms; content distribution considerations; the anticipation of licensing issues and the future environment.

Mr. Bernardo describes, in detail, where to start and how to make your work stand out from the crowd. He outlines the various forms of project funding, and the likely sources, for those producers that will seek financing options. His content distribution strategy guidance is invaluable, because he explains the benefits of having the foresight of when and how to roll out new content across various media platforms.

I found Bernardo's guidance about partnerships to be particularly helpful. He shares thoughts about how to make a choice between a do-it-yourself solution and when to outsource tasks to subject matter experts. He offers tips on how to apply the various forms of social media for project promotion.

The chapter on international distribution highlights some of the likely pitfalls that can be easily avoided -- again, by being armed with a little knowledge about the choices you may want to consider, ahead of any independent production company negotiations.

In summary, I recommend this book for someone who is about to embrace a transmedia storytelling project for the first time, or for someone who has experimented with crossmedia production and is now ready to embark upon a comprehensive multi-platform game plan.

How to Influence the Savvy Customer's Buying-Cycle
This review is from: Pre-Commerce: How Companies and Customers are Transforming Business Together
Marketers still tend to focus most of their efforts on the activity that's immediately before a new revenue opportunity closes and ultimately ends in a sale. In contrast, this book is primarily about all the research, consideration and time that a person might invest in the earlier stages of the buying-cycle.

The book's liner notes explain the context this way; "Since its debut, e-commerce has been centered on the transaction, which represents less than one percent of the time we spend online. The other ninety-nine percent is referred to (by the author) as Pre-Commerce - a time where customers make their own decisions to buy or support a brand before and after the transaction, with or without a company's involvement."

Granted, a key focal point of Bob Pearson's first book is about the rise of social media, and its application within the marketing, sales and customer service organizations - but I would consider its inherent value to be viewed more broadly. It's also about re-engineering front-line business processes - with the intent to meet the info needs of today's discerning retail consumer or savvy corporate procurement professional.

The author succinctly states the current market reality at the beginning of chapter one. "Companies today have to reach customers long before they commit to their purchases, because customers are making decisions before they arrive at your store or home page."

It seems to me that Bob Pearson has devoted this book to helping legacy marketers understand how to ensure that their organization is producing content that enables a customer to purchase something that's a best-fit for their needs. He also explains, by sharing numerous case study examples, how to engage with your stakeholders online and give them the opportunity to participate in improving the product or service you offer.

Like most how-to oriented business books, the notion of Pre-Commerce was developed around a new model, called the four A's - awareness, assessment, action and ambassadors. This model provides a useful guide for most marketers to be prepared to put these forward-looking communication concepts into practice.

Mr. Pearson concludes the final chapter with the following insight. He says "I didn't write this book to give you all the answers - no one can do that. Nothing stands still in the Pre-Commerce marketplace, so business leaders constantly must learn it anew."

If learning where to begin the process of marketing communications evolution is where you're at today, then this book will likely be a good starting point for you.

An Editorial Shift in the Balance of Power
This review is from: Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators
There are several types of applications for content curation processes - my review is written from the perspective of a seasoned marketing practitioner.

I believe that Steven Rosenbaum has compiled a comprehensive assessment of the topic in his book, Curation Nation. He calls curation the "new magic" of the connected world - fixing the signal-to-noise problem and making the world contextual and coherent again.

Note, in March 2011 at the South by Southwest conference, I saw Mr. Rosenbaum present a summary of the findings of his research and extensive interviews that resulted in this thought-provoking book. He has demonstrated an in-depth understanding of why the future of content is applied context.

The conclusion of his observations, analysis and compelling examples are very simply put - "we are all curators." He also says, for some it will be accidental. For others, it will become part of who we are. And, for a few of us, curation will become our livelihood.

I had not previously considered the long history of content curation within the publication field. The example of the "Reader's Digest" magazine -- the well-known compendium of abridged articles -- is mentioned early in the book. In hindsight, it provided me a helpful conceptual foundation for the numerous other application scenarios mentioned throughout this book.

Given my professional background, my view of "why human curation matters" was somewhat limited by my own experience. Mr. Rosenbaum's detailed explanations and varied case studies really helped to broaden my awareness of all the other potential possibilities.

Chapter 5 is about Content Entrepreneurs, and it describes some of the more disruptive characteristics of curation applications today. It also sets the stage for a discussion of what constitutes "fair use" of other people's content - which is a contentious issue, for sure.

It seems that achieving the most effective curation result is part Art, part Science and perhaps lucky Serendipity. This quote from chapter 7 is profound; "creating unique, memorable content isn't a formula - it's a happy accident. In the same way, as publishers struggle to figure out curation, there will be a few leaders and lots of followers searching for the future economic model for content."

Andrew Blau's summary of the transformation aspects of content curation sums up the implications to the legacy publisher status quo, and particularly why big media companies don't like this emerging trend. He said "What is clearly happening is that there are many, many more people speaking in public -- or some version of public -- without having to ask for permission, some of whom seem to be able to accumulate large audiences, some audiences the scale of traditional broadcast television or feature films."

In summary, this book is a current snapshot of this topic, based upon both historical and recent events. Once you've read it, you may want to conduct your own ongoing research. That was my take-away - I'm intrigued by this subject, and I want to learn more. I also want to enhance my skills in the area of content strategy development, within a marketing context.

Today, We are All Media - if we choose...
This review is from: The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories
For me, perhaps the most insightful take-away from reading "The Art of Immersion" is how the various forms of media are being impacted by an apparent loss of control. Chapter four is devoted to this topic. Frank Rose addresses this issue from both sides - challenges and opportunities.

The process of immersion can take many forms, but the one that seems to trouble the traditional media practitioners the most is when "ordinary people" choose to engage with a story and decide to participate in the development of the characters and/or the storyline.

These uninvited contributions demonstrate how the Internet, in particular, has enabled many people to rediscover that innate human quality that most of us have not embraced since childhood - the storyteller within.

Mr. Rose offers an example of how someone unaffiliated with the production or distribution of the "Mad Men" television series decided to create a Twitter account for Betty Draper (a fictional character) and assumed that persona for the purpose of sharing her innermost thoughts. Apparently, other people have assumed the persona of various characters from the show and tweet about their thoughts as well.

How did the AMC cable channel executives react to this amazing act of engagement from the show's audience? They contacted Twitter and requested that all these accounts were shut down. Once the show's fans discovered what had happened, that decision was quickly reversed - with a regretful AMC blessing.

Rose summarizes this legacy media disruption phenomenon with the following assessment. "In the command-and-control world, we know who's telling the story; it's the author. But digital media have created an authorship crisis. Once the audience is free to step out into the fiction and start directing events, the entire edifice of twentieth century mass-media begins to crumble."

I believe that this trend has already spilled over into non-fiction commercial communications. Where companies once relied upon the predictable monologue of the press release, today they must deal with free-spirited stakeholder commentary on their corporate blog posts. How do you control the dialogue once you've enabled that open interaction? Clearly, that's a question that more and more marketers are asking themselves.

Rose offers yet another prescient observation of what key changes will reshape the media sector in the foreseeable future. "There's nothing inherent in humans that makes them want to be passive consumers of entertainment, or the advertising that pays for it. The couch potato era, seemingly so significant at the time, turns out to be less an era than a blip - and a blip based on faulty assumptions at that."

Effective Content Marketing: Easier Said Than Done
This review is from: Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business
The forward of this book states that "Marketing is about creating great content" - but that the art and science of producing that superior material has been a mystery to many. David Meerman Scott, the author of the book's forward section, suggests that the answer to the question "what exactly, should I do?" is to tell stories. Granted, that's one important aspect of a forward-looking plan of action.

However, perhaps it's essential to fully understand why most businesses tend to create poor content. In fact, much of the business communication that's being produced today clearly doesn't meet the needs of its intended target customer. To the vast majority of marketers, the task of creating content is still centered upon explaining what their product or service does.

In contrast, great content -- from the customer's point of view -- should provide meaningful and substantive insight or guidance about what products and service will do for them. As I concluded reading this book, it occurred to me that the authors had not made this point in the most compelling way. I was somewhat disappointed.

That said, Ann Hadley and C.C. Chapman have written a very comprehensive guide about how to develop a content marketing strategy and construct interesting information for your intended recipient -- utilizing a variety of digital media in the process.

Chapter 6, "Share or Solve; Don't Shill" is -- by far -- the most useful section of this helpful guide. It shares the six characteristics of a good idea or a story. What's missing, in my opinion, are examples of how companies typically fail to incorporate these basic principles.

Why is this explanation needed? Because this is a crucial concept and it should not be open to interpretation -- meaning, many marketers must essentially unlearn the common practices of legacy corporate marketing communications organizations.

Content Rules includes ten case studies -- what the author's refer to as success stories. I found some of these examples to be very insightful. In summary, the authors have tackled a subject that is very problematic, since knowing what to change is only part of the equation. Executing on that required behavioral transformation, having the will to discard bad habits, has proven to be very challenging.

Moreover, for those marketers who find it difficult to adopt these new practices themselves, the likelihood of being able to outsource this task is not promising. Finding an appropriately skilled consultant, a practitioner with proven results, will be equally challenging.

Why Telling Stories is a Key Business Skill
This review is from: Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story
Peter Guber's account of his career in the entertainment industry is very insightful. Read this book to discover the hidden power of storytelling, and also learn how sometimes the most simple ideas - when executed well - can catapult your career in a legacy company, such as a major player in the traditional motion picture industry.

Peter's honest assessment, of his numerous successes and failures, is a testament to his accomplished career as a man of action. His point of view perhaps can be summed up as this; if you can't tell it, you can't sell it. Clearly, one of Peter's many talents is that of a master salesman.

That said, this book will be a inspirational guide to all young executives that want to prove that they're worthy of additional responsibility -- by demonstrating that they can solve a fundamental weakness in a company's current business model.

Peter says that the most propulsive business stories shine a light on an interest, goal or problem that both the teller and the audience share. The power of these stories stems from the strong "me-to-we" connection that's made.

In my opinion, the most insightful story that Peter tells is about the process that Columbia Pictures - and other big media companies of that time - typically used to select directors and other key members of new film projects that cost in the tens of millions to produce.

Because most studio executives lacked meaningful insights regarding the availability of these independent contractors, the typical process for production team member selection would best be described as seat-of-the-pants decision making (that's my term, not Peter's). The key point: the leadership selection process for a major motion picture would help to explain why so many films fail at the box-office and result in a huge financial loss for the studio.

Peter's big idea for improving efficiency was to install a big (floor to ceiling) white corkboard and a bunch of colored push-pins that he used to map out the current and pending availability of the required talent -- and key production team leadership -- needed to produce a successful project. This rudimentary scheduling tool was so innovative that it was a launch-pad for his career.

He shares many other true stories that will simply make you shake your head in disbelief. Therefore, I found this book to be both informative, about one of America's most recognized source of celebrity figures, and very entertaining.

Rediscover the Power of Credible Influence
This review is from: Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
I live my life by the credo "If it's worth doing at all, then do it with passion." Guy's latest book offers numerous insights and practical tips about how to apply that passion for a worthy cause and truly enchant the people that you meet along the way.

I've previously attended Guy's live presentations, and I'll always remember his engaging smile and sincere persona. He knows how to inspire people - to demonstrate how you too can strive to apply your strengths, to be the best at your chosen craft.

This book offers meaningful suggestions on how to enchant your customers, your employees and any other key stakeholder that shares a common-cause with you. The basic point of Guy's guidance is this: authentic impassioned communication is more powerful than traditional attempts at persuasion (such as trite advertising which often demonstrates contempt for the people that it's intended to attract), influence, or other legacy marketing techniques.

Beleaguered legacy marketers will learn how to achieve Likability, and how to achieve Trustworthiness - apparently, these are fundamental qualities that people in mainstream marketing organizations need to rediscover.

Frankly, some might view this perspective as an indictment of all that is inherently wrong with old-school manipulative marketing practices, and therefore what must change to reform and redirect the efforts of this profession.

My current book reviews are also hosted on Amazon.com, and on Goodreads. My earlier reviews, posted here on Digital Lifescapes, are as follows: Secrets of Social Media Marketing: how to use online conversations and customer communities to turbo-charge your business, by Paul Gillin. Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.

Note to Authors and Book Publishers: I will accept Review Copies of new books. Contact me with the details, and I will gladly forward my current mailing address.