Mandatory reading for entrepreneurs (and new marketers)

I specialize in marketing consulting for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen quite a few people in their late 40s and early 50s walk away from their safe and reliable, but limited, career paths. They’ve usually partnered with a colleague or two and started their own businesses. Typically, their business plans are pretty well designed and their budgets are adequate. The problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know.

Being good at what you do is only part of the game–albeit a big part, but a part nonetheless. The part that many entrepreneurs don’t properly anticipate is the difficulty of prospecting in the modern era. Who cares if you’re the best in your industry if no one knows you exist? Moreover, why should anyone take a risk on your new company when there are several brands in town with a far richer patina?

This is what so many of these entrepreneurs don’t fully anticipate, and it’s a daunting challenge.

What makes this problem fatal to many new ventures is that the founders are versed in a language that is falling out of favor. They cut their teeth in an era that has passed, and their hard-earned keys don’t open many of the new doors. As I’ve said before, the world has changed. The faster they realize this and adjust their outreach accordingly, the faster they’ll start to build a brand that has strength in the new world.

Clients often ask me if there’s a book or two I can recommend to get them up to speed with marketing in the modern era. All companies are different, but there are some books that are fairly universal, at least to the new marketer. If you’re starting a new business, or if you’re looking to revamp your existing outreach efforts, I recommend that you read the following books in the following order.

World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories
Read this book if you’re not very familiar with blogs, e-books, podcasts, YouTube, facebook, and twitter. It’s a bit dated now (it was only published in 2009!), as most people are well-versed with the technological platforms and social ecosystems that were emerging at the time. Still, the relationship marketing and brand management concepts are broad enough to be relevant for years to come. Another excellent book that came out around the same time and reinforces these lessons is Trust Agents.
Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing
In this day and age, even if you’re selling a product, your customers think you’re selling a service. This book gets to the heart of the challenge of selling an abstract service–most people don’t recognize great service, but they know when it doesn’t meet their expectations. You have to explain your competitive advantage, manage client expectations, and deliver prompt and courteous service if you hope to win and keep their business. None of this is revolutionary advice, but everyone could use a refresher course on what a typical client expects, especially in the era of Web 2.0.
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
This book pinpoints the modern marketing dilemma–there’s too much noise out there. When was the last time you clicked on an internet ad? When was the last time you answered a telephone call from an unknown number? When was the last time you paid attention to a TV commercial or a magazine ad? We’ve all become very adept at ignoring the things in life that we find boring or superfluous. In order to break through the clutter, you have to find a way to make your business remarkable in the literal sense. A good corollary to this book is The Big Moo.
The Thank You Economy
Social media isn’t a fad–it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Through technology, social platforms allow us to transition easily and often between the roles of audience, author, expert, and advocate. These communications are having an impact on our lives whether we choose to engage in them or not. This book delves into the world of social media and offers several success stories illustrating why and how you should be engaging online with your customers and prospects.
The Fine Art of Small Talk
Much of the new direction in marketing is focused on relationship management. Now, more than ever, the keys to success are authenticity, empathy, and experience. When you’re blogging or publishing, the idea is to be interesting. When you’re engaging with customers and prospects via social media, the idea is to be interested. This book has some suggestions that should be taken with a grain of salt, but the overall advice is solid. Striking up or joining a conversation online is not so different from mingling at a party. Some people are better at it than others. You need to be good at it if you plan to succeed in the new world of marketing.

These books won’t tell you exactly how to pitch a prospect or what to post on twitter. They parse the complexities of the modern landscape and show you how to stake a claim and defend your own little space. If you’re trying to grow your business, you need to learn the vocabulary, direction, and perspective necessary to earn the attention, trust, and loyalty of the Web 2.0 customer.

I should warn you that the main themes are a bit redundant across these five of these books. I included them all because some of them are more theoretical and others are more practical. It’s important to not only learn new tactics, but to also learn how those myriad tactics fit into your company’s overarching strategy.

Are you a small business owner? Is there another book that helped you to navigate the crowded marketplace and find success?

Mandatory reading for entrepreneurs (and new marketers)
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