Category Archives: book reviews

read your veggies

After many late nights of eating ramen noodles, rolling my eyes at a publisher’s style guides, and general frustration with the book retail system while publishing Brand Zeitgeist, I swore I would never write another book.

I have written another book. And to borrow the line from Monty Python, it’s something completely different. It’s not about marketing. It’s not about business. It’s not about media.

It’s about vegetable gardening.

Back up. How did we get here?

I’ve been aware for a few years of the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program at Amazon. Even though it’s platform exclusive, it’s an egalitarian idea that puts content creators closer to book consumers in the same disruptive fashion we’ve seen in things like music and media publishing. It eliminates many of the frustrations and problems with traditional, self, or POD publishing.

I had a few ideas of short e-books for marketing topics I wanted to publish in the Amazon program. Before putting a massive amount of work into those projects, I wanted a guinea pig project to learn more about the program firsthand and just for fun.

I also needed to step away from writing about marketing for a bit. As I’ve said before, I’ve exhausted my commentary on traditional marketing and there‘s too much being said about digital.

I had written a column for a local alt-monthly newspaper for a few months about vegetable gardening. I used those columns as a nucleus and wrote an e-book around them.

Kentucky Dirt - A practical guide to vegetable gardeningThat short e-book (about 6500 words) is now available on Amazon as “Kentucky Dirt: A practical guide to vegetable gardening”. The book takes you through a year in the garden with tips and common sense advice on how to grow a garden and why the effort is worth it.

It’s written in a very laid-back first-person style. It’s like Lewis Grizzard, P. Allen Smith, and Justin Wilson got together and wrote something. Kentucky Dirt offers an eclectic mix of folksy humor, recipes, and stories.

It is available exclusively through the Amazon Kindle platform. The download is priced at 99 cents. The book has also been accepted into the Amazon KDP Select program which means, among other things, that Amazon Prime members can borrow the book for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

So won’t you buy a copy? It’s only 99 cents!

the marketer’s bookshelf

As I consult or speak, people often ask me for marketing or business book recommendations. While I sometimes review new business books on the blog, I didn’t have a list of the classics. I thought it would be nice to have a central repository that I could point to as the “essential marketing book shelf”. So here are some of my top picks in several business categories:

— The Essential Essentials —

There are only a few people in the world that I consider worthy of the title of marketing guru. So I could probably list the entire Seth Godin canon in this post. However, there are two of his books I consider fundamental reading.

I distinctly remember when I was honored to receive one of the 1st copies of Purple Cow. The milk carton that came in the mail freaked out the secretaries at the office I was working in at the time. The book was remarkable in that it practiced what it preached in the way it was distributed. When I do a marketing keynote, I lay out 3 essential elements of successful marketing for the audience. The ideas in Purple Cow parallel my first step which is “Great marketing begins with the product”.


The other essential Godin book is Permission Marketing. This book was written in 1999 and predates Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and YouTube channels, but the basic idea works for those items as well as the traditional marketing channels that Seth discusses in the book.


While he’s not a marketer, per se, the other prolific business author who has multiple books that could be on this list is Malcolm Gladwell. Much of creating successful marketing is understanding the way society and individuals think. Both Blink and The Tipping Point are important books to read to understand this better.


Ogilvy on Advertising is an old book. David Ogilvy is dead. But if everyone who created TV, radio, print, or online ads had a copy and referred to it, we wouldn’t see so much horrible advertising today. If you’re only going to read a few books on this list, make this one of them.


— Branding / Brand Strategy —

I’m a big proponent of the idea that strong brands are created by consumers, not marketers. But the majority of the time in order for that to happen, the marketer must have a solid brand strategy in place. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout is a must-read that helps you understand the importance of developing a strong thought-out brand strategy.


Closely related to Positioning (literally) is The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding which Al Ries wrote with his daughter Laura. It’s basically a more bite sized version of Positioning with plenty of real life examples.


If I’m recommending marketing and business books, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brand Zeitgeist. I wrote it because I wanted a comprehensive look at the branding and marketing basics that I want audiences to understand. Brand Zeitgeist reinforces basic marketing and branding principles and illustrates how businesses can use fundamental aspects of human nature to develop a brand strategy.


— Entrepreneurship / Career —

I have two tchotchkes, both given to me by wife, that have similar mantras. One has a quote from Thoreau that says, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” The other one has Dan Zadra’s simple quote of “Trust your crazy ideas.”
There are advantages to being different. I was first drawn to Chris Guillebeau because of his amazing travel quest, but related to that is his outlook on life which is outlined in The Art of Non-Conformity.


I spoke on a panel with Pamela Slim in 2010. In our chats both onstage and offstage, I found her message from Escape From Cubicle Nation was a needed one. Too many people are stuck in jobs they hate. Don’t be like that.


Another good resource for job seekers or would-be entrepreneurs is Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love


— Communication —

While it covers visual presentation in general, I feel it should be mandatory to pass a test on Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen before someone is allowed to create a slide in PowerPoint or Keynote.
(Bonus points if you also read Seth Godin’s Really Bad PowerPoint e-book.)


Up in the “branding” section of this post, the books will tell you repeatedly to avoid brand extension, but Jay Conrad Levinson has successfully milked his Guerrilla Marketing concept for all it’s worth. His numerous books which all revolve around the same ideas have good points. Much of it common sense stuff that you need to do. A copy of one of the guerrilla marketing books needs to be in every small business owner’s hands.


— Social Media —

At any given time, there are a lot of good books about social media marketing. Everyone wants the answers to social media presented as a neat package in a book. But the trouble with printed books about social media is that they’re outdated by the time they roll off the press or even onto your Kindle. You need a big picture overview of the fundamentals BEHIND social media that you can apply to any platform.
The book you need for this was written over 12 years ago before social media as we currently define it even existed. Most of the 95 theses in The Cluetrain Manifesto can be applied to your marketing strategy for any current social media platform. Don’t want to buy the book? Read it for free.


— Corporate Culture / Ethics —

I have to stop myself from using Zappos too much as an example of how great corporate culture and employee empowerment can contribute to a strong brand and a healthy bottom line. In Delivering Happiness, Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh, outlines the Zappos philosophy and how you can do it in your business.


Successful long term businesses have a strong moral code at their foundation. I have found that the KJV Bible provides a specific set of guidelines and principles that will work in every possible situation.


— The Usual Suspects —

Robert Waterman / Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence may be a little heavy for every application / user and parts of it are dated, but it is the definitive resource for how to manage a company.

Most essential business reading lists like this one will include Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. All these have valuable business insight, but I would challenge anyone to find someone who is not a MBA nerd who has actually read these books. Put them on your shelf, but read the Cliffs Notes version of all three.

— Virtual Bookshelf —

The books on your shelf are great for the big ideas that stay constant, but the tactics of marketing are changing every day. You need updates. Don’t get caught up in the ‘fad du jour’ mob mentality on Twitter, but do stay abreast of marketing trends by following marketers on Twitter. (I may do a follow-up post to this one of Twitter recommendations … posted on a Friday, of course.)

And there’s still a need for longer content than 140 characters so make it a habit to read competent marketing blogs and online versions of marketing publications. Look on the right sidebar of this page for my marketing blogroll. (link for rss readers)

And while not reading, you should be watching TED videos.

— Your books —

Initially, this post seemed like a great idea as a quick listing of essential business books. But it’s been one of the hardest I’ve written. I have had to leave out many books I enjoyed and found valuable, but would have made this list much too long.

So I’m turning it over to you. What essential book on the marketer’s bookshelf did I miss? Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments.

Disclosure: I wrote one of these books. Most links are Amazon affiliate links. A list of these books can be found on Amazon.

me 2.0

A few weeks ago, Dan Schawbel forwarded me a sneak peek of his new book, Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success and asked me to offer a review.

The idea of a personal brand not a new idea. I remember chewing on the concept when Tom Peters introduced it back in one of the first issues of Fast Company magazine. But Tom may have been a little ahead of his time (he usually is). When he introduced the idea back in the late 90s, the web was still primarily a one way medium of electronic brochure websites. But today’s social web offers an easy on-ramp for anyone to build a personal brand. The problem is that most people (young and old) don’t realize they’re building (or destroying) their brand with their online actions.

Dan has geared his book toward Gen Y / Millennials young professionals. But it’s a good basic primer for anyone who wants to control the brand image they’re projecting. While Me 2.0 does offer advice on networking and the off-line real world, most of the book focuses on how to use personal websites, blogs, and social networks to build an online brand for the individual. Frankly, it should be required reading before anyone can sign up for a Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social network account.

If you’re a seasoned pro at networking (online and off), the book will probably be a bit too basic for you. But if you’re just starting a career or are new to the online world, Me 2.0 is an essential guide. The job market is rough for anyone right now — especially so for young professionals. Me 2.0 solidifies the idea that has been true for sometime now. The “company man” has faded into the background and is gone. Each individual is a product that needs to stand up and be noticed. The way to do that is with your personal brand.

It’s a lot like the old saying: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today. You should already be properly managing your personal brand. If you’re not, now is the time to start.

DISCLAIMER: Dan provided me a free copy of the book to review.

the eckberg effect

A few weeks ago, I was being interviewed for a story by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Eckberg. As we corresponded and he read this blog, he noticed that I occasionally do a few book reviews and asked if I would take a look at his new book, The Success Effect.

I’ve often said that some of the most interesting content sometimes gets left on the cutting room floor. And along those same lines, some of the most interesting questions/responses in an interview don’t always make it into the final story.

Eckberg has gone back through his extensive collection of audio tapes that he’s amassed as a business reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer. He’s pulled 47 of his biggest and best interviews and culled out some of good stuff. The result is not warmed over leftovers, but instead a fresh perspective and a very entertaining read.

Each interview is pegged to a “big idea” (brand, desire, style, future, innovation, etc) and shows insight into each of those ideas. And in addition to the questions you’d expect a journalist would ask, Eckberg throws a few of my favorite kind of questions into each interview, offbeat tangent questions that sometimes reveal more about the interviewee than anything else does. This is in addition to sidebars in each interview about what books the subject has “on their nightstand” and what music is in their “cd changer”.

Some of my favorite interviews were speaker Jessica Selasky, former Cincy mayor Jerry Springer, and former Cincinnati resident Donald Trump (yes, that one — in Cincinnati.)

But all 47 interviews have good content. Overall, the breadth of the background of the interviewees and the style of the Eckberg interview make “The Success Effect” a very useful read for anyone in business.

btw — I’ve noticed that I’m doing more book reviews on the blog myself. My book review guidelines are as follows:

  1. it needs to be either about marketing or closely related to marketing/business/etc.
  2. contact me to see if a review is possible. If it is, a copy or galley of the book can be mailed to me for review.
  3. If I like it and think it will benefit my readers, I will post about it. If I don’t like it, nothing will be posted.

the chic entrepreneur

A few months ago, I was contacted by reader Elizabeth Gordon about the possibility of the Shotgun Marketing Blog being a stop on her Virtual Book Tour for her new book, The Chic Entrepreneur.

The Chic Entrepreneur is an entertaining read with lots of great advice for both new business owners as well as businesses that need to rethink their business strategies. I liked that the book is full of case studies and examples that show the points are not just academic, but work in the real world.

Much of it is the same advice you have probably heard before (so why are you not doing it!?), but Elizabeth has repackaged it into this female focused perspective. While the female of the species will see many of the analogies immediately, I (as a man) lost my way at times in the girliness. I’ve seen the book described online as the “Sex in the City” version of a business handbook and I think that’s a fair comparison. (in a good way!)

Over the past few weeks, Elizabeth and I have held an e-mail interview about the book:

Chris: Clearly, the book is geared toward a female audience. Why did you niche it to that market?

Elizabeth: After starting my small business consulting firm in 2005, I noticed a trend among my female clients: they were having similar issues with their businesses because of the ways they formed them and those issues were culminating into one big problem – an inability to grow. Their businesses got to a certain point and then they weren’t able to take them beyond that. Most of my women business owner clients had not scaled their business beyond the stage of successful self-employment, nor did they know how to do so. The more I worked with them, the more I saw the need for a strategy guide that would speak to women’s challenges in being able to leverage their business such that it no longer relied so heavily on their own individual efforts. And I realized that as a young woman business consultant (a near anomaly) I had the unique ability to bring a much needed perspective to the table and could teach these important business lessons in a manner and voice that would speak directly to female entrepreneurs. I am very passionate about the potential that I believe resides in current and emerging female entrepreneurs. I think this sector will be an integral part of a much needed pivotal point in our global economic development. I continue to be excited and energized about what is possible if more women start building businesses using a methodology such as the one I teach in the book, and create inherent assets of value that can flourish economically and lead them personally to greater fulfillment and freedom.

Chris: Can other groups (like men!) benefit from the information in the book?

Elizabeth: Absolutely! The Chic Entrepreneur teaches business lessons through comparisons of Fortune 500 companies and fictional small businesses. While some of the imagery and language might be more appealing to women, the lessons are universal. I have had countless men tell me that they bought the book for their wife, read a couple pages “just to check it out” and ended up reading it cover to cover. The great thing about the field of business is that nearly 85% of all challenges growing businesses face are universal, regardless of industry, ownership makeup, size or structure. Business is business.

Chris: What are some of the challenges that you have personally experienced as a businesswoman that influenced the book?

Elizabeth: When I initially started my business, I was in my twenties. While I’m in my thirties now, I’ve always had a young look, which is a blessing and a curse at times. I had a hard time being taken seriously when I first started. I’ve been told by others that I was too young to own my own business, or had people assume that it must be my husband’s business. It is amazing to me how much those silly but very real presumptions still exist today. Rather than try to fit in with the rest of those in my industry, I choose to emphasize my uniqueness and turn it into a strength. I think an opportunity exists for all of use to turn what could be perceived as negatives into positives.

Like most service businesses, I also had to give some major thought and planning to how I was going to be able to scale my business beyond my own individual efforts. This is the same challenge that holds most female small business owners back from breaking the million-dollar mark and beyond. But while this is challenging, it is certainly very doable when you have a solid methodology as a guide. Once you get your fledging business off the ground and it is sustainable in the short term, turn your attention to building a saleable business model. The next step is defining the personality of the company beyond that of just the personality of the owner and translating that into a branding strategy and a consistent and cohesive image that can permeate all of your activities, materials and communications.

Chris: I think many people dream of starting their own business. Do you think that anyone be an entrepreneur?

Elizabeth: This is a question of repeated debate. It is my personal opinion that the ability to create a business is inherent within all humans. Of course, people vary in the depth of their capabilities in this area. Some people are more natural entrepreneurs than others, just like some people are more natural athletes than others. But I think everyone has it in them, just like we all have the capability for love within us. It’s just a matter of whether it is the right time for you to explore it. A business takes much more than just an idea to begin. Having a plan, a market and a way to reach that market, and enough capital are other important factors to consider before beginning an entrepreneurial journey. A person also must be willing to risk failing in order to succeed in business, a courage or luxury that not everyone has. After creating the flourishing business methodology and applying it to hundreds different businesses, I know from experience that if you set up a business the right way, it doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen or sixty, you can be a successful entrepreneur.

Chris: You discuss the dimensions of a flourishing business in the book. Obviously, I was most interested in the sales/marketing one. What do you think is the biggest problem/challenge that entrepreneurs have with sales/marketing?

Elizabeth: I’m quite passionate about the sales and marketing side of things as well because this is what really drives the growth engine. I think the most difficult part for entrepreneurs is figuring out how to get their message heard by the right people and then getting those people to take action. There is so much out there these days that cutting through the clutter and getting a message in front of the right people continues to be a marketing challenge. However, I also believe that this is where the biggest opportunity lies for those that take advantage of a properly executed web and social media strategy. Getting heard is only the first step though, so it is important not to stop there. Having a compelling message that excites and shows value to the buyer and a motivating pitch that drives someone to take action is critical to the success of your marketing program. Small companies shouldn’t be advertising for branding purposes, all of their marketing efforts need to be results and action oriented.

Chris: You make the points of what to do to market a business in the book. But you also make the points of what NOT to do. What do you think is the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make in marketing?

Elizabeth: They don’t charge enough. And by “enough” I mean a fair price for the unique value that they’re offering to the marketplace. And this is why you hear so many small business owners bemoaning “I can’t afford to spend a lot of money marketing my business.” You see, your marketing costs, and all of your other overhead costs all need to be factored into your pricing decisions. Most companies don’t spend enough time thinking about the pricing decisions, they just arbitrarily pick a middle ground where they feel comfortable. But you can be far more strategic with your pricing, and you certainly need to make sure that your prices are in line with your overall marketing and business strategy.

Everyone wants to “sell more” but all sales are not created equal. While it may seem logical to slash prices or meet a competitors prices in order to sell more, this is often a mistake and it can lead entrepreneurs to bankruptcy. You see, if you have created a truly unique value for the marketplace, then what you’ve got is different from your competitors, so the price you charge should also be different. If you have a quality product, you shouldn’t undercut the value with discounting or giving away anything for free. This automatically devalues your product or service in the minds of your customers. You want your customers to appreciate all the value that you provide, such that they will repeatedly re-buy from you. So you don’t want to get it in their head that your product or service is not worth its price. People know you get what you pay for. Big luxury companies like Jaguar are not going to lower their prices in a recession just because Carmax is. However, this is the hardest lesson for entrepreneurs to understand and remember when it’s time to close a deal.

Chris: How can entrepreneurs get their marketing message heard?

Elizabeth:I often see entrepreneurs that do what I like to call “Buckshot Marketing.” This is not to be confused with Shotgun Marketing, which I find very useful 🙂 Buckshot marketing is when a business owners sprays out as much material and information as possible without properly branding and thinking of what their message is, what they want consumers to glean from it and where it should go in the future. In the absence of a thought out plan, often in the form of a business plan, I see this kind of spraying of marketing information. And even though it might be high in volume, it is usually low on results. Marketing is speaking to people, specifically consumers. You want to make sure your message is a cohesive story that can be easily read, is appealing to the eye and urges consumers to read more.

Chris: I have found in my consulting and speaking business that businesspeople are always excited and eager about business advice like this. However, when they get back to the daily grind of business, they push it all to the back burner. What advice do you have that might help people actually implement the ideas in the book?

Elizabeth: Form a peer advisory group with other business owners who are in a similar position that you are but in totally different industries. This should be a group that you meet with regularly, that has read and subscribes to the same methodology that you have and that wants to see you succeed. I’ve actually started creating and facilitating these peer advisory groups. Accountability works at the gym and it works in business, too. I meet with my group once a month and we often site my book or the teachings of other well-respected business gurus when we give advice. These people can be a great sounding board and a wealth of ideas and support to keep you on the path to reaching your goals. They will hold you to your tasks by asking you if you accomplished what you wanted since the last meeting and you’ll do the same for them. It can be a very symbiotic relationship that is well worth the investment.

You can read Elizabeth’s Chic Entrepreneur blog here or take a look at the Chic Entrepreneur on Amazon.

accidental branding

David Vinjamuri recently sent me a copy of his new book, Accidental Branding which is excellent.
Long time readers of this blog know that I declare that brand strategy is always deliberate, but that brand image is ultimately created by the end consumer. There are no accidents in branding — only incidents of companies not cultivating the brand and helping their customers develop it.

David’s book title comes from the fact that all the companies he profiles are strongly associated with an individual. These individuals have seen their brands develop over time and have a personal journey with the brand that is intertwined with their lives.

What David tries to show is that all these brands have developed a (sometimes small) group of dedicated followers who stuck with the brand even through rough times. Since the brand/business is so personal to the owners he profiled, there is an innate sense of quality and pride that leaks out and the brand authenticity is built in.

The companies that he profiles are all brands that you’ve heard of like Columbia Sportswear and Baby Einstein as well as lesser known but popular brands like Clif Bar and the Art of Shaving. My favorite chapters of the book were his discussions with Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Roxanne Quimby of Burt’s Bees (he also talked to Burt), and my fellow Kentuckian – John Peterman of J. Peterman.

The book is not a typical business book (see changethis manifesto). It consists of several good stories that are enjoyable even if people don’t care about branding. David doesn’t preach mantra in the stories. He just lays them out well and lets you learn what is obvious to you. He does begin and end the book with some of his own gleanings from his visits. Another great thing about the book is that you don’t have to read sequentially (I didn’t), but just take the stories and ingest them one at a time.

If you’re beginning to build a brand or stepping back to take a new look at a current brand, this would be a good book to start reading.

DISCLAIMER: David provided me a free copy of the book.

Life After 30

First some background…Joseph Jaffe is a consultant and former advertising executive who has written a book called Life After the 30-Second Spot. In November, he issued a call to all marketing bloggers to review the book and to show the power of the blogosphere. Without even reading the book, I think this blog review promotion is fabulous and shows the shift from traditional models. In fact, I may steal the blog review for my book. In any case, I’ve read Jaffe’s book and as promised, here’s my review…

Life After the 30-Second Spot
Energize Your Brand With a Bold Mix of Alternatives to Traditional Advertising

The big idea behind Jaffe’s book is a good rant that traditional advertising models are dead/dying, especially the sacred cow of the 30-second television commercial. The death is due to several factors, including changing media and the change in the way people now accept information.

Jaffe sets up the book in sections. Part of the book is spent making a good case that the current model of advertising is broken, why it’s broken, and what that means in the long term. He then offers several “new marketing” solutions to fix these problems. There are sub-sections written by some top marketing practitioners as well…so you’re getting a variety of viewpoints which is refreshing for a book of this type.

I went into the book thinking it would be just another rehash of the old “death of advertising” lecture that everyone has heard over and over. But I was pleased to discover that Jaffe brings up new ideas and passionate arguments that I had not heard/considered before. There’s a lot of new info in the book. Overall, I would say that Jaffe’s book is an alternate view of the Seth Godin TV-Industrial complex example from the ad agency perspective.

I think the overall premise of the book is right on. I’ve been saying the “old ways” have been losing their effectiveness for a while. Consumers are changing. Communication models are changing. Marketing will have to change as well.

Another thing that I liked about the book was the chastising of corporations who don’t target their marketing. They just throw it out there and hope something works with someone somewhere somehow. It’s a great testimony to my idea of thinking small and narrowcasting.

I did find a few problems with the book. Jaffe’s zeal/passion for his ideas made the book a little hard to read. There were a few moments that he went off on a tangent and I had to re-read to get the idea.

However, I think the most glaring negative for the book is its audience focus. I had the haunting feeling while reading it that it was “too-niched”. Jaffe leans the book toward the advertising industry and not the entire business world. If you’re not an ad guy (or gal), you’ll have a hard time following it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is an Adweek book. Someone has to slap Madison Avenue to get their attention and Joseph Jaffe does it.

If you were having a discussion with David Ogilvy about changing the way we advertise, I think the book would be a perfect resource. But, if you want to convince some C-level suits who don’t know anything about marketing (and there are lots of them!), the book will help, but may not sink in.

But I do recommend this book. The problems/ideas Jaffe brings up will not go away. Marketing that worked in 1984 will not work in 2005. The way people respond to advertising is changing and business will have to change the way they market to consumers. This book is a good start to show the way we’ll have to change.

DISCLAIMER: Joesph Jaffe provided me a free copy of the book.