By Roger C. Parker published November 19, 2017
No matter how large or small your business rois, or how experienced you are in content marketing, these recently published books can help you take your content marketing to the next level.
During 2017, there has been a flood of practical, relevant, and well-written content marketing books for marketers of all levels of experience and expertise. This guide reveals this year’s top books for:
- Content marketing newcomers and holdouts – If you’re a newcomer to content marketing or dealing with holdout clients, management, and prospects who still need convincing, you’ll find an informed overview of the basics of content marketing and tips for getting started.
- Experienced content marketers – If you’re a seasoned professional who wants to refine and grow your skills, you’ll find great information around best practices.
- Innovators, renegades, and visionaries – If you are a leader in marketing or the overall business (or want to strengthen your relationship with those leaders), you’ll find that reinvention and transformation is the name of your next content marketing game.
Resources for content marketing newcomers
If you (or your boss or client) are a newcomer to content marketing, the following books provide a comprehensive, up-to-date big view of how content marketing differs from advertising-based approaches (and the terms and values).
An ideal orientation guide for new clients as well as a valuable training tool for staff orientation and ongoing education.
The Lead Machine’s strength is Rich Brooks’ empathy for the small businesses his agency, flyte new media, works with daily. He gains further real-world insights during his annual Agents of Change conference, which attracts nationwide keynote speakers like Jay Baer, Andy Crestodina, and Gini Dietrich. Rich’s book uses the language his clients use. More importantly, he respects his readers’ time. He shares “just enough” information to inspire and motivate his readers, without getting too deep in the details.
His straightforward philosophy is described in an early chapter, The BARE Essentials of Digital Marketing:
- Build a mobile-friendly site designed for results.
- Attract qualified traffic to your site.
- Retain customers after they leave your site by staying in constant communication.
- Evaluate your website analytics, email reports, and social media to see what’s working and what’s not working.
The chapters contain between three and 12 pages. You can read cover to cover or go to the chapter addressing your current challenge. It’s the perfect get-acquainted book for newcomers to content marketing who don’t need a tutorial, but are looking for an overview outlining the main topics to concentrate on.
More than an overview for content marketers to use as a training tool for clients, prospects, and staff, Top of Mind emphasizes the important role that leadership and team-building plays in creating lasting client relationships.
John Hall’s Top of Mind brings a new level of humanity and long-range outlook to content marketing. Written by the founder of Influence and Company, Top of Mind is more than a summary of content marketing and personal branding. At a time when the future of content marketing is increasingly discussed in terms of numbers-based metrics, predictable analytics, and artificial intelligence, Top of Mind is a reminder that person-to-person relationships are at the core of lasting success.
John describes his formula for top-of-mind positioning in two sentences: “All I did was what humans have done forever: learn something new and share it with each other. And at each link in this knowledge chain – trust was strengthened.”
Later, he boils the top-of-mind philosophy down to a single goal: “If you can get the right people to think of you at the right times, you can accomplish great things.”
In Chapter 6, Broadcasting Your Message Through Content, he defines the characteristics of good content:
Good content is created for the sake of the reader. Your audience comes to your content with an agenda – they want to be educated, or perhaps just entertained. Regardless, they always want to be enriched. Write to their needs and you’ll earn a top-of-mind spot.
“But,” John writes, “what if you’re not a great writer? What if the prospect of composing even a 600-word blog post makes you break out in sweaty dread?” He tells how he honed his writing skills by assembling a team that complements and executes his ideas. He then shares the best practices he and his team developed, including:
- Setting the right goals and documenting your strategy
- Extracting and managing knowledge
- Committing to a process of content creation
- Publishing and distributing
The remaining chapters address ways to multiply the effectiveness of your content by adapting your messages to various contexts, i.e., market segments and the different stages of the buying cycle.
The 6th edition of David Meerman Scott’s classic New Rules of Marketing and PR is the best-organized and most-detailed overview of tools and best practices.
Each edition of The New Rules of Marketing and PR is noticeably better than its predecessor. It’s an international best-seller, with over 350,000 copies in print in over 25 languages. There are three reasons it’s a must-read for content marketers:
- It covers all the bases. Think of the book as a constantly evolving encyclopedia of content marketing, social media, influencer, and public relations options. Content marketing requires more than a blog: Content must be amplified, recycled, reformatted, and updated to reach new readers. The New Rules of Marketing and PR provides a detailed overview of how to do that.
- It is always up to date. David rewrites and updates the New Rules of Marketing and PR every two years, which is important because change is a fact of life for content marketers. What’s hot one year may be out of favor in the next year.
- David’s ongoing blog posts keep him in touch with the latest creative opportunities and threats. In addition, his blog’s engaged and informed readers support his research through their comments and emails. He also uses the questions he’s asked at his speaking engagements at marketing conferences and corporate retreats as fodder for research and tracking for the next edition.
One thing that sets this edition of The New Rules of Marketing and PR apart is the way David doesn’t isolate tools, like social media options, as separate chapters. Instead, he writes collectively about them in an introductory chapter and then, in a later chapter, describes best practices and examples of how they can work in concert to create a stronger online presence.
Content marketing for experienced practitioners
The books in this category offer specific, detailed advice for those who are familiar with the basics of content marketing but want to improve their own or their team’s performance in key areas.
A masterpiece of organization and utility, you’ll find concise descriptions of more than 615 ways to improve your online presence one bite-sized topic at a time.
I’m always suspicious whenever I encounter words like best, damn, and period with an exclamation mark in book titles. The words are usually a prelude to disappointment. Stoney deGeyter’s The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period! 2.0, however, is a welcome exception. Its contents, organization, and layout more than live up to the title’s promise.
The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period! 2.0 is a large format, 8 ½ by 11-inch book with 250 pages of distilled best practices and details that cumulatively can help you enjoy thousands of dollars in increased sales. There’s a staggering amount of insights, tips, and information, packaged for findability, quick reading, and immediate implementation.
The book is organized around 39 checklists (which readers can download and print). They appear in the order in which the topics would normally be addressed during a brand audit – Domains & URLs Checklist, Design Considerations Checklist, Mobile-Friendly Design Checklist, etc.
The checklists have a consistent structure. The first page of each contains:
- Relevant quote by a recognized online marketing expert
- Section on what checklist is about
- Explanation on why mobile-friendly design is important
- Two to six paragraphs emphasizing the importance of the topic
The remainder of each checklist contains six to 66 action points highlighting a frequently encountered problem that can undermine website performance. Then Stoney describes what to look for and how to fix on your site.
The authors, both respected experts in their fields, explore (with the help of 26 subject-area experts) the key areas where content marketers frequently run into trouble establishing their personal brand.
The Road to Recognition is an outstanding example of positioning a new book in a crowded market. By analyzing existing books and isolating their distinguishing characters, Barry Feldman and Seth Price have created a distinctly different book that reflects the perfect fusion of design, structure, and expert advice.
Each chapter is organized based on each letter of the alphabet. Both the authors and readers benefit from this technique. Limiting the topics to 26 freed Barry and Seth from the limitations of the conventional sequential organization, paving the way for fresh thinking about grouping topics. The alphabetical structure also makes it easy for readers to track their progress.
You’ve probably never encountered a marketing book as well thought out and well designed as The Road to Recognition:
- The impact of the opening page, with only a yellow graphic image of the chapter’s letter against a black background, forms a strong contrast with the simplicity of the facing page. It contains 50 words explaining the context of the topic in building your personal brand set in gray text against a white background.
- The next two pages contain a perspective on the topic contributed by a recognized content marketing expert who could submit as few or as many words as he or she desired.
- The remaining pages of each chapter reinforce the importance of the topic and provide paragraph-length ideas, best practices, and tips in a concise, conversational format.
Mark Schaefer shares a broader vision of content marketing, focusing on how becoming known is an evolutionary process … and that in this tumultuous world, there are only two assets we have: our education and being “known.”
I’ve been a Mark Schaefer fan since I discovered his earlier Content Code: Six Essential Strategies to Ignite Your Content, Your Marketing, and Your Business. Perhaps I subconsciously picked up on the fact that he is a college educator and shares my passion for passing on useful information in a highly organized way.
What I didn’t realize until I read Known is that Mark had a highly successful career in the corporate world that he walked away from to start his own business, which, unfortunately, lead to what he terms his “emotional ground zero.” Known is the story of how Mark – in his words – “clawed his way back, found his voice, his place in the world, found an audience that mattered, and consistently connected to people with relevant and entertaining content.”
What I found most surprising about Mark’s story is the way he distilled his journey to four basic steps:
- Find your place: You must be known for SOMETHING. What is your unique voice, your distinctive place, your sustainable interest on the web?
- Find your space: You must occupy a large enough space to make a difference. To avoid competition, you must locate an underserved market.
- Find your fuel: Content is the fuel for building a personal brand today. Your content must be fine-tuned to impart genuine value and cut through the clutter.
- Create an actionable audience: Your network is your net worth. You need to connect to your critical audience in a way that is actionable and helps you achieve your goals.
After you’ve completed the steps above, your success is a matter of taking your brand to the next level. Step 5 refers to committing to consistency, continuing improvement, and eliminating inefficiency.
There are 11 chapters in all. I learned the most from Chapter 3, Finding Your Sustainable Interest, and Chapter 5, Eight Space Strategies. Each chapter inspired me with fresh ideas and options.
The 60-page workbook helps turn the information you’ve learned from Known into action by providing space to help you immediately implement its ideas.
I highly recommend Mark’s companion workbook to Known. The workbook overcomes the gap between reading an inspiring book and acting on your recently acquired information. It contains space for you to immediately begin answering the questions and filling in the worksheets and exercises described in the book. There’s even a downloadable template to track your progress.
The workbook’s questions and exercises are keyed to the contents of each chapter. I was pleasantly surprised to find enough line spaces in the workbook to fill out the forms and answer the questions completely.
TIP: Avoid the temptation to read the book then fill in the workbook. Read one chapter at a time, then immediately turn to the workbook to execute the questions and exercises.
Marcus Sheridan’s They Ask, You Answer can convince even the most skeptical clients or prospects to take a fresh look at your firm’s content marketing options.
Marcus Sheridan, also known as The Sales Lion, was one of the pioneer content marketers. The story of how he used content marketing to rescue his failing swimming pool installation business in 2008 has been told in countless blog posts, keynote speeches, and articles.
If you search Marcus Sheridan on Google, it presents over 599,000 links. A better alternative to learning about Marcus’ work is in his recently published They Ask, You Answer. It offers the most polished presentation of his philosophy and processes. It’s also one of the most transparent content marketing books I’ve read, comparable to Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses.
Marcus doesn’t hold anything back in They Ask, You Answer. He candidly discusses pricing and disclosure strategies, qualifying prospects, handling disruptive competitors, and involving his sales staff in the content creation process.
They Ask, You Answer is as close as you can get to sitting next to Marcus in first class and chatting on a coast-to-coast flight. It contains 44 focused and concise chapters organized into four parts. This structure helps you quickly locate the information you need. The length of the chapters also makes it easy to finish one or two in the length of that flight and still have time left over.
Here’s how Marcus breaks down the book into four parts:
- A Very Different Way of Looking at Business, Marketing, and Trust – The 24 chapters in Part 1 describe the sink-or-swim crisis in 2008 that led to the reinventing of the firm’s marketing and sales.
- The Impact of They Ask, You Answer on Sales Teams – The eight chapters in Part 2 describe how Marcus created a sales process on the back of his content marketing program … or was it the other way around?
- Implementation and Making It a Culture – As the former head of content marketing for a growing consumer electronics chain, I appreciated the steps Marcus took to involve the sales team in content creation. Chapter 36, The Content Manager Qualities, Hiring and More, provides a useful wish list for evaluating candidates.
- Your Questions Answered – The final seven chapters are conversational responses to the question Marcus is asked over and over. For me, the highlight is Chapter 44, A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy. It’s just three pages. Hint one: It involves The New York Times. Hint two: It ends with the shortest list of content marketing best practices I’ve ever encountered.
Content’s emerging role in corporate reinvention
In many firms, content marketing exists in a never-never land, floating between C-level management and individual product and service work groups. As a result, the process is inefficient and often self-defeating. Yet, change is on the horizon. Indeed, it’s already taking place. The following three books provide an informed look at content’s role in helping firms adjust to a world of accelerated, constant change – something any successful leader should recognize.
Multinational enterprise firms already address many of the content marketing challenges you and your clients may face as reinvention picks up speed in 2018. Rebecca Lieb provides an international perspective to help you prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.
Rebecca Lieb is a respected industry analyst. She’s published the largest body of research on content marketing, content strategy, and content’s role in the intersection of paid, owned, and earned media. As a strategic adviser, and through her association with the Altimeter Group, Rebecca has worked with many of the world’s leading brands, including Adobe, Anthem Blue Cross, Facebook, Fidelity, Home Depot, IBM, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
I’ve included this book because it provides a comprehensive, research-oriented snapshot of content marketing today at the enterprise level. This is the level where content marketing challenges often show up before they emerge at small and medium-sized firms. Observing how the world’s largest firms have addressed the challenges gives you a head start on preparing your own responses.
A glance at the table of contents reveals the depth of the topics Rebecca researched to define, explore, evaluate, recommend, and suggest:
- Chapter 1: The Shift to Content Marketing
- Chapter 2: Content Marketing versus Content Strategy
- Chapter 3: Converged Media
- Chapter 4: Native Advertising
- Chapter 5: Organizing for Content
- Chapter 6: A Culture of Content
- Chapter 7: Global Content Strategy
- Chapter 8: Real-time Marketing
- Chapter 9: Content Marketing Software
- Chapter 10: Content Marketing Performance
- Chapter 11: Contextual Campaigns
Content: The Atomic Particle of Marketing both explains and advises. Chapters begin by describing the characteristics of each topic, the relevance of the topic, the trends, and key characteristics.
The chapters include over 60 figures, 13 tables, and dozens of definitions, examples, and quotes from content marketers employed by leading multinational enterprise firms or the agencies that serve them. But, Rebecca does more than just describe; in every chapter she shares detailed how-to advice and perspective.
A passionate and well-argued manifesto for change, Killing Marketing describes the next phase of a revolution that’s already taking place among the most progressive enterprises.
If you are one of the tens of thousands of listeners from more than 100 countries who listen to Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose’s weekly This Old Marketing podcasts, you’re familiar with content marketing’s transition from a cost center to a profit center.
For a long time, Joe and Robert have been championing the idea that helpful, relevant content can pay its own way AND become a profit center for both B2B and B2C companies. Their underlying theme has been that businesses must adapt to a new world, reinventing themselves as media companies – not manufacturers, distributors, or service providers.
This is, of course, a revolutionary – almost a crazy – idea. Yet, the more time I spent with Joe and Robert’s Killing Marketing, the more the idea made sense. The clincher was when I reread the foreword written by Stephanie Losee, head of content, Visa Corporate Communications, which concludes:
Killing Marketing is the senior executive handbook for what the marketing function should always have been and now can be. Content transformed Red Bull into a media company. Content will transform your business in another way. At the very least, it will serve as the mechanism that finally elevates marketing from a tax on the business to a true business itself.
In his introduction, Joe asks a simple question: ” What if everything we know to be true about marketing is actually what’s holding back our business? “
Killing Marketing should be required reading for all content marketers. There’s a huge story here, containing lessons applicable to all content marketers. Here are some questions (and answers) that stood out:
- What’s working for those who have embraced Killing Marketing ideas? What were the reasons for adopting a new content and business model? What were the steps they took and the results they obtained?
- What assumptions are holding you back? What are some of the ways you can objectively evaluate your marketing and business plan?
- How can you safely test the waters of reinvention? One of the best chapters is the final one, Robert’s The Future of Marketing. It’s superbly written and addresses a basic question: What harm could possibly come from trying?
The book organizes Joe and Robert’s ideas into 10 highly readable chapters with numerous sub headings and lists guiding you through each page. To help you immediately begin your reinvention journey, each chapter includes two action-oriented jump-starts:
- Profitable insights: Issues and takeaways to keep in mind as you think differently about your sales, marketing, and communication.
- Profitable resources: Listings of the books, articles, podcasts, blog posts, movies, presentations, and comments from colleagues and influencers, that formed the chapter topic.
Thousands of marketing books are published each year. Most are soon forgotten. A few, however, enjoy decades of influence because of a perfect storm of timing, quality of information, author’s voice, the tools, and – last but not least – a highly readable design.
Like Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology Persuasion, Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, or David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man, Killing Marketing is destined to mark a turning point in its field. It will spark fresh thinking, numerous success stories, and be gratefully read by future entrepreneurs and leaders.
Although buggy whip manufacturers aren’t exactly doing well in the digital economy, this book is a great reality check for digital marketers.
This entertaining book provides a pleasing reality check for digital marketers who focus too much on the Internet of Things, while ignoring the growing popularity of old-fashioned solutions for which many market segments are willing to pay premium prices.
I’ve included David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog as a bonus because it’s too good not to be included in every content marketer’s bookcase. It describes numerous examples of old technology products coming back in vogue, like vinyl records, Moleskin notebooks, expensive fountain pens, film, and other high-quality, high-cost niche products.
David loves irony. For example, he balances the irony of frequently encountering paper notebooks and fountain pens at the executive levels of Silicon Valley technology firms with a sobering analysis of the realities of the economic contributions of the tech world to their communities, their employees, and the country’s economy. Traditional manufacturing had a positive cash-generating networking effect on local economies. Now, white-collar paychecks and job security have often been replaced by limited-duration contracts, i.e., work for six months, take two months off, etc.
These 11 books only scratch the surface of content marketing books that can help professionals beginning their careers (or convincing others about the value) as well as experienced professionals and insightful leaders recognizing the power of content marketing on a new level. But I believe these are the best ones to start with. Do you agree? If you’ve read one or more of these books, share your thoughts. If you have another book on your must-read list, let us know in the comments.
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: If you don’t have time to read a book to improve your content marketing skills, make time to read an article or two every day or week. Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute to CMI’s free daily or weekly newsletter.
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