BY STEVE COHN
Saturday, March 3, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
1. “Understanding Media” by Marshall McLuhan (MIT Press, 1964).
I have no idea who might be the smartest human ever, but the most brilliant marketing mind of all belonged to Marshall McLuhan. “Understanding Media” is a timeless analysis of how language, speech and technology shape human behavior in the era of mass communication. The book is a cautionary tale for marketers today who hear the Web’s siren call and ignore the power of the spoken word. Whether heard onstage, over the phone, or on radio or TV, McLuhan says, the spoken word is ultimately much more powerful than the written. Part anthropologist, part psychologist, part behavioral scientist, McLuhan ponders many other aspects of how we connect, such as the persuasive powers of typography. He was a genius who understood why mass media holds us in its grip and never lets go.
2. “Brand Sense” by Martin Lindstrom (Free Press, 2005).
Of all the books I have read on marketing, “Brand Sense” is the most dog-eared. Martin Lindstrom makes a strong case that engaging the five senses is crucial to selling a brand. Whether marketers are trying to persuade consumers to buy a particular car or soda or shirt, they had better be aware of the role that each sense plays in the selling process, Lindstrom says, or they are working with only half a deck. Lindstrom displays much original thinking here, particularly with his “authenticity test” for brands. Does the brand feel real? Does it smell right? Does it tell a story that stirs emotion? The final payoff in “Brand Sense” is Lindstrom’s checklist to help marketers build maximum brand loyalty in their customers.
3. “Reality in Advertising” by Rosser Reeves (Knopf, 1961).
Rosser Reeves is not as well-known as the advertising giants of his era, such as David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach, but he was every bit their peer. Reeves originated many of the concepts–including what he called the “unique selling proposition”–that make the difference between marketing success and failure. Reeves was immensely talented, and he expected to be paid commensurately, which led to an incident that has become something of a legend in the advertising world. When a client demanded that he justify his fees, Reeves asked him to take two quarters out of his pocket and hold one in each hand. Reeves then explained: “You pay me to tell the consumer why the quarter in your left hand is absolutely fantastic and the quarter in your right hand is not.” Reeves chose exactly the right title for “Reality in Advertising”–all the marketing theory in the world means nothing if it can’t be translated into specific techniques that make a product or service stand out among all the others in its category.
4. “Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill (Simon & Schuster, 1999).
So you go to the mall, pop into a handful of stores and walk out with a few shopping bags–mission accomplished. Understanding how retailers can facilitate that experience is the particular talent of shopping-pattern researcher Paco Underhill. He and his trusty band of young sleuths have studied all age groups and looked at every angle of how we behave as shoppers. More than 70% of the purchases made on most shopping expeditions are unplanned, Underhill notes. He then explains shopper psychology and the techniques that retailers should use to maximize their chances of snagging our unintended expenditures. From describing how to create the most effective window displays to analyzing optimum shopping-basket placement, Underhill is unrivaled in his ability to dissect the countless variables that are essential to a store’s success.
5. “Branded Nation” by James B. Twitchell (Simon & Schuster, 2004).
James B. Twitchell begins “Branded Nation” by asserting that “the secret to great brands is that they are often nonsensical.” After all, what’s golden about McDonald’s? What’s real about Coke? Among the endless number of books churned out each year that try to explain brand success, this is the best overview of the rules of the road. It also provides an in-depth look at the often overlooked marketing strategies of churches, universities and museums. Twitchell is unusual among college professors in that he teaches both English and advertising, two disciplines that make perfect sense together.
Mr. Cone is a senior marketing executive at Citigroup and the author of “Steal These Ideas: Marketing Secrets That Will Make You a Star” (Bloomberg, 2005).