Top 10 books that changed the way I do business

A client (David Edwards from UL) asked me yesterday for some advice on what books he should read to develop his product marketing knowledge.  This prompted me to reflect on which books have had the greatest influence on me.  All these books have had a material effect on my approach to creating growth strategies that everyone is convinced will work.

Product marketing is about more than marketing, it is about attracting more customers.  Over the years I have found very few marketing text books that were really helpful and stimulating.  But many books that have influenced the way I think about marketing and attracting customers.

None of these books give a simple answer straight out of the box.  They are all thought-provoking and will help you to move your thinking forward.  If you want easy answers then look elsewhere, if you like a challenging thought-provoking read, then take a look.

My top 10

The science and laws of marketing

How brands grow

Start with Byron Sharp.  He has taken the pioneering work of the late Andrew Ehrenberg and made it accessible to everyone.  This is about why it is more important of get more customers, not just focus on customer loyalty.  It is about why light buyers matter so much.  It is why the 80:20 rule is wrong.  It is based on years of research into how people actually behave and not anecdotes and armchair thinking about marketing theory and customer loyalty.



Byron shows us why evidence matters and how to bring science into marketing.  Byron shows you that there are 10 laws of marketing and why you cannot ignore them.
Watch his TEDX Talk here

The Text-Book

marketing byron

This is the only marketing textbook I would recommend.  It takes the laws of marketing as explained in How Brands Grow and tells you how to apply them to the business decisions you need to make to develop a marketing plan that will actually work.

It is written by whole team at the Ehrenberg Bass Institute of Marketing Science and has some good case studies.  It is aimed at university students studying marketing and strategy.

This academic work is known and been adapopted by global brand leaders like P&G, Mars, Unilever, Colgate and Google for some time.  It has only become accessible to everyone else in the past 5 years.

Leadership and innovation

Find your light bulb

Mike Harris shares his experience of creating totally new and game changing brands by taking a radical approach to providing service to customers in conservative industries.

Find Your Lightbulb draws from Mike’s experience of creating game changers in banking (First Direct and Egg) in telecoms with Mercury and in internet security with Garlik.

This book is about leadership and driving extraordinary ideas through your organisation and creating somethign that will attract more customers.


Behaviour and psychology

Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast Thinking Slow

Daniel Kahneman reveals why and how people’s decisions and behaviours are not entirely conscious or rational.  He discovered that we have two systems in our brain,  System 2 is the one we all know about, it is conscious, rational, slow and cautious.  System 1 is actually the driver of many decisions, it is unconscious, instinctive, fast and very importantly, we could not function without it.

This book helps you understand why people buy, why emotion matters, what triggers a purchase and you will think differently about how to attract customers when you have read it.

Advertising and marketing communications strategy

IPA Peter Field Les Binet, The long and short of it

This report analyses the results of 998 marketing campaigns.  These campaigns were all submitted to the IPA Annual Effectiveness Awards.  They were all assessed on the basis of the results and the effectiveness rather than subjective critieria like creativity or design

This report updates an important study called Marketing in the Era of Accountability. It tells you what worked and what did not work so well.



This highlights and confirms the importance of increasing market penetration (i.e. strategy speak for “getting more customers” ) and the role of share of voice in building market share.  They also discuss and demonstrate why generating emotional response to campaigns is important to get value for money from your marketing

Looking to the future

Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Improbable events

Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows us that looking to the future is a bit of a mugs game.  The most likely thing to happen in the future is an improbable vent that you cannot predict.  So stop worrying about it.

His writing is dense and a bit inaccessible, he is a mathematician and ex stock trader with a big brain.  But what he writes about is important and has implications for strategy and practical decisions.  I wrote about what we should do about this in 2008 in this post.



My conclusion is we should spend less time worrying about the future.  We should spend more time strengthening our ability to withstand unexpected shocks.  Read here

Social Media

Penny Power, Know me, like me, follow me

There is increasing evidence that digital marketing and social media are attracting a disproportionate share of advertising revenue as these new media have become more fashionable “must haves” in your marketing plan.

Penny Power takes a different approach and shows us what social media is really for and how to use it to build a following and create a network that will help you and your business and even how the network will help each other.

Penny’s approach echoes the whole Attractive Thinking ethos.  It is about attracting people not broacasting to them and capturing them.


This book is a classic, it may be 7 years old, but it is not out of date.  It reveals some fundamental truths about who we are, how we interact and what that means for your business, brand and marketing plan.


Good strategy, Bad strategy, Richard Rumelt,

Richard Rumelt has studied many strategies and the book has loads of examples.  This makes this very practical and well grounded.  Richard invites us to look inside the business for what we can do and what we are good at.

Rumelt dispels popular misconceptions about strategy – such as confusing it with ambitions, visions or financial goals – by very practically showing that a good strategy focuses on the challenges a business faces, and providing an insightful new approach for overcoming them.


Remember a strategy is merely a set of actions designed to achieve a particular goal. This book will bring you back to what really matters, so you create a plan that will work

Getting recognition and being recommended

Key Person of Influence, Daniel Priestley

This book together with the KPI programme showed me a whole buch of stuff that is known by entrepreneurs and not so well understood or taught in large corporate environments.

Daniel Priestley highlights five steps that are essential if you and/or your business are to gain recognition and be recommended.  Daniel has talked with thousands of entrepreneurs and gained insight into the problems they have to overcome.  The KPI method is an effective way to overcome them.

If you want to develop your career and be secure in your ability to attract customers or employers, then read this.

He has followed this up with another book called Oversubscribed how to get people queuing up to do business with you.

Avoid being misled by common sense

Common sense, Duncan Watts,  Everything is common sense until you know the answer

In the 2001 election, William Hague created the Common Sense campaign for the Tories.  It did not work.

“Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? And does higher pay incentivize people to work harder? If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again.


Common sense is one of the most dangerous ideas that pervades general thinking and our decision-making.  Yet science nearly always demonstrates that many ideas that were common sense were plain wrong.  (e.g. sun goes round the earth).  Duncan Watts will help you fine tune your antennae to detect common sense ideas that are misleading or just plain wrong.

And another 5 books

Inevitably I found it difficult to nail this list down to 10.  But the list above is my top 10. Here are my next 5.

  1. Viral marketing, The science of sharing.  Shows what goes viral and why
  2. Switch, How to change things when change is hard:  Argues that we need only understand how our minds function to unlock shortcuts to switches in behaviour.
  3. Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age:  Does what it says on the tin
  4. Marketing Manifesto:  The booklet from the Marketing Society on what marketing leaders must focus on to increase their effectiveness and impact  download here.  I helped the team to create this book.
  5. The One Thing You Need to Know: This helps you discover the question you need to answer, get the right answer and then get everyone else to agree with you.  You will be better at pitching within a corporate environment.

Better products vs better persuasion?

creating better pensions productsI have been spending some time with pensions professionals who are grappling with how to make pensions work better for the whole population. There is clearly a problem for many of us.  Many people will not have adequate provision for income in their old age.  This kind of customer problem presents an opportunity for the industry to do some better persuasion and better marketing.  But it also offers an opportunity to create better products.

I have noticed that the debate about better pensions highlights two different ways you can approach trying to solve a problem for your customers.

The first is to try and persuade people to behave differently

The focus here is how to get people to buy what you provide or sell.  This is what many business leaders are trying to do in different industries.  It is an important activity to get growth.  This seems to be the main focus in pensions.

Much of the pensions industry discussion is about getting people to take pensions more seriously. It is about getting people to save in a responsible manner.  This is manifest through the government’s auto enrolment scheme; by advocating the provision of independent advice via IFA’s; via the development of training and financial education for people.

The implication of this approach is that people are behaving irrationally.  We just need to change our ways.  We are not looking after ourselves and need educating and coercing into investing so we have a pension.  Then we need advice to take income from a pension fund in a responsible way rather than blowing it all away on holidays. Then we will have a better retirement.  This financial education and advice sounds very worthy and well intentioned.

Now I can see that much of this analysis and the need for different behaviours is true. Many people are headed for a poor retirement as a result of their inaction. But I would argue it is blinkered to concentrate only on trying to persuade people to behave differently.  Most of my experience says that trying to educate people to behave differently is very hard, it is an uphill slog with few rewards.

Alternatively, it can be much easier to create something that people actually want, that they see as solving a real problem for them.  That way they will be attracted to the solution rather than feeling badgered into it. So …

The second way is to create better products

Is the pensions problem just that people are behaving badly?  Or maybe the products on offer could be better?  Maybe the problem is not just that people are behaving stupidly, but that the products and services that are available just do not meet the real needs of ordinary people all that well and that the industry could also help people by developing better products?  It is clear from the National Association of Pension Funds’ Workplace Pensions Survey October 2013 that there is a perception amongst many ordinary people that pensions cannot provide for their future.  There is a lack of trust.

In my experience, when there is a lack of trust then educating or marketing alone will be very hard work and may not be effective.  We need better products.

What are better products?

Better productsWell “better” usually means things like

  • easy to understand – so you know what you are buying
  • easy to access – online often does this, or being in the right shops
  • deal direct with the customer, no intermediaries – intermediaries often add cost and slow things down, they need paying and do not have the same priorities as the customer (think of travel agents)
  • better value for money –
  • solves a real problem for a customer – (Tesco click and collect service)
  • does not exploit the laziness or ignorance of the customer (utilities often do exploit this)
  • takes care of the customer (First Direct)

Online solutions often deliver a lot of these elements which is why there is so much growth in online products and services.

An good example of an industry transformed by better products is to try and remember the short haul airline industry before Easyjet, Southwest Air and Ryan Air. The airline industry has been transformed by these game changers. Look at how much better it is for customers today. Easyjet and RyanAir were Game Changers.

An easy mistake to make is to think your industry is more complex and more difficult than the industries where game changers have created change and that better simpler products are not possible.

The pensions industry knows it has unique challenges and is more complex than the airline industry was. That may well be true. But the top executives of traditional national airline carriers British Airways, Lufthansa, American Airlines all thought their business was complex and did not really innovate until the low cost carriers arrived with better products.

Come to our event on 29th May

Game-Changers-2-wordsWe are running an event next week that looks at how the most successful leaders have created better products and services to deliver real real game changers in different industries. The event is called Game Changers and is on 29th May at 1400 at Campus London in Bonhill St Shoreditch (see details here)

One of our headline speakers is Mike Harris who is the original financial services game changer. Mike created First Direct and the Egg card internet banking business.  Mike will talk about what it takes to be a game changer.  Mike will share some insights on how to do this.

Another speaker is John Scriven from South Bank University, Marketing Science and the Ehrenberg Institute.  John has some surprising and ground breaking insights under the title How brands grow – what marketers don’t know?  John will share insights that are used by many of the worlds top companies on how to present better products to customers.

More information about the event is here Tickets are free.  It is just 3 hours during the afternoon.  there will be some debate around the case studies and examples.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this please add them to this article which is posted in the GameChangersUK linkedin group.  This is an online group that will continue the debate.

Game Changers Event 29th May


Game Changers event 29th May

This post is to tell you about our next event which is all about turning your products and services into things people love to buy. This is how to transform your industry as well as your business. I really hope you can come.
We have got great speakers, brand new content and an group of like minds where you can discuss insights, ideas and your experiences.  We are calling the event Game Changers because this is what Game Changers do.

Click on the logo to get more information about the event.

Why should you come?

This Game Changers event is for business leaders who are not content with the status quo and want their business to make a difference. If you are on this email list, it is highly likely this describes you.

The Game Changers event is a chance to explore and discuss how you can do this. You will have the chance to learn from the experience of others in driving for exceptional growth. This is about turning a business from ordinary into game changing. We will explore the characteristics of high growth businesses and draw out a number of critical lessons.

Game Changers turn their products and services into something customers love to buy. This needs not just game changing insights about customers, but also the ability to develop products and services that go beyond what customers want and deliver something they could not imagine today.

Speaker highlights

Mike Harris

The Original Game Changer

Mike Harris

Mike Harris

Mike’s first big play was to transform current account banking when he created First Direct: a bank without branches dedicated to making sure customers felt totally taken care of.

Mike went on to challenge the BT monopoly on fixed line telecoms and turned Mercury Telecoms into a profitable player.
Then he created Egg Internet banking, the first online only banking service. Mike now works with entrepreneurs to help them understand what it takes to be a Game Changer. Mike will tell us the most important things he learned and what makes the difference between business as usual and being a game changer.

click here for Game Changers event details

John Scriven

Game Changing Insights on Customer Behaviour


John Scriven

John Scriven worked at South Bank University with a cutting edge research and insight team founded by Andrew Ehrenberg and later developed with Byron Sharp. The team’s latest book is called

How Brands Grow – what marketers don’t know.

Andrew Ehrenberg pursued empirical and behavioural studies to establish how consumers behave and uncovered a number of findings that blow away a lot of conventional thinking about customer loyalty and how brands actually get growth. His work is used today by many top global brands like Coca-Cola, Mars, Unilever & P&G. John will come and share the team’s top five insights.

These insights have been uncovered over 40 years of painstaking study and research about how customers actually behave and how markets evolve in response to consumer behaviour.

John will show how this applies to your business whether large medium or small, whether B2B, consumer or services and how you can use these insights to make decisions that will attract more customers and help you get more growth.

When Bruce McColl the global CMO at Mars discovered the Ehrenberg analysis, he described it as “an epiphany”

Here is Byron Sharp discussing some of the insights that John will share with us in a Tedx Talk. It may be 15 minutes, but it is worth it.

Click here for Game Changers event details

I hope you can come. Events are a great chance to catch up and meet some other interesting people. I already know that we have some great people coming, I hope you can join us.

We also managed to get a great venue in Shoreditch. We will be at Campus London. All events at Campus are free, so that makes it even better.

Four reasons people do not buy your product or service

I was reading through some posts in our mentoring support forum the other day.   I saw a comment from Mike Harris.  (Mike was the CEO who launched First Direct banking, he went on to transform Mercury Telecoms, then created the EGG bank and started up and sold Garlik, the personal internet security firm).

For reference, here is Mike talking about value propositions at our recent EGL event

Mike Harris CEO First direct at EGL event

Insight from Mike Harris

In the forum post he made an observation about why corporate deals and negotiations can fail at the last hurdle.  Mike highlighted that when corporate deals fail this is usually for a number of reasons.

  1. The value proposition isn’t strong enough for the corporate
  2. The value proposition hasn’t been communicated effectively to or within the corporate
  3. They don’t believe you can deliver
  4. They don’t believe the economics

I was struck immediately by the parallels between this thinking and what EGL does for our clients.  Mike’s thinking can be converted to help you in your approach to creating products and services that customers want to buy.

How to convert this thinking to action in your business?

Mike’s comment does not only apply to corporate deals, it explains why people buy from you or not. For those of you thinking about your products and services and your position and value in the market, you can take each of these points and turn them into an insight about why people DO NOT buy from you.  You can translate this into the four reasons people do not buy from you.

  1. The value proposition isn’t strong enough for them ( your product or service does not solve their problem)
  2. The value proposition hasn’t been communicated effectively to them (they don’t think your product or service will solve their problem)
  3. They don’t believe you can deliver (not sure you have the ability or resources to solve their problem)
  4. They believe thay can get something else good enough for a lower price (someone else can solve their problem)

Have a think about a prospect or consumer that did not buy your product or service and identify which of these thoughts might have been true for them?  This should lead you to an action that will help you win the customer next time around.