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 / Winter 2013 / Issue 73(originally published by Booz & Company)

Business Literature: Best Business Books 2013

Best Business Books 2013: Marketing

Is Your Brand Experienced?

Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn
Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity
(Twelve, 2013)

Jay Baer
Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype
(Portfolio, 2013)

Bob Lord and Ray Velez
Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology
(Wiley, 2013)

Digital has been the big news in marketing for at least the last decade, but this year’s crop of marketing books suggest its newsworthiness has long ceased to “stop the presses,” to the extent that presses exist anymore. And it’s still not news even as mobile devices open up a whole new realm of possibilities for marketing and customer engagement.

I’m not saying that digital is over. Rather, we’ve reached that point in its evolution that TV must have hit sometime in the early 1960s: The power of the medium and its mechanics are well understood. Marketers don’t get excited anymore about the mere fact that Google or Facebook or behavioral targeting exists, nor do they wring their hands over how digital has enabled consumers to tune them out.

A real question—and a big one—is where do marketers go from here? For the authors of this year’s best business books on marketing, the answer is multifaceted but clear: Marketing increasingly concerns the customer experience, much of it digitally delivered. This point of view, if not completely post-marketing, is certainly post-advertising.

A brand like Amazon, for instance, may run some commercials on TV, but what really makes it sing are the tens of millions of satisfying and customized interactions that consumers have with the company each year, from its one-click shopping to its on-target recommendations. It’s also no coincidence that as marketing-as-experience has grown in importance, many of the earliest forms of digital marketing, in particular the banner ad, have been roundly discredited. They usually disrupt good experiences rather than create them.

Each of the best marketing books of 2013, in its own idiosyncratic way, successfully grapples with this sea change in how to create the positive consumer perceptions that ultimately build brands.

Keep It Simple

If marketing isn’t concerned solely with marketing anymore, it makes sense that the year’s best marketing book isn’t solely about marketing either. Instead, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity, by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn, is something of a diatribe against the pervasive complexity that serves to frustrate consumers and undermine customer relationships.

At first, Simple struck me as over the top in its obsession with indecipherable phone bills and menus crammed with too many choices. Doesn’t society have bigger problems to address, such as climate change and cancer? But soon the realization dawned that complexity hasn’t jumped out at me as an urgent problem because I’ve become inured to it. I expect hidden gotchas in the reams of pages in credit card agreements that I will never actually read until it’s too late to avoid them, and I assume that the directions for assembling my new patio set will be so confusing that I will need to make multiple calls to the manufacturer’s helpline. Traditionally, we haven’t classified these annoyances as marketing problems—but as customer experience becomes a core element of marketing, it’s clear that the damage caused by complexity extends far beyond the customer service department.

Although Siegel and Etzkorn take on everything from the 14,000-page U.S. tax code to prescription drug labels, rest assured their book is written from a marketer’s point of view: Siegel previously founded and led the global branding agency Siegel + Gale and now leads Siegelvision, an organizational identity and brand strategy consultancy; Etzkorn is Siegelvision’s chief clarity strategist.

“Customers are fed up with bureaucracies that inundate us with generic and impersonal information, don’t take our calls, create convoluted procedures, request too many signatures, provide baffling instructions, erect barriers of legalese, and find a thousand other ways to distance themselves from us,” declare the authors. “The truth is, every bit of correspondence you send to customers—email correspondence, statements, contracts, proposals, instructions, applications, call center scripts—speaks louder than your ads, because it’s a more direct and personal form of contact.” In short, if your cheeky ads are followed up with an awful website experience or a contract dripping with legalese, you’ve blown it.

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