Marketing Resources

Advertising: it's not just for businesses

Bang! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval with Delia Marshall, published by Random House.

From the inventors of the AFLAC duck, the Herbal Essence shampoo in-the-shower orgasm, and the jingle "I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys r Us kid," comes the believable argument that your ad has to stand out from all the others to make a difference. They cite the Economist magazine which reports that people (that's you and me) see 3,000 messages every day. Your nonprofit won’t get anywhere being one of the herd.

A sample bon mot: "If you have an idea that no one hates, everyone will forget it. Think about it. No one dislikes vanilla – but you can get that from anyone, anywhere." The authors argue for spontaneity, teamwork, ingenuity, fearlessness, and chaos. Rules? Forget ‘em!

The book is a bit too self-congratulatory for my taste, and goes on and on about how they inspire genius in their own shop in ways that only egotistical bosses can get away with. But it’s hard to argue with their basic premise. Borrow this one from the public library or buy it cheap on ebay.

Google Adwords webinar, Simon Chow, Your nonprofit can apply once for $10,000 of free Google adwords, and you'll continue to get them year after year as long as you stay active. Chow makes applying sound awfully easy, and he's an excellent presenter.

Tested Advertising Methods, John Caples, published by Prentice-Hall in 1974, 4th edition, but newer editions exist.

One of my raves. I love this book. Caples has no interest in people's 'opinions' about advertising. There are rules, and you better follow them if you expect successful results.

He offers a hundred examples so obvious that if you’ve ever written an ad on your own, you just hang your head in embarrassment. He’s that good. He covers every imaginable type of headline, body copy, use of graphics, typefaces, 20 simple rules about copywriting, and lots, lots more. If you do a single ad for your organization, buy this book online and read it from cover to cover before you ever do another. 

By the way, I'm not just talking about advertising for the newspaper. You should be "advertising" in your newsletter, on your website, even in your emails. And you should do it right.

Caples writes: 

"In planning an advertising campaign, the first step should be to clear the decks of all opinions, all theories, all conjectures, all prejudices."
"... the headline is 50 to 75 percent of the advertisement. Your single headline in the average big-town newspaper competes with 350 news stories, 21 feature articles, and 85 advertisements. And it competes in time, because, seen for a second, it is heeded, or passed up, and there is no return by readers."

Direct mail: not just an annual fundraising letter

Raising $1,000 Gifts by Mail, Mal Warwick, published by Emerson & Church.
One of the icons of fundraising. Hard to believe you can solicit a $1,000 gift by mail, but he offers compelling evidence and advice. He identifies the specific direct mail techniques to reach out to your organization’s:

  • previous high-rolling donors
  • modest donors you know can give more
  • prospects suggested by Board members and well-connected folks
  • list brokers of donors with an unusual ability to give.

You can also get on Mal’s free e-mail subscription list. (Don’t forget mine, too.)

The Copywriter’s Handbook, Robert W. Bly, published by Henry Holt & Co.

This is a great book by a great pro. Bly explains all the basic requirements: know to whom you’re writing, the art of the headline, the great motivators (guilt, salvation, greed, fear, happiness), the message on the envelope, and so much more. 

For example:

"In direct mail you have five seconds to capture someone’s attention. Use a great opening – with an offer, an announcement, a story, flattery, or a question."

Direct Mail Copy that Sells!

 Herschell Gordon Lewis, published by Prentice Hall, 1984.


Yes, some of the rules of direct mail have changed since Lewis first wrote this book 30 years ago, but the fundamentals are deliciously the same. Though his official topic is direct mail, his rules about content and what motivates people to act is universal, whether you’re giving a speech, designing an ad, or writing for a newsletter.

Imagine you’re selling strong binoculars, he suggests. Don’t write "you can see really far away with these," but "You can look a sparrow straight in the eye from 250 feet and you can see it blink."

His 4th Law of Advertising is worth the price of admission alone: "Tell the reader what to do. Subtlety doesn’t work." Ain't it the truth?

Confessions of a Control Freak: How to Get the Results You Want from Your Next Direct Marketing Program, Alan Rosenspan, published by CyberClassics, 2002.

Alan Rosenspan promises to teach you not only to fish, but how to catch fish with this book. And so he does, with ample detail. 

He always starts with the point of view of the customer who, in your case is the client or prospective donor. "What would he or she think?" And if you don't know, ask. Too, be clear what your product or service is. Then identify the most likely audience, which is never "everyone." (Music to my ears.)

Rosenspan goes step-by-step from the envelope, to the "offer", to the letter, to the reply device. Despite the relative age of the book, he also includes some e-marketing techniques. 

If you need both a primer and an advanced course in direct marketing, grab this baby .

Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing: Secrets for Small Businesses, Mark S. Bacon, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2nd edition, 1997.
Outdated as this book is ("Should you have a website?" the author asks), it still offers lots of great stuff on direct marketing (which includes direct mail, telemarketing, the little yellow stickies you find sometimes on magazine ads, and those envelopes full of postcards from different companies). Bacon provides lots of good detail about how to buy mailing lists, researching, motivation, and testing, all of which can be translated into nonprofit practice.

He's got some great lines: 

“Where’s the best place to look for good direct mail ideas and suggestions? Try your mailbox. Every day you receive samples of ideas. Collect them. Make one special separate file just for your competitors’ mailings.”

“Small business people, consultants, and professionals annually mail thousands of brochures about their services but fail to make an offer. They don’t give prospective customers a reason to respond.”

“Focus on your customers and not on yourself. People are interested first in what is important to themselves. This isn’t selfishness; it’s just human nature."

You can buy the 1997 (2nd) edition for one cent on Amazon. 

Fundraising: always donor-centered

Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them, by Jerold Panas, 2nd Edition, Emerson & Church Publishers, 2005.
Believe it or not, Jerry Panas, the world-famous fundraiser, and I, not so famous, have something in common. We’ve both interviewed scores of philanthropists who’ve made major gifts to causes and nonprofits. Panas has taken what he’s learned and summarized it in this jewel of a book. You’ll learn how to identify, recruit, and behave with the person who’s in a position to give you $10,000, $100,000, or many millions. What did he learn (me too!) from his interviews? Donors are driven by dozens of varying emotions: ego, passion, and pride among them. Most of them expect the personal touch and they make their decisions spontaneously.

Here’s a sample: “It’s quite clear there isn’t any single reason why people give. My interviewing shows that in most cases, donors themselves can’t pinpoint their prime motivation. It is puzzling, complex, and often confluent. But one thing is certain. People do not give because organizations have needs, whether for renovation, equipment, or to overcome a deficit. In fact, donors run away from ‘needs.’ They hide from the institution that isn’t financially stable, opting instead for heroic, exciting programs.”

Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, Jerold Panas, published by Emerson & Church.
Emerson & Church publishes a couple dozen easy-to-read, technique-heavy manuals that nonprofits should read. Jerry Panas is one of the recognized pros, and this book shows why. 

A couple sample quotes:
"What I’ve discovered in all my years of fundraising is that it almost doesn’t matter how you ask. What’s important is that you ask. And that you do it with enthusiasm and commitment."
"People don’t give because your organization has needs. [Rather, that y]our organization has the answer, the solution to problems and challenges. Don’t sell ‘needs’ – sell your answer, your response, your successful solutions."

Seeing through a Donor’s Eyes: How to Make a Persuasive CASE for Everything from your Annual Drive to your Planned Giving Programs to your Capital Campaign, Tom Ahern, Emerson & Church Publishing, Medfield, MA, 2009.
Tom Ahern is a courageous guy (as well as one of my two professional mentors). He’s written this wonderful, important, thorough, step-by-step guidebook to conceiving and writing arguably the most important document your nonprofit can have: a case statement. 

But then he starts Chapter 31, Reality Check, with the subhead: “A less-than-great case won’t kill your capital campaign.” And includes in the Appendix Steve Manzi’s Myth of the Campaign Case Statement Publication: “But you know what? Almost nobody really reads the Case Statement.”

Well, first of all Tom’s book shows you exactly how to get prospective donors to read your case statements. He covers everything from research and interviewing to organizing your thoughts. He tosses in emotions, headlines, and photos, too.

More important, for this strategician at least, is that Tom argues that every nonprofit needs to ask itself fundamental questions. He writes: “The mere act of writing a case helps you – forces you, really – to deeply investigate your organization’s impact on the world, so you can successfully explain that impact to donors and prospects.

“Having a current case for support on file is an act of good management. A case consolidates your messages for common reference by staff and board, putting every potential voice, writer, and advocate on the same page.”

I’d put it even more forcefully. Perhaps the number one problem I’ve experienced with nonprofits is a lack of consensus why the organization exists and what it uniquely does. From a strategic point of view, everything you do emanates from that common understanding. It’s not a nicety. It’s an absolute.

Tom shows you how to make your case in writing. Start today.

Hidden Gold: Monthly Giving, Harvey McKinnon, published by Bonus Books.
A nice concept simply put: get your donors to sign up for monthly giving. They’ll tend to give more and they never bother to stop. Not everyone will do it, maybe only 3-5 percent, but it’s worth asking.

"People keep giving because of one of the most powerful forces in human history -- inertia."

The Nonprofit Membership Toolkit, Ellis M.M. Robinson, published by Chardon Press Series.
Robinson gets right to the point: membership dues and donations almost always accounts for four-fifths of a nonprofit’s support. If it doesn’t, you’re probably doing something wrong. The book has plenty of detailed approaches to recruiting members and some good research too, like how an organization gets most of its members:

  • one-to-one contact with a leader or friend: 40-50%
  • attending an event with a leader or friend: 15-30%
  • telephone contact with a leader or friend: 15-25%
  • personalized letter or e-mail: 10-20%
  • doorbelling, canvassing: 10-15%
  • display ad: one hundredth of one percent.

Word of mouth (WOM): the most powerful tool you've got

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers, by Seth Grodin, 1999, Simon & Schuster.
This is one fine introduction into understanding WOM, word-of-mouth marketing (see also my StraightTalk e-Blast: The Value of WOM, or Are You Making People Happy Enough to Say Nice Things About You?). Godin argues that traditional advertising is a lot of work and expense for relatively small return. He says the future (which is here now) lies in getting ‘permission’ from potential customers, generally by offering them an incentive, and then building one-on-one relationships from there. Frequent flier miles is one example, so is Netflix. Car dealers send birthday cards to previous buyers. For the relationship to work, though, you need trust. He writes:

“Trust means the prospect believes not only that the product being sold will actually solve his problems, but that if for some reason it doesn’t, the company will make good on its reputation of performance.”

You may think the book is more geared towards capitalists, but without too much effort, nonprofits can adopt the ideas for all your constituencies.

Grapevine: The New World of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, Dave Balter and John Butman, published by Portfolio Books, 2005.
A rave on my list, i.e. run out and buy this book. It will change the way you think. Grapevine dramatically reminds us that everyone – but everyone – makes most of his or her consumer purchases based on someone else's recommendation. 

Consider how you chose your kid’s orthodontist, when and where you decided to refinance your house, which house of worship you joined, the last movie you saw, which restaurant you ate at (or didn't). The authors don't just talk about it; their company BzzAgent gives away free products and services for people to give honest reviews to their friends.

The company is only beginning to determine how the theory works for nonprofits, but think about some of the authors' conclusions:

Everybody talks about products all the time, everywhere.

People share their opinions for six main reasons:

  1. To be helpful
  2. To show off their knowledge
  3. To find common ground in new relationships
  4. To test and validate their own opinions
  5. To show they’re cool
  6. Because sharing is a human trait.
The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret: Building Your Business with Word-of-Mouth Marketing, by Ivan R. Misner, 1994, Bard & Stephen.
Okay, I reached into the ‘oldies’ bookshelf for this one, but it was worth it (and you can usually buy old books cheaper). I was on the prowl for books about WOM (word-of-mouth marketing), and this one works despite its age.

Assuming you’ve been convinced about the importance of WOM (if you haven’t, read my StraightTalk e-Blast: The Value of WOM, or Are You Making People Happy Enough to Say Nice Things About You?), Misner takes it a step further: Don’t wait around for good WOM to happen spontaneously, make it happen. Amen, brother!

He writes, “The best word-of-mouth programs I’ve seen happen by design, not by accident or wishful thinking…Word of mouth can be planned and nurtured. Anyone, including business owners, entrepreneurs, sales representatives, staff employees, even individuals serving in a volunteer capacity in any field (!), can accomplish plenty with a well-structured and systematically executed word-of-mouth plan.”

One of his easy-to-do suggestions? Join civic organizations and actually attend the meetings.

Marketing Without Advertising: Inspire Customers to Rave About Your Business and Create Lasting Success, by Michael Phillips & Salli Rasberry, published by Nolo Press, fourth edition.
These folks hate advertising, to the silly point that they say E.F. Hutton and Martha Stewart would have survived their scandals better were they not so well known. Hmmmm. They cite reports such as by Information Resources which claim, "There is no simple correspondence between advertising and higher sales. The relationship…is tenuous at best." They note that people responding to advertising tend to be disloyal, that dependence on advertising makes a business vulnerable to shifts in consumer taste, and that most people don’t trust advertising. Well, heck, I can buy some of that but it's an awfully large generalization.

Moving on from their diatribe, they offer some alternatives. First and foremost, they suggest gathering personal recommendations. Can’t beat the cost effectiveness (it’s free), and they work. They quote Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point:

"Think for a moment about the last expensive restaurant you went to, the last expensive piece of clothing you bought and the last movie you saw. In how many of those cases was your decision…heavily influenced by the recommendation of a friend? There are plenty of advertising executives today who think that …word-of-mouth appeals have become the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond to anymore."

The authors include a good checklist for ensuring that your business is doing everything it should to earn the good opinions of your customers and others, such as up-to-date, quality products; clear and fair pricing policies; business transparency; and a clean office.

Forget the section on marketing on the Internet, it’s outdated. But the book has some clever ideas on how to introduce yourself to new audiences and peer-based marketing. It also has a good recommended reading section whose books I’m tracking down for future review. Stay tuned!

Branding: what others say about you

Lots of nonprofits waste more money than they should on logos, taglines, typefaces, and color 'palettes'. That's called "visual branding", and it's perfectly fine to have a clean, consistent, professional appearance at all times.

For most nonprofits, though, your real brand is the quality of the interaction I have with you. Is the receptionist pleasant? Does staff seem knowledgeable? Is the office clean? Did you make it easy for me to donate? Was the website informative and well done?

That's only a tenth of the mental questions I'm processing as I'm asking myself, "Do I like this place or not?" And when I leave – and that may just be your website – I will have "branded" your nonprofit. Just like I brand a restaurant, a doctor, a movie, or a coffee shop. And, as you know, we don't hesitate to share our negative opinions: with our friends, on Yelp!, on hotel search engines, or

The good news? You, in large part, control your brand by doing good work. Here are some resources that speak to that point of view.

The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier, published by New Riders, 2006.

A succinct book that makes clear that your branding is chosen by the audience. Sample quotes:

"In the end, the brand is defined by individuals, not by companies, markets, or the so-called general public. When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand. In other words, a brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is."


"A friend of mine once observed that the only thing worse than the fear of death is the 'fear of stupid'."

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing, by Harry Beckwith, published by Warner Books.

This book points out that selling services, as many nonprofits do, can be infinitely more difficult than selling a product, like a toaster. Beckwith doesn’t offer proof or examples, just makes statements in a Voice of God manner. Turns me right off.

On the other hand, the guy has impeccable credentials as a branding expert. Much of what he says has become accepted beliefs in the marketing profession and in such bestsellers as Good to Great by Jim Collins and The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman:

  • no matter what else is true, you have to offer great service
  • "every act is a marketing act," from the way you answer the phone to the look of your stationery
  • "selling a service is selling a relationship"
  • only do what you can be great at
  • it’s all about the consumer. 

I use one of his quotes in all kinds of situations where the donor or the client should be a nonprofit's first concern:

"The prospect says 'me, me, me.' Unfortunately, so does the marketer."

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk, Al Ries & Jack Trout, published by Harper Business, 1993.

This is a simple summary of more complex presentations these ad execs have written elsewhere. The nugget I extracted from a fairly easy-to-read volume was the key directive to distinguish your organization from all others, by being first, by being the only, and by getting into people’s hearts.

"The three largest-selling Japanese imported cars in America are Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. Most marketing people think the battle between the three brands is based on quality, styling, horsepower, and price. Not true. It’s what people think about a Honda, a Toyota or a Nissan that determines which brand will win."

Positioning: How to Be Seen and Heard in the Overcrowded Marketplace, Al Ries & Jack Trout, published by McGraw Hill, 2001.

This is the more complex version of "22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," above. It’s got more information, and it’s newer, but I didn’t like it as much. I did like the research finding that people can’t generally remember more than seven of anything, so you need to get your organization, product, or service, into one of the two or three most memorable. The authors ask: can you name all the seven dwarfs, the seven wonders of the world, the seven danger signs of cancer, or seven of the Ten Commandments. Other than the last, I'm right with these guys.

Don’t Think of An Elephant, George Lakoff, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

I wasn’t quite sure how to classify this little gem about promoting progressive politics. Lakoff refers a lot to "framing", which could be seen as another word for branding or positioning, so that's where I've put it. Make your own judgment.

Lakoff has harsh words for progressives who he thinks can be arrogant about their beliefs. Here’s an example: 

"Progressives tend to talk about programs. But programs are not what most Americans want to know about. Most Americans want to know what you stand for, whether your values are their values, what your principles are."

Despite its polemics, the book belongs in this section because it reminds us that your group – whatever its cause – needs to connect with your audience in every exposure. Conservatives traditionally do a better job 

Publications: newsletters & annual reports

Nonprofits never liked doing annual reports and newsletters anyway, so many have used the excuse of social media to stop creating them. Such a mistake. Lots of people of all ages – and definitely folks over 50 – still like getting mail that is worth reading, and won't go online at all (just like you and me) to read stuff they didn't ask for.

I'll post a lot more resources; I teach a class in printed annual report. If you can't wait, email me and I'll grant you access to my annual report Dropbox.

The Mercifully Brief Real World Guide to Raising More Money with Newsletters than You Ever Thought Possible, Tom Ahern, published by Emerson & Church, 2005.

What can I say? Tom Ahern has been an important mentor to me and a cherished colleague for more than 15 years. He’s taken a lot of the lessons he’s taught me and put them in this book for everyone else to see, too. (Disclosure: I commented on an early draft, so he gave me a generous acknowledgement. I’m so touched.)

Friend or no, this is a marvelous book of the common-sense variety. “Darn,” I always say after meeting with Tom, “I should’ve known that.” His focus is squarely on donors and how you can motivate them through newsletters. He outlines how to write for the four personality types: the expressive, the amiable, the skeptic, and the bottom liner. He also identifies the ‘fatal flaws’ that we newsletter writers often suffer from. (My personal failing is Fatal Flaw #5: Expecting People to Read Deep. You don’t, I don’t, so why should they?). He’s blunt and direct, and that’s refreshing.

"When your newsletter arrives, the first thing [donors] do is browse: skim a few headlines, look at the photos, maybe read a caption, to see if anything’s of interest. If nothing is, they put the newsletter aside, likely never to return. Which means, if you have nothing of interest in your ‘browser level’, you’ve wasted your time and money."

Annual report websites (and one cheap book) Kivi Leroux Miller examples of ARs, by key orgs

Publishing the Nonprofit Annual Report: Tips, Traps, and Tricks of the Trade, Jossey Bass, 2001, $14 new, $9 used on Amazon.  a nice downloadable booklet on how to do annual reports

Social media: web, tweets, you know

I wish I could say I have the latest and greatest resources on every social media tool. I don't. The good news is, when I do want to catch up, I go on the web, and everything is right there. That said, some publications – for me, at least – provide the underlying framework for an entire tool. The Twitter Book and Don't Make Me Think both fall into that category.

In the meantime, I'll keep watching for the key resources for Facebook, Instagram, and all things social, and put them right here.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug, published by New Riders Publishing.

This is a fantastic book on several levels. It tells you everything you need to know about creating an intuitive, powerful website. And it’s a fantastic read, like the best website you’ve ever surfed. Krug, who also performs well in person, practices what he preaches. He also engages the web aficionado in other ways, if you choose. Sign up for his e-mails and you’ll have regular communications what he’s up to, including the ability to review his ‘upgrades’ of the book.

This is a 'must have' book, whether you design your own sites or you have it done for you.

Sample bon mots:

"After all, usability really just means making sure that something works well; that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing – whether it’s a Web site, a fighter jet, or a revolving door – for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated."

"I think my wife put her finger on the essence of [web design] better than any statistic I’ve seen:"If something is hard to use, I just don’t use it as much"

The Twitter Book, by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein, 2009, O’Reilly Media, Sebastapol, CA

I choose not to Twitter. But I certainly felt left out the other day when I was at a ceremony to honor my web-mentor Ann-Marie Harrington, who had just won the Small Businessperson of the Year Award. In a packed auditorium, the Lt. Governor of Rhode Island stood up to introduce Ann-Marie and asked the crowd, “How cool was it that she was twittering right up to the front door of the White House to meet President Obama ?” 

Twittering at its finest!

Two weeks later, Ann-Marie handed me The Twitter Book. She said, “Read this. When you’re done, you’ll either love Twitter or hate it.”

Well, I still don’t feel strongly either way, but I recognize that Twitter can be a powerful communications tool for nonprofits in the right circumstances. And if there are any right circumstances, this book will tell you what they are.

I had no idea Twitter could be so complex, but thankfully the authors take it step by step, and deliciously. Every page is its own chapter with graphic illustrations opposite, much appreciated by this troglodyte. They offer a zillion tips, like how to gracefully (and anonymously) “unfollow” someone, to integrating Twitter with your other channels.

Most important, the authors repeatedly emphasize that tweets among professionals have to be useful, clever, intriguing, and well-written, or nobody will pay attention. That’s a good reminder for every nonprofit communication!

Presenting & Facilitating (including Powerpoint)

I attended a workshop presented by one of the creators of Powerpoint. As he bemoaned the misuse of his baby, he showed us the miracle of what can be done with the software. You just have to use it as aid, not a crutch.

I'll build this section. For now, I just offer a few of my resources, and will look to see where the rest have disappeared to (like How to Give a Damn Good Speech).

Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson, published by Microsoft Publishers, 2005.

Bless his soul, Atkinson is on a mission to revolutionize the way we all do PowerPoint presentations, and we should be grateful. Bullet points, he points out clearly, are for the lazy who just like to read their notes off the screen. Instead we should be telling a dramatic story – with a beginning, middle, and end – with each show. A slide should feature a single headline that moves the story along with a related graphic that will stay in the viewer’s mind. Save the wordy stuff for a ‘notes outline’ that you hand out to the audience.

Unfortunately, while the book gives you the technical stuff Atkinson suggests, you’re much, much better off seeing him in action during one of his many trips around the country. He demonstrates better than he writes. Check out his website, too, at

Presentations Plus, by David A. Peoples, published by John Wiley & Sons, 1992.

An ‘oldie but goodie’ about how to give a presentation, written before the deadly days of Powerpoint. The basics are still valuable, from why you should do presentations (people will spend 26% more for a product they’ve seen presented), to comparing types of presentations (people standing and using visual aids far outperform people sitting without visual aids), and lots and lots of techniques. 

The most common mistakes in presentations?

  • poor first impression
  • no objectives to the presentation
  • dully, dry, and boring
  • the speaker is frozen in one spot
  • weak eye contact
  • poor facial expressions
  • no humor
  • poor preparation
  • no audience involvement
  • no enthusiam or conviction on the part of the presenter
  • poor visual aids
  • a weak closing

The author tells you how to fix all the above. Curious advice: design the closing first, then the opening. Use Yale University’s 12 most persuasive words: you, money, save, new, results, easy, health, safety, love, discovery, proven, and guarantee.

The author doesn’t seem to have updated this book since 1996, so you’ll have to get it at the library (where I found it) or through Amazon. 

Neuromarketing...and other human quirks

Every day I bemoan the passing of Oliver Sacks, who reminded me that the range of "normal" human behavior was akin to from here to the sun. The latest field is "neuromarketing" which tries to understand why consumers act the way they do. The experiments are fascinating...and the results are usually believable. 

I'm not limited to the -marketing bit, so I've read a lot of stuff and subscribe to a bunch more. I just need to start posting it here. And I will. For the moment, though, get this book. It's great and, of course, you can buy it cheap.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, Doubleday, 2008.

There is so much fantastic stuff in this book I hate to narrow down to a few examples:

  • Why a Swiss town was willing to take nuclear waste UNTIL it was offered money to do so
  • Why basketball players who are picked lower in the draft will have worse careers even if they have the same stats as better players
  • Why people who think they are old have poorer hearing
  • Why we think beautiful people are more engaging
  • Why most of us tend to go with the crowd.

The book is also a balm to us troublemakers out there. It warns that every discussion better have a naysayer – even if that person is totally wrong – or the final decision is almost guaranteed to be faulty.

In fact, the authors use the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to describe the four roles that appear in almost every group. See if you can find yourself:

  • The initiator (Ferris) who always wants to try something new
  • The blocker (Cameron) who always finds fault or a problem with the idea
  • The supporter, who always backs one side or the other
  • The observer, who doesn’t take sides but comments on the activity

The authors call a lot on psychological testing, but even paragraphs like the following go down easy, trust me:

“All of us have certain lenses, or constructs, that we use to sift through the endless flow of information we encounter. 

"For example, when we meet new people we may judge them on whether they dress well or poorly, whether their shoes are polished or not, whether they seem to be liberal or conservative, whether they are religious or secular, hip or nerdy. 

"These constructs are useful insofar as they help us to quickly assess a situation and form a temporary hypothesis about how to react. Forming initial opinions is one of the ways in which we try to make sense of the world given limited time or information. 

"But we have to be careful not to rely too much on such pre-emptive judgments, as they can short-circuit a more nuanced evaluation. They can narrow our perceptions and make us more apt to get swayed by a hasty diagnosis."

Run out and buy this book; I bought three (used)!

Writing, Storytelling, & Publishing

Just a placeholder for now; I have so much to add (including your recommendations, of course). Stay tuned!



The Art of the Book Proposal: From Focused Idea to Finished Proposal, by Eric Maisel, 2004, Penguin.

This book may have no place on this list, but I was just so impressed (and not a little daunted) that I thought I’d share. If you have a nonfiction book anywhere in you, this guy is going to tease it out of you with a thousand different exercises and logical steps. He certainly doesn’t promise it will be easy to publish. Given a low success rate, “The journey from idea to completed book is among the most arduous on earth…It is hard work because thinking is hard work, and writing is about thinking.”

A successful author himself, he lays out every stage, from battling writer’s block to building your argument with a publisher that you’ve got a bestseller just waiting to break free. Assuming he’s right, you’ll work a lot harder than I’ve been planning to for the book that’s rattling around my noggin on communications planning, but now I know what it will take. Maybe next year…

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