Recommendations from a seasoned FMCG marketer.
Reading a book is like being friends with some of the finest human beings. Like a great friend, a good book can comfort you, challenge you, critic you, inspire you and more importantly, leave you enriched. The fact is - even if you read more, you actually retain only a little. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” Let me confess, this applies cent per cent to me. Reading a book is a journey in empathy. You start relating and empathising with the perspective of the central character (for fiction) or the author (for non-fiction). This journey is highly rewarding; because, ‘perspective’ is priceless.
While I share my pick of the 11 books every marketer should read, I have borne two things in mind. First – the list goes beyond what is ‘assumed to be marketing.’ It goes beyond just building marketing communications and delves into varied topics that I believe every marketer should understand deeply. Second – I have stayed away from sharing the ‘summary’ of the books. You can Google that easily. As I confessed earlier, I anyway retain only a few things. Rather, I have focused on ‘why’ I found each of the books valuable.
Both these points converge at one theme – that is, to help you build ‘perspective’.
I have clubbed the 11 books under six themes. Here you go:
a. Macro-economic and socio-political landscape: Every marketer needs to understand the society that he/she operates in. This goes far beyond the classic TG definition or pen picture. Here are a couple of books on this topic that I really liked-
1) ‘India grows at night’ by Gurcharan Das – The author gives a unique perspective on how this amazing nation thrives. India grows not due to the government, but ‘despite’ it. As a marketer, I could appreciate the socio-cultural reasons as to why aspiration, optimism, progress and ‘jugaad’ are the insights that almost always work in India.
2) Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma - This one compares India with other growing economies and makes an emphatic point on what makes India 'different' and made me think what will make this growth ‘sustainable'. As a marketer, it helped me build perspective about which/whether global models will work here and why being chaotic can be a virtue in India.
You may also want to read – 1. ‘We are like that only’ by Rama Bijapurkar; 2. ‘India Unbound’ by Gurcharan Das; 3. ‘India after Gandhi’ by Ramchandra Guha. These books have been written a decade ago. But they have valuable perspectives worth absorbing.
b. Consumer Behaviour: When it comes to understanding consumer behaviour, I believe there is hardly anything that comes close to Behavioural Economics. It is a powerful combination of psychology, economics and most importantly, common sense. My top picks on this topic are by two authors, both Nobel laureates in economics.
3) Nudge by Richard Thaler – This book has a fascinating starting point- one that every marketer would agree with (and possibly every economist would dismiss). Humans (emotional, illogical) are different from Econs (logical, rational). Thaler goes on to explain the concept of Choice Architectures that can influence or ‘nudge’ the humans towards a desired action. A nudge can make a big difference towards building a healthier and conscionable society. The book is replete with examples and experiments that will enrich your perspective on decision making. As a marketer, there is a lot that one can pick on pricing, adoption and increasing consumption.
4) Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman – Another masterpiece on behavioural economics by another Nobel laureate. There are two major points in the book. First – Intuition is nothing more or nothing less than ‘pattern recognition.’ That makes ‘intuition’ actually a practised art. Second – There are two systems of thinking. System 1 – that is our default, intuitive and fast response. System 2 is logical and slow response. Most of our decisions, biases and actions are actually determined by System 1. Task is clearly cut out for a marketer- to get his/her brand to be part of System 1. This also reinforces why building intangible assets – affinity, brand love and community matter. A word of caution and a point to ponder– a challenger brand may actually start with appealing to system 2, because leaders are vulnerable there.
A few other remarkable reads on this topic - : 1. ‘Misbehaving’ by Richard Thaler; 2. ‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely; 3. ‘Art of thinking clearly’ by Rolf Dobelli
c. Creating and Building Brands/Businesses:
5) Shoe Dog by Phil Knight - The book chronicles the history of Nike by its co-founder, from its early struggles to its evolution into one of the world’s most loved and iconic brands. It’s a potent dose of inspiration if one wishes to create a purposeful business built on a grand vision and build a passionate team with a ‘never give up’ attitude.
6) Zero to One by Peter Thiel - While the book is on building start-ups and creating businesses of the future, it’s an equally great read for marketers from established businesses. One - it challenges you to think beyond conventional and pushes you to think like a disruptor. Two- the principles of building a team are as applicable to an established business.
d. Running Brands/Businesses:
7) Game Changers by AG Lafley and Ram Charan - Interesting memoir of turning around the world's largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) Company - P&G. The book delves sharply into why marketers need to embrace intuition, rapid prototyping and building the future pipeline. It reads forthcoming trends that marketers need to keep an eye out for. Coming straight from the chief executive officer of the most venerable yet pedagogic marketing institution, makes it special.
8) How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp – High chances that either you have already read it or it is on your ‘to read’ list. But I couldn’t resist recommending it. For, the author has tried to challenge the principles that we have grown with, on almost every topic – building loyalty, creating differentiation, growing customer base, creating effective promotions. All his views are backed with extensive research and solid logic. Like me, you might agree with some and disagree with others, but the book will surely challenge and unsettle you.
e. Developing great communication:
9) Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy – Written in 1963 when print was still the default medium, this is a classic and still holds the same relevance if not more. The book is brimming with anecdotes of successful campaigns that Oglivy created and why he valued consumer research. But the key takeaway for me as a marketer is more fundamental - That medium is NOT the message. Rather the message is far more powerful than a medium and a great one can adapt to any medium.
f. Future Gazing/Being ready for the future:
10. 21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari – While the book talks about the various challenges that humanity is facing today, it is a great guide on how people/brands chart their course. Key takeaways for me as a marketer are:
Power of data and how we should use it for good.
How most issues in the world need a global outlook and solution. Hence, the need for brands to build a strong and all-encompassing narrative.
With algorithms and robots substituting humans, the need for meaning will grow stronger. Brands that establish an authentic and deep relation with consumers will clearly win.
11. Bold by Peter Diamandis – If you work in a stable industry and an established company, you unknowingly start thinking incremental. This book is the perfect antidote for you. A great narrative on how thinking at scale can create disruptions, written by the guy who co-founded ‘Singularity University.’ Interesting read on how data and biotechnology together will change the world and also a peek inside the minds of some of the biggest disruptors in the world.
Other recommended reads on this are: 1. ‘Platform Thinking’ by Sangeet Paul Chaoudhary on how platform businesses are changing the world 2. Homo Deus by Yuval Naoh Harari tries to take a dive into the human agenda for tomorrow.
(The author is head- Marketing, Tata Consumer Products Limited.)