Despite what many of the “gurus” today might tell you, digital marketing is not easy.
There isn’t some secret formula or silver bullet, nor is there software to automate your marketing efforts while you just sit on the beach sipping tropical drinks. The reality is that success with digital marketing requires constant learning and lots of hard work.
I can’t help you with the hard work part. What I can help you with, however, is the learning part.
But even with my twenty years in the digital marketing industry, I didn’t figure everything out myself and the truth is I never will. Nor will you or anyone else. There’s just too much to ever figure it all out yourself.
That’s why we all should focus on what we’re best at, and improve our weaknesses by learning from experts in those areas.
So today, I’m going to share with you some of the books I’ve found to be particularly helpful in my digital marketing career.
These books aren’t generally step by step tactical guides—an “if X, then do Y” kind of thing, although they do offer some of that. Instead, they focus more on mindset and strategy because that’s the foundation of success.
Effective strategies tend to have a longer lifespan. Tactics, on the other hand, tend to change much more rapidly. Especially when it comes to digital marketing.
If you focus on tactics, you’ll constantly find yourself bouncing from idea to idea, many of which won’t really align with your goals, company, and industry anyway. However, if you develop an effective mindset and strategy, and then carefully select the current tactics that align with your goals, company, and industry, you’ll achieve far more, and you’ll typically do so faster while spending less.
That being said, let’s jump into the books…
Building a Story Brand
Even the most beautiful website in the world can’t effectively sell your products or services without engaging and persuasive copy. This applies to all forms of communication—social media posts, videos, podcasts, presentations, and even face to face conversations.
You need to communicate, to the right audience, in a way that makes them actually care about your message.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this, and the majority of those that do, suck at it.
Most will prattle on how big they are, how long they’ve been in business, or some other equally irrelevant detail about their company that clients don’t really care about. Or they’ll simply preach about how amazing they think their products or services are. Neither approach works well.
So what is the right approach?
Donald Miller has developed a formulaic approach to communication that is based on how the human brain works, and his book, Building a Story Brand, explains that approach. This leverages powerful and engaging storytelling to cut through the noise and connect with your audience.
Trust Me, I’m Lying
If you haven’t seen the darker side of the media and public relations first hand, then Trust Me, I’m Lying, will absolutely blow your mind.
The tactics Ryan Holiday shares from his past campaigns are absolutely brilliant, but some people may view them as questionable. In fact, he even states that he doesn’t advocate some of the tactics he’s used in the past because of how they can be perceived.
Personally, I believe the ethics of a particular tactic are largely dependent on the client and the industry.
For example, a hospital should always use completely transparent tactics, while a software or movie production company could get away with more questionable tactics.
It’s also important to look at what others in that industry are doing. In some industries, most marketers rely on completely transparent tactics, while marketers in other industries may play by an “anything goes” mentality. For most industries, it’s relatively safe to play in the gray areas.
It’s not about the effectiveness of the tactic itself though. It’s about how it could be perceived by the public. More specifically, your target market.
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook
Gary Vaynerchuck is one of those people you’ll either love or hate. There is no middle ground.
I personally love his no bullshit view on things. More importantly, though, I love the fact that he is constantly focused on adding value in all engagements, whether it’s on stage, in a video on social media, or in a face to face conversation. And adding value is what this book is all about.
You’ve probably seen how most people get social media wrong by constantly pitching.
“Buy my product!”
“Buy my product!”
“Buy my product!”
Don’t get me wrong, you need to actively promote your products and services, but when that’s all you post about, you’ll turn off your followers and they won’t buy from you.
Instead, you need to add value by posting content that your audience actually cares about. That might mean a post that is one or a combination of the following: useful, humorous, insightful, or newsworthy.
This creates exposure, engagement, and brand loyalty.
Gary’s book, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, does a great job of explaining the strategy behind this, as well as the tactics to get it done.
Be Obsessed or Be Average
People talk about work/life balance. I think that’s a bullshit idea. Here’s why…
If you’re doing something you’re truly passionate about, it will be all-consuming. It will occupy your thoughts at all hours, whether you’re at your desk or laying in bed.
This doesn’t mean that you have to work 24/7, nor does it mean that you should even want to. It just means that what you’re doing is so important to you that it’s always on your mind.
Sometimes it’s your main focus while other times it’s churning quietly in the back of your mind. You’re always looking for ways to get better at your craft, improve your service to clients, and improve your industry as a whole.
Because of this, you grow exponentially faster than others who just think in terms of a 9-5 workday. Your best ideas often come at odd times. Maybe an idea is sparked while you’re at a park, pumping gas, or standing in line at the grocery store.
Grant Cardone does an amazing job of explaining in Be Obsessed or Be Average exactly how this mindset has enabled him to go from being broke to becoming a billionaire real estate mogul. He’s also built a massive digital presence through social media, which has enabled him to develop another marketing channel to promote his books, training courses, and events.
Start with Why
Your “why” defines your business. It’s the reason your company exists and what separates it from your competitors. It’s also what drives you to serve a mission beyond simply generating a profit.
Don’t get me wrong—profit is a critical part of any successful business, but there needs to be something deeper, something more significant driving it. If you’re only in business for the money, both you and your team will quickly become burned out.
When you have a clear “why” you’re able to communicate your value to prospective customers more effectively. But it also helps you to make decisions more easily because literally every decision should be based on moving towards your goals. And perhaps most importantly, it helps you to inspire your team to rally behind your mission.
Simon’s book, Start with Why, explains how the most successful and influential leaders all think, act, and communicate in a certain way. More importantly, he outlines how you can model them to become more influential, leading your company to greater success.
Be Like Amazon
While we all know that we can buy not only books, but pretty much anything else we want on Amazon, what most people don’t realize is that in just a couple of decades, Amazon has completely transformed a number of other industries as well.
They’ve done that by constantly innovating, which is something most entrepreneurs stop doing once they get comfortable. Unfortunately, comfort leads to complacency.
Bryan Eisenberg explains in Be Like Amazon exactly how Amazon has used innovation to continually increase the value they offer to customers and become a nightmare to competitors.
The key is to identify exactly what matters to your customers and find additional ways to deliver exactly that to them.
This might mean finding new ways to deliver existing products or services, developing entirely new products or services to solve customers’ problems, or dramatically improving the speed, simplicity, or cost.
Ultimately, one of the most critical elements in achieving massive success is constant innovation in all areas of business.
Sure, Amazon offers a larger selection of products than any other retail company in the world, but their innovation didn’t end there. Some of their other innovations include Prime, Amazon Video, Alexa, and dozens more.
Can’t Hurt Me
I listened to the audio version of Can’t Hurt Me, written by Navy SEAL and all around badass, David Goggins, and within the first twenty seconds, I knew it was going to be incredibly powerful.
“Once you accept the fact that life is going to fuck you up, in one way or another, you can start preparing for it.”
So what the hell does this have to do with digital marketing?
While it’s incredibly easy to get into our industry, it can also be incredibly difficult to become successful.
That’s because there is a ton of noise, false information, and fierce competition. Things also change at an insanely rapid pace.
I’ve seen countless people jump into digital marketing thinking it was going to be easy, only to give up after just a few months. This was a very predictable outcome because they were lured by the myth of easy money. They were shocked when they realized there’s more to this than just throwing a shitty website up and waiting for the money to pour in.
You have to actually put in a tremendous amount of hard work to become successful. Often, it takes a considerable amount of consistent hard work before seeing any results.
This means you’re going to have to be tough enough to overcome tremendous adversity over an extended period of time, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the industry for years.
I found this book to be an amazing tool In reframing what you can overcome. Especially for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to overcome significant challenges yet.