Book Review: Written in Stone

At first glance, a book on geology should have no resonance with marketing communications whatsoever.  Other than the outsize role that pressure plays in both fields, very little links them.  And yet I found a simple truth in Written in Stone that speaks to me and should also speak to anyone whose job entails understanding consumer behavior.

These rocks are 440 million years old and were formed in the era of the 15% commission

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Robert Pirsig’s Marketing Lesson (to me, at any rate)

Those of you old enough to have owned LPs when they represented the highest fidelity audio source rather than a hipster accessory will no doubt offer a tear or a heartfelt sigh at the passing of Robert Pirsig.  The author of a seminal work of seeker literature has died.

While some enjoy sneering atZen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” I wanted to share the life and marketing lesson I drew from it: value is always relative and sometimes hidden.

Yeah, shaft drives are great until you have to lubricate one

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Book Review: Hamilton

While it may seem counter-intuitive that Lin-Manuel Miranda chose to portray the life of one of America’s most patrician Founding Fathers via hip-hop, it shouldn’t.  This descendant of a Scottish laird had words.  Lots of words.

He wrote poetry as a young boy clerking for a merchant in his native Caribbean.  He wrote his first political tracts as a student at King’s College before the Revolution and the institution’s name-change to Columbia.  He wrote dispatches after dispatches as an aide-de-camp to General George Washington.  Most significantly, he helped write the United States Constitution and, most importantly for us marketers, the first great piece of content marketing in the new republic, the Federalist Papers.

While the Federalist Papers represent content marketing at its best, other Hamilton publications show content marketing at its worst.  These extremes serve as good guideposts for modern content marketers.

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Book Review: The Vikings

Culture change is hard.

I’m sure if you clicked on the link, you expected me to go into detail about the funny helmets and the wonton killing and whatnot.  Sorry to disappoint.  The biggest thing I took away from the book as a marketer is that culture change is hard.

Robert Ferguson’s “The Vikings: a History” focuses on the years from the late 7th century to the early 12th century, when bands of warrior-traders fanned out from Denmark, Sweden and Norway on raids and conquests.  I read the book because of this recent find of a potential Viking settlement in Newfoundland.  I’d always wondered how the hell Scandinavians made it to North America and menaced Sicily in roughly the same time frame.

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Someone’s about to have a bad day

Turns out the Vikings ranged even further than I had thought.  In addition to the short-term excursions to North America a half-millennium before that Genoan fellow‘s travels, the Vikings also:

  • Sailed up the Seine to attack Paris and later conquered northwestern France (hence, “Normandy” for the Norsemen)
  • Conquered a large chunks of Ireland and Britain as well a bunch of those islands where they make Scotch
  • Founded Iceland
  • Colonized Greenland, where they first encountered Native Americans
  • Sailed across the Baltic, portaged boats to the Dnieper River and founded Russia in Kiev
  • Continued south down the Dnieper to the Black Sea and traded with the Byzantine Empire
  • Also traded with Arabs, as evinced by hoards of Arab-minted coins found in Scandinavia

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Book Review: The Fires

I’m going to recommend that you read a book I hated.

More accurately, I want you to read one chapter of the book I hated: The Fires by Joe Flood.  So don’t buy it; instead, borrow it from the library or find it in a Barnes & Noble and just read chapter 12, “Quantifying the Unquantifiable.”  Apart from the awfulness of the rest of the book, chapter 12 gives a master class in how not to use data.  The lessons therein pertain to anyone using data, although of course I find it most useful to apply those lessons to marketing data.

The book covers an interesting point in New York City history, the late 60s through the mid 70s, when fires ravaged poor neighborhoods despite the city’s best efforts to stop them with better management courtesy of management consultants (what could possibly go wrong?).  Yes, the book covers the “Bronx is Burning” era (a much finer book with a broader perspective).

Dino fire engine

Today, FDNY is well-integrated with the neighborhood.  Note the dinosaur skull on the truck that serves the American Museum of Natural History.

Why I hated the book

Before getting to the good part, I should explain why I hated the book overall.  Author Flood rehashes mid-20th-century New York City through a highly distorted lens.  How distorted?  Let me put it this way: he attributes the failure to the efforts of arch-liberals Mayor John V. Lindsay (who was, in fact, a liberal) and the RAND corporation (which grew out of the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, those filthy hippies who built the AC-47 gunship for the Vietnam War).  He also intimates that Tammany Hall maintained a strong grip on city politics into the 1960s, which would have come as a surprise to Tammany Hall, had it existed in more than name only at the time.

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Book Review: The Box

I’m trying out something new here: book reviews.  No, I don’t intend to gun for Michiko Kakutani’s job.  Rather, I can’t help but draw parallels between what I read and what I do.

So let’s begin with the only book I’ve ever read to devote an entire chapter, and then some, to setting dimensional and material standards for shipping containers.

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Hey, this was a major plot point for Season Two of “The Wire!”

Marc Levinson’s The Box  covers the roughly half-century in which the hidebound world of ocean shipping transformed from rugged stevedores placing each and every carton in the hold of a freighter by hand to the current era where nearly all shipping except bulk commodities and motor vehicles takes place in a metal container moved by giant cranes.  While the topic only indirectly broaches marketing, it has important ideas for marketers nevertheless.

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