Of course Simon Sinek is now almost best known for his TED talks, the 5 minute version of this book has had nearly 1 million views on YouTube, the longer version over 3.5 million. It’s clearly a popular approach.
So the purpose of this review is two fold. Not to tell you what the book’s about, 5 minutes on YouTube can do that. But to say why the book might be worth reading. And to put a (personal) point of view of the potential applicability of the idea.
Let’s start with the latter. Like most populist approaches Start With Why promises to revolutionise the way you think about your marketing (or your company). In that sense it succeeds. It turns around the way we think about what we might say about what we are offering to our customers and asks us to start with our cause or our purpose. He asks ‘Why does your organisation exist? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? And critically, ‘why should anyone care?’. It’s not to make money – that’s a by-product of what we do. He cleverly links it to the way our brains work and how we make decisions. Sinek certainly has some good quotes which you will be able to sprinkle into your presentations and thinking once you’ve read the book. There are some good arguments about why manipulations such as promotions don’t create long term value. Interestingly, this has also been admirably demonstrated by WARCs long term study on communications effectiveness in partnership with the IPA which shows that digital in its turn is just a manipulative tactic and doesn’t build growth in the way that long term investment in the brand does. WARC: Effectiveness in the Digital Age.
Like many popular approaches, particularly ones that have been around for a while, detractors have had time to marshal their arguments too (think of the academic backlash on the HBR Net Promotor Score for instance). But the irony is, Sinek’s approach ‘feels’ right. For those who haven’t read the book, he makes the case that when we say something feels right it’s our words for the thinking that the limbic part of our brain does – it makes decisions for us (fight or flight for instance) in the blink of an eye, but we can’t articulate why we’ve made those decisions other than to say that it’s a gut instinct.
In terms of actual usefulness ‘Start with Why’ depends, I suspect however, on what you can actually control. As a company owner, I am at the heart of what this company stands for. If I think it’s drifting off course I’m in a strong position to put it back on track. If you work for Dell and you’re not in a senior position it’s debateable whether you could use this book to reimagine the bit of work you are doing. It needs to come from the top – one main plank of Sinek’s thesis is that a company takes its raison d’etre from its founders or leading visionaries and if they leave or lose their way then the rot sets in. The other downside is, like many cultish points of view, you can sometimes feel silly saying them out loud. So if you are going to use it, my recommendation is to reuse his phrases as closely as you can. He’s a clever, highly educated chap – and paraphrasing the ideas can start to make it sound a little woolly.
So is the book worth reading? Yes in the sense that it contains quite a few examples. It is occasionally a little repetitive – how many times can you talk about Apple - but admittedly, this is not an academic study. And of course you do get to feel smug about the fact that you’ve actually read the book, rather than cheating via YouTube.
Finally, if, like me, you enjoy making notes in the margin and pulling out quotes to use in future conversations or presentations, a hard copy is a wonderful thing. Here are a few of my favourites:
“Decisions have nothing to do with the company or its products; they have everything to do with the individuals themselves.”
“The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe. The goal is not to hire people who simply have a skill set that you need, the goal is to hire people who believe what you believe.”
“Authenticy produces the relationships upon which all the best sales organisations are based.”
In short, as Edward de Bono, the father of modern thinking, said, “All good ideas are logical in hindsight.” On that basis, Sinek’s hypothesis is a good one and worth a read - or a listen.
Despite there being a host of content and social media books out there ‘Welcome to the Funnel’ has been described as one of the most practical due to its playlist of everyday tricks and welcoming advice to fill the top of your sales funnel. My pages worth of notes can certainly back up this statement.
Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs describes it as:
“The book that delivers the how-to-know-how you need content that will deliver results for your organization"
Here are my top five favourite takeaways from the book:
We’re reminded that in our ever-connected world marketers cannot rely on being restricted to one marketing channel. The modern marketer needs to be a jack-of-all- trades and master the art of content, email, social, SEO and analytics and bring them into one seamless strategy to remain competitive. Jason Miller defines this as being a hybrid, a ‘Renaissance Marketer’.
Jason reveals that one of his most tried and tested blogging strategy’s is to think of the blog like a well-balanced diet which consists of five different food groups. People don’t like to eat the same food groups each day so you’ve got to mix it up and keep it interesting. By putting out a mix of practical tips, thought leadership, research, bold points of view and what he describes as interesting ‘Chocolate Cake’ content you can delight your customers every day of the week. An example of this approach is shown in the book as follows:
Monday - Keep it light top tips/practical how to’s etc.
Tuesday - Slightly heavier thought-provoking content
Wednesday - Something substantial – something to chew on for a bit
Thursday - Take a strong view on a hot topic or call someone out
Friday - Inject some fun and personality into your business
From one food analogy to the next, Miller shares how like the leftovers of a turkey we can re-purpose our existing content by slicing and dicing it into new formats comparable to the sandwiches and soups post-thanksgiving. The intent here is to audit your existing content and reimagine it in a new way.
One key takeaway was a reminder to visualize our content. Our ever depleting attention spans means that visual content consumption is an all-time high leading to the popularity and success of channels such as SlideShare and Instagram. If you’re not tapping into it in some way, then you‘re missing an opportunity to connect with your audience.
“There is always a new audience waiting to re-discover old content.”
Beyond the blogging tips the book suggests that in order to see successful results from a content marketing strategy, organisations should be aiming to produce one piece of ‘Big Rock’ content per quarter to feed their lead gen machine.
These are the super relevant all-encompassing guides (quarterly steaks in the ground) that own a conversation and answer all your customer’s answers.
“It’s not enough to churn out content for contents sake”
Miller has had great success in his role at LinkedIn with this type of content. His very own ‘Big Rock’ ‘The Sophisitcated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn Marketing Solutions’ drove an astonishing $4.6 million worth of business within the first half of 2014.
He stresses that you don’t need to have a huge budget to produce the content. Base it on articles you already have by focussing on a key theme, back it up with some key word research and make sure you treat it like you would a product or service with buy in from the senior team(s).
As a digital marketer myself the book’s last section around the qualities of a great content marketer were particularly useful. These were the three quotes that stuck out for me…
1.“If you can take your personality and inject it into what you do and the message you share; you'll be one step ahead in the content marketing game”.
2.“If your writing sucks so will your content.”
3.“Don’t take things personally. The importance of having thick skin is only going to become more important.”
‘Welcome to the Funnel’ is not a book that sits on the book shelf to be forgotten, it’s a book to have on your desk as a go to content bible.
‘At the heart of good marketing lies a great product. Simply that.’
This was Paddy Barwise’s provocative
statement back in November at The
Marketing Society event to launch the book.
It’s a subject he’s expounded in a previous book, ‘Simply Better;
Winning and Keeping Customers by Delivery What Matters Most’. Critically in
this book he enjoins us to consider the all important Value Creation Zone (or
V-zone); the overlap between what your company needs to do to be successful and
profitable and what customers need.
The premise for this book is Barta and Barwise’s belief that modern marketing leaders need to become a ‘leader of leaders’.
They can no longer know everything or do
everything themselves, they need to build a team that can deliver in that
V-zone. Managing up, down and sideways is at the heart of what successful
marketers do and, importantly, how the deliver meaningful growth for their
Above all, we need to avoid being distracted. Barta and Barwise enjoin us to focus on 3 big things that matter, give them a timescale and get on with them. Harder than a hard thing in many of our experiences, pressurised as we are – and this book testifies – by our bosses, our peers, our teams and our non work lives.
The book is full of interactive exercises that you can conduct on yourself and online. One action they asked everyone to undertake was to ask 10 people in the organisation to say what inspires them about you. I duly did it and was surprised by the results. Of course the stuff I expected was in there, but the other stuff was genuinely useful as it allowed me to see where my input was most valued.
Another test they give you is to establish whether you are most orientated towards your boss, your colleagues or your team. You can take the test yourself at www.marketingleader.org/download but I warn you the results may not be what you think!
There is a lot to feast on in this book, beyond the headlines. At its heart are really good, really simply summaries of what can sometimes be overwhelmingly complex issues. Barwise and Barta break up the herculean task of leading marketing into 3 bite size chunks, and help you at every stage to hone how you might improve.
Their excursion on Leading on the Big Digital Issues (p.35 – 39) would help every marketer on the planet for example. It’s comforting to know too that this is based not on their opinions (expert as they may be) but on the practice of over 8,600 leaders in 170 countries.
What’s also good to know from a business comms perspective is that nearly half the senior marketers they interviewed are from B2B.
Highly recommended. I wrote copious notes, rethought some of our approaches and identified some big issues I want to tackle. My only problem is getting them down to the recommended 3.
I’m new to formal coaching, so these may be familiar territory to those of you who are immersed in the subject, but I was inspired by the book to share its insights. Be glad to hear from others who may have read this or other coaching books for comparison.
‘Awareness is curative’. I loved this simple thought. It makes such sense. We all know that sometimes people just aren’t aware of the effects their behaviour has on others, or even themselves. Just having it pointed out is often all that’s needed.
I liked his idea of the coachee being thought of as ‘The Player’. This is an easy concept which helps the coach put the person they are coaching centre stage at all times and stops them trying to muscle in on the action. One only has to imagine an actual game of tennis, or a football match to realise that the coach can’t do the job a player does. Brilliant as Ivan Lendl was in his day, I suspect he’d be mashed by Novak Djokovic, and is much better off standing behind Sir Andy Murray and letting him get on the with job. But Downey takes it one stage further. It’s not that the coach does the thinking and the player puts it into action. As he says, ‘The player does the thinking. The coach’s role is to create an environment where the player can do their best thinking.’ In his view therefore, the coach’s primary function is to understand (the challenge, the opportunity, the situation), not to solve it.
Downey also admits that successful coaching comes from a belief in another’s potential rather than having the right answers yourself and imposing them on someone else. The question the book fairly raises is whether everyone has the potential. Downey believes so. His concept of ‘genius’ residing in everyone makes encouraging reading, and it’s not about doing your prescribed 10,000 hours in order to be expert. For him it’s more about allowing people to take responsibility and choice themselves. 99 times out of 100 they’ll have the right answer somewhere inside them. The coach’s job is to help them find it.
Where that answer comes from is therefore another subject that Downey explores in the book. He is a great believer in ‘flow’, the moment when your brain seems to work independently of active thought and seems to come up with solutions on its own. He calls this ‘Self Two’ and encourages us to find that place as often as possible in coaching sessions, although he admits it takes time and focus to get there. As he says, ‘trust the unfolding’, the process which leads you on to that place. His tip is to help the player work out what allows them to think like that. In one example it’s about the player getting up and walking around in order to think better for instance.
The book also covers some good advice on goal setting (with some useful frameworks for matching individual and corporate goals) and giving feedback (as cleanly as possible, supported by data and examples and keeping personal feelings out of it), with the aim to get the player’s opinion on the observed behaviour rather than giving yours. As I said at the start – awareness is curative.
And finally, there was a great quote about change – which is after all at the heart of what coaching is about – whether organisational change or personal growth. As he points out, the brain is essentially lazy, it choses to do the things that require least energy because energy is hard to come by (that explains teenage sofa surfing then!). His observation is that change uses more brain energy than almost anything else, which is why we shy away from it. So if you thought this stuff was hard, you’d be right. Downey’s book shows that there are some real benefits to making the effort though.
In short the combination of well phrased observations and some really good practical tips makes this a worthwhile read for anyone interested in helping others be great. There’s more information on Myles and his thinking at www.mylesdowney.com
His first book Stuart, A Life Backwards is a sad, funny and strange account that chronicles the life of Stuart, a homeless man and career criminal from Cambridge who spent time in prison. His second book, The Genius in my Basement, is an unusual biography of one of the world’s greatest living mathematicians and public transport addict, who just happened to be Masters’ live-in landlord in Cambridge. So you can imagine that his next book, A Life Discarded, is nothing short of brilliant – a curiously compulsive detective story which reminds us how strange people can be. A Life Discarded is written with Masters’ characteristic warmth, respect and humour and his magpie-like ability to see the jewel-like qualities in the rarest of folk. He focuses on 148 tatty and mouldy notebooks which were found in a skip in Cambridge in 2001. They were a small part of an intimate diary that began in 1952 and ended 50 years later. In A Life Discarded, Masters shares the true, shocking and poignant story of this mysterious diarist, which culminates in an astounding final revelation.
Although there’s nothing innovative about the idea of embracing risk, there is much commercial benefit to be gained from identifying fresh opportunity, and in developing new ways to respond.
This is the premise of Risky Strategy, which blends a rich array of strategic evidence - historic, scientific and sporting; research from the Ashbridge Business School and real world case studies – with the author’s own extensive experience as a management consultant and senior manager, to advance the promise of risk with energy and conviction.
More than asking provocative questions, Risky Strategy opens rewarding lines of enquiry, never more so than when examining the beliefs and behaviours of today’s business elite. And takes a bold perspective to show where and when the most rewarding opportunity might be found.
In addition, the author looks beyond the corporate walls, examining ‘hot topics’ such as data sharing and analysis, and the building of relationships, to advance a shared understanding and common language for identifying and mastering the risks ahead.
The concept of risk may not be new, but in making sense of underlying human behavior, inherent business need and commercial opportunity, Jamie MacAlister shows how critical risk truly is to the long-term decision-making process.
The Crime Writer takes an episode in the life of eccentric American novelist Patricia Highsmith when the thriller writer, in 1964, lived in a remote Suffolk village to concentrate on her writing. True life ends here and fiction begins. What unfolds is a riveting tale of madness, duplicity and murder as Highsmith embarks upon a clandestine romance with a married lover based in London. What follows is a compelling story interwoven with facts such as the touching friendship with her neighbour, the young Ronald Blythe, who was gathering material he later published in Akenfield. Dawson researches her subjects thoroughly to the point of obsession and the result is a nourishing portrait of a complicated and brilliant woman wrapped up in a mighty feast of a novel.
Jill Dawson is the best-selling author of nine novels, including Fred & Edie (short-listed for The Whitbread and Orange Prize) and Watch Me Disappear (long-listed for the Orange Prize). Her novel The Great Lover, about the poet Rupert Brooke, published in 2009, was a best-seller and a Richard and Judy Summer Read. Lucky Bunny, which tells the life of Queenie Dove, East End thief and good time girl, won a Fiction Uncovered Award. Her novel The Tell-Tale Heart, described by Hilary Mantel as ‘an uncanny and atmospheric novel by a skilful storyteller’ was long-listed for the Folio prize. All her novels are published by Sceptre.
Chernobyl Prayer was written by Belarusian journalist as her response to this disaster. To mark thirty years since this catastrophe a new translation of this masterpiece has just been published.
Over a number of years and despite risks to her own health from high levels of radiation Svetlana Alexievich interviewed over 500 eyewitnesses in the region, many now dead: the young widowed and pregnant wife of a firefighter who went to tackle the blaze in his shirtsleeves; those who stood on balconies watching the crimson blaze; the chemical engineer who describes digging diseased soil every day for six months after the accident; the clean-up workers. The result is a powerful, devastating and absorbing documentary account. Chernobyl Prayer gives a voice to the human experiences and emotions which resulted from the worst nuclear reactor accident in history and makes compelling reading.
Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukraine in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own non-fiction genre which brings together a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. She has won many international awards including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015.
In the month of the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death it seems appropriate to reference something Bard related. Jacobson talked eloquently about his love for Shakespeare, the ridiculous notion of asking GSCE students to answer the question ‘Was Shakespeare anti-Semitic’ and his loathing of Portia. Should be a good read.
The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. The world has mostly depleted its fossil fuels, and climate change has irreversibly damaged the world. What little is left is being fought over by the world’s most powerful nations. Crime is at an all time high, and chaos reigns. So who can blame Wade, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS provides daily escapism, and it's free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game within the OASIS, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate.....
I really did love this book. It’s a game I could see myself playing, and a puzzle I could see myself be solving. The huge rush of 1980s nostalgia brought back memories of my childhood. Very interesting insight in how technology such a Virtual Reality can affect the Human kind.
Murphy is a tax specialist, professor and adviser (it would seem) to both sides of the UK political spectrum – having advised David Cameron and credited with inspiring Corbynomics. He’s an outspoken, fast talking challenger of most of the myths about money and tax that you will ever have heard. Above all he stands up for the idea that tax has the ability to change society for the better. He blogs athttp://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/ It’s not for the fainthearted.
This book was brought to my attention by our Creative Director, Chris Butterworth, on the back of an extremely good article in the FT. It provoked Chris to do a highly provocative presentation to all of us in the agency about whether digital had driven us all down a rabbit hole - so I thought it had to be worth a read.
Byron Sharp's premise is based on aggregating a whole number of studies of brand growth and, as the book suggests, trying to identify what the defining factors are. There are 3 in his view and they are not quite all as you think.
1. Brands don't grow by selling more to existing customers but by being more likely to be bought by occasional users than their competitors.
2. Brands aren't as differentiated as marketers might like to think. The values people ascribe to their preferred brand are pretty similar to the values someone else ascribes to the (different) brand that they prefer. Salience, in Sharp's view, is therefore more valuable than differentiation because it is more likely to result in 1.
3. The bigger the brand the more likely you are to get bought.
This is based on a study of consumer brands, but I like it as a business marketer for 2 reasons.
First he writes clearly and debunks some long held beliefs, as well as some more recent myths (Lovemarks being one of them). I always enjoy an opposing point of view!
Secondly it's one of the few books you read which forces you to actively challenge your own beliefs and see whether they still hold up. I found myself taking notes about how and whether this would apply in the B2B context, a subject that I got so wound up about that I contacted him to ask.
I will post his response on this site, but in the meantime it's a recommended read here because it forces us to actually think which, if any, of those old marketing home truths really do apply in the B2B world.
Once in a rare while you find a writer whose command of language takes your breath away. Colm Tóibín is such a writer and his craft is faultlessly displayed in Nora Webster, his brilliant portrait of widowhood and grief. Set against a backdrop of political turmoil in Ireland in the late 1960’s it tells the story of the recently widowed Nora Webster living in a small town, looking after her four children and trying to rebuild her life. In Nora Webster Tóibín creates one of the most memorable heroines in contemporary fiction and one of his great triumphs is the skill and quiet restraint he uses to depict what is a deeply personal story. Colm Tóibín is one of Ireland’s contemporary masters and his understanding of the universal truths of humanity, compassion and joy shine off every page. To read Nora Webster is to take a journey of pace and place, a journey that revisits the Ireland ofBrooklyn, an earlier novel which has recently been adapted for film by Nick Hornby, and a journey that will leave you wanting to read everything else that this master has written. An appropriate book to read in a year when Ireland marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising .
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