Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Wizard of Ads

Saturday, August 12th, 2017 | Books

The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires is a book by Roy H. Williams.

My current series of blog posts is a clearing out and putting to bed of all the books I have half-finished. Typically, when I start a book, I finish it. But Napoleon’s Hill’s Think and Grow Rich has inspired me to give up on a bad book.

The Wizard of Ads is somewhat more interesting. But the trouble is that I have now read most of it and I am still not sure what it is about. I think it is about marketing and advertising. But the author jumps around so much that it is almost impossible to follow his chain of thought.

Indeed, there may be done. There is no real structure to the book. It is a collection of anecdotes that Williams thinks will be useful to marketers.

And they are. There is a lot of gems to be gleaned from this book. Including:

  • People are always thinking: get their attention by giving them someone more interesting.
  • Don’t train your customers to wait for a sale
  • Tell a customer what they already know or suspect. They will believe you.
  • Save people time, not money.
  • Great presentation will cause people to buy emotionally.
  • Make people feel good, don’t point out problems.

But the lack of structure of clear theme to the book making the whole thing rambling and confusing. The religious references also get tedious.

The most controversial aspect of the book is probably that Williams rejects targeting and sales it is all in the copy. This goes against what most marketers teach. Indeed, it even goes against what Gary Halbert teaches in The Boron Letters: “more than anything, give me a list of qualified buyers”.

It does have a fun title, though.

Think and Grow Rich

Monday, August 7th, 2017 | Books

Think and Grow Rich is a self-improvement book, written by Napoleon Hill and published in 1937.

In it, he sets out 16 “laws” (and yes, the quote marks are there on Wikipedia, too) on achieving success. The book certainly did do that: it has sold over 100 million copies and best of all, it is a super simple formula to follow: think positive and you will soon be drowning in money.

Unfortunately, Hill seems to have been unable to apply the principles to his personal life. He frequently ran out of cash and was forced to take up touring the United States lecturing again. Most of his business ventures went south.

It’s almost as if you can’t just think and grow rich.

Though I must confess, I didn’t even make it half way through the book. Maybe all of the pearls of wisdom are hidden in the second half. Or I’m too negative a person to see the ones right in front of me. But, either way, I think there are perhaps more practical books I could spend my time reading.

The Book Thief

Sunday, August 6th, 2017 | Books

I confess that I have not fared well with Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief.

It is certainly a well-written book and interesting story. Who doesn’t love death as a narrator? However, it has not captivated me. Half way through I found that my reading simply stagnated and I did not get any further.

I’m just not that excited to find out how it ends. And, well, I kind of know that already, because it’s included in the story. No doubt there were some exciting twists to come. But I shall never know.

Molly Bakes Chocolate

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017 | Books

Chocolate by Molly Bakes is a cookbook for chocolatey things, surprisingly.

It starts with an introduction to the different kinds of cocoa beans there are, and some useful advice for working with chocolate. This is fine, but once you know the difference between Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario, you want the more expensive ones.

The core content of the recipes is how to make hand-rolled truffles.

They’re very good. You make a ganache filling and a chocolate casing, and carefully assemble them in stages.

There are also recipes for a variety of other fun things. Chocolate bowls, for example:

And tray bakes, too.

If you like chocolate, this is an excellent book. It teaches you how to produce incredibly rich truffles and desserts, predominantly free from the distractions of other ingredients.

Canapes

Monday, June 19th, 2017 | Books, Food

A lot of my cooking revolves around main courses. It is easy to slip into this pattern: I only do a three-course meal once or twice per week. Therefore, a lot of the starter, lunch and dessert recipes get forgotten about.

However, I have been making a conscious effort to expand this. Adding some new canapes to my repertoire seemed a good direction to go.

A lot of the recipes in this book were too fiddly for me to bother. However, there are some firm favours. The Asian pork balls, for example. And the mini-burgers were not that difficult either.

Pancetta and tomato with basil pesto crostini, and a citrus avocado puree crostino.

Filo tartlets with beef.

All in all, I’ll give this the thumbs up. It has provided me with some great little recipes.

The 4-Hour Chef

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 | Books, Food

Tim Ferriss is a super-star. Jeff Goins nailed it when he said that people didn’t love Tim Ferriss for the message he brings, but just because he’s such a cool person that you want to me like him.

Since rising to fame with The Four-Hour Work Week, he has gone on to push the franchise with The Four-Hour Body and this, The Four-Hour Chef.

It’s quite clever the way he sells it (or sneaky). He sends you the audiobook for free when you join his mailing list. But there are no recipes in it: every 5 minutes the narrator says “please refer to the print or eBook edition for recipe steps and sidebars”.

Ferriss suggests that cookbooks are written for those who can already cook. They are arranged by category and don’t explain what is going on. Instead, this book is arranged by technique, starting from the basics and building up.

It is arranged into five sections: meta, domestic, wild, science and pro. In meta-learning, he talks about how to learn faster and more efficiently. He then takes you through the building blocks of cookery in dom.

In wild, we are treated to a narrative of Tim’s adventures. How to survive a disaster and catch a pigeon, for example. Science is similar: there is some science in it, but also plenty of stories: the time he attempted Ben & Jerry’s Vermonster, for example, or his food marathon: 26.2 dishes in 24 hours. Something I would love to try.

Finally, in pro, he rounds off with talking to some of the best chefs in the world about how they do what they do.

I tried a lot of the recipes in domestic. They’re fun. None have made my regular rotation, but I made the Vietnamese burgers more than once.

I also really enjoyed a lot of the explanations. Why do you need to brown meat? I knew why already, but no cookbook ever takes the time to explain it: it’s more folk knowledge. Why do you need mustard in a vinaigrette? Why do you rest steak? It’s all in here.

The science is a mixed bag. It’s really interesting to learn about all of the different aspects of the cooking process, gels, emulsions, etc. However, I struggled to follow along with the theory. I more felt like I was getting starter points to learn about it on my own. And some of the science in here is a little dubious. Like his original book, I suspect Ferriss doesn’t let the truth ruin a good story.

If you’re a Tim Ferriss fan, this is a no-brainer. Get the hardback: it’s a monster.

Contagious

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 | Books

In Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Burger lays out his research on why some content goes viral and other content does not.

Triggers

Clever ads may get people talking in the short term. But what goes people talking in the long term? Burger argues you need a trigger.

For example, we’ve all taken the piss out of Rebecca Black’s song “Friday”. And Burger goes, too. But he also notes that it gets an incredible amount of views. Almost all of which happen on one day each week. Can you guess which one?

What is going on here? Once a week, it’s Friday. And it being Friday triggers your memory of how awful the song was. And you go watch it on YouTube.

This triggering is going on all over the place. For example, where you vote (school, church, etc.) affects how you vote.

Good advertising campaigns take advantage of this, too. For example “Have a break, have a KitKat”. Every time you have a break… Or Budweiser’s “what’s up” every time you answer the phone.

It needs to be something you run into commonly. For example, using a holiday as a trigger would be a bad idea because it comes around only once a year. Using the weekend as a trigger: much better.

It also needs to arrive at a relevant time. For example, a public service message about the importance of bathmats that shows someone slipping is of little use. Why? Because you can’t buy a bathmat when you step out of the shower. They need to slip when they are in a Bed, Bath & Beyond store.

Grow your environment

You can make your market larger, with the right message. For example, Boston Chicken. They could run an advert that said:

“Thinking about chicken? Think Boston Chicken.”

Fine. It might well capture a lot of the market for people looking for chicken. But how about:

“Thinking about dinner? Think Boston Chicken.”

Now you have cued people to think about Boston Chicken for dinner every time they drive home. Much better.

Emotion

In general, positive messages work better than negative ones. However, the situation is more complex than that. People share stories that are high arousal. This can be both positive and negative.

For example, awe and delight cause sharing. If something is amazing or really funny, you are far more likely to share it. Whereas contentment and sadness are low arousal emotions: they don’t inspire you to do anything.

On the negative side, there are two emotions that do promote arousal: anxiety and anger.

What is interesting about arousal is that you can artificially create it. If you have people do moderate exercise or jump up and down, and then look at their Facebook feed, they are more likely to share stories.

Social proof

People like to do what other people do. This is most evident in bad public service messages. “Say No To Drugs”, for example, reinforced the message that drug use was common and that all the cool kids were doing it.

Similarly, using the slogan “only 37% of people pay for music” encourages people to steal music because they feel like an idiot for buying it when everyone else is getting it from Napster.

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.”

In the case of products, they need to be publicly visible to catch on. Toothpaste doesn’t usually go viral, for example. Whereas Apple’s iconic headphones did because everyone could see other people wearing them.

Practical value

People love to share things that provide practical value. Why? Association. They look smarter by sharing useful knowledge with other people. It gives them social currency.

While a silly meme may get traction in the short-term, a brilliant how-to will get milage for a long time because people will see the value in it and keep sharing.

Harnessing the value for your brand

To get value out of viral content [as a business], you need to make your brand integral to the story. For example, Golden Casino or whatever they are called sponsor a lot of stuff. But you can tell a story about someone buying a jar of air without mentioning their brand.

Contrast that with Will It Blend. We share this because it’s awe-inspiring to see a blender crush up iPhones, lighters and marbles. But, critically, you can’t tell the story without talking out the blender. And Blendtec benefits.

How to Write a Good Advertisement

Monday, May 8th, 2017 | Books, Business & Marketing

In How To Write A Good Advertisement: A Short Course in Copywriting Victor O. Schwab lays out a systematic approach to writing killer ads. That process is:

  1. Grab attention
  2. Show them the advantage
  3. Prove it
  4. Persuade people to grasp this advantage
  5. Ask for action

Each section is broken down into individual chapters. There are a lot of examples. In fact, one of the earlier chapters is just a list of a hundred effective headlines.

There is a lot of useful information in here. More importantly, it is presented in a logical narrative without the distraction of jumping around or confusing diversions.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Sunday, May 7th, 2017 | Books

Mark Manson came to fame because of his blogging and has since gone on to publish some bestselling books, including The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

His writing style shines through his book, too. It’s engaging and entertaining. You laugh at points. You identify with all of the material. It keeps you interested.

This made me think about longevity, though. Manson’s style is entertaining partly because of all the pop culture references. But a few times, it did cross my mind that in ten years time, nobody would know what he was on about. The truth is, my memory of _Everybody Loves Raymond_ is already fading.

His storytelling is compelling. I was with him on the edge of that cliff. I felt the same feelings.

He makes some good points, too. Life is about giving a fuck about the right things, and not caring about the rest. Nobody who is happy needs to stand int front of a mirror saying positive affirmations. But I think the reason you do that is that you’re not happy. And given how often our emotions are driven by our behaviour, I don’t write it off as a useless tactic.

Given all of that great delivery, though, I am wondering how much I take away from the book. He threw so many great ideas at me that I struggled to take it all in. And, which a not very conclusive conclusion, I was a little confused by the end. I’m a simple man: I need the take-home message spelling out for me. And maybe that was the title. But I would have liked a clearer finish.

This book is an entertaining and enjoyable exploration of Manson’s philosophy. Whether it helps you, I’m not sure. But you are unlikely to feel it was time wasted.

The Boron Letters

Saturday, May 6th, 2017 | Books

The Boron Letters is a series of letters written by Gary Halbert while he was in prison, to his son. It is held up as a significant piece of work in the copywriting field.

The thing I struggled to get past is that it is not discussed why Halbert was in prison. My guess is that it is something to do with fraud. Fraud from his copywriting. And therefore I am sceptical about how much to take from his work.

However, there is good stuff on here. There is a relentless focus on finding buyers, rather than making a product. Everything stems from finding the marketing opportunity first. And there is some practical advice on how to do it.

He also offers advice as to how to make someone feel special. To explain to them why they have been selected for such an amazing offer and create a sense of scarcity.

The letters made some important points. However, whether it adds as much value as books like Ca$hvertising and How To Write A Good Advertisement, I’m not sure.