Friday, February 23, 2024

Five Writing Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part one of five (or Fit the First)

I’m a rabid BookWyrm, and I have an acceptable office library that comes and goes, but there are a few books I’ve carried around, like much-loved luggage, as constant sources of inspiration in my work. Some are old, and some are relatively new. All are good. 

In final proofing, I realize this is somewhat lengthy at twenty-five suggestions, especially how I ramble on, so I’ll spit it up into more assessable posts. From video production to web design and marketing theory to graphic design, these are the works I’d recommend to anyone starting out in our chosen profession or looking to inspire their output. Should you want to read this as a single list without the added filler, I’ve posted it to LinkedIn.


Let’s start with the basics.


On Writing Well by William Zinseer

"On Writing Well" is universally lorded for its practical advice, clear delivery, and accessible tone—and justifiably so. I picked this up because it was recommended by Stephen King. It's an absolute must-read for anyone looking to improve their writing skills, especially non-fiction, and for me (a copywriter without an English degree), it was pure fried gold. Advocating for simplicity and the proximity of a Thesaurus, it shares the essential principles and wisdom of a seasoned writer and teacher from the trenches. With over a million copies sold, it's a timeless chaperon for writers at any level. It’s also on Blinkist and Audible if that’s more your jam, as are many of these books, but you can grab one on eBay for a couple of quid. It’s the absolute foundation of the storytellers’ art, and you won’t regret it.

And speaking of Stephen King…


A Memoir of The Craft by Stephen King

As a Gen X white male and only child, I read. In my formative years, I found Stephen King, Clive Barker, Hunter S Thomson, and Douglas Adams. Few things have influenced me more, even to this day. 


There’s a reason King is one of the best-selling authors of all time, and getting a look behind the curtain into his process and ‘rules’ is a masterclass in the bread and butter of the writer’s craft. This book is friendly, inspiring, and marvelously anecdotal. It's not the sort of thing you can dip into, but it’s still a read worthy of Rats and The Fog. Not just about the process itself, he discusses the foibles of the world of publishing and delves deep into the industry and the discipline with an insightful clarity only a master can offer. Perfect night-time reading for anyone keen on improving their writing or curious about his methods. 


The man is an astronaut among monkeys. Ten shiny gold stars.


Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, as the song goes, is the greatest sci-fi writer in history (with a quiet punt to Asimov, Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Orwell, Mary Shelley, Frank Herbert, and Philip K. Dick). 


Bradbury feels like some caring companion cheering us on, saying, "You can do it!” through a series of accessible essays. His passion jumps right off the page, energizing us mere mortals with enough momentum to dive into our own writing projects, be they as humble as writing our own D&D campaigns, that novel that lurks inside us all, or an 1800-word blog post on microsegmentation tools


A little dated, perhaps, his infectious style points the finger to say, "Get serious about this or get out." More for the novelist than the content creator, perhaps, it’s nevertheless one of the finest books on writing ever. What we do is a job, and a better modern translation of the Zen may be, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it,” but it’s a treat to read and a chef-d'oeuvre in creative motivation and making our imagination pay the bills.


Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

On day one of my HND scriptwriting class, I was told that bad guys kick the skinny puppy, and good guys give it their lunch. That’s how we know who to root for; even if that good guy goes on to be a murder hobo with zero social graces, it’s ok cos he likes dogs. When John Wick goes postal, we all shrug and say, “Fair enough. I would, too.” There are certain metaphors and indicators, not quite tropes, more like visual triggers, that are irresistible storytelling cues for the audience.


Clearly written and accessibly structured, "Save the Cat" is a well-thumbed guide for creating marketable ideas and engaging scripts. It’s packed tightly with indispensable advice like crafting winning loglines and understanding screenplay assembly. It tells us how to categorize movies by genre and how to align our lead character with our core ideas. Sometimes useful for organizing my thoughts, it walks through fashioning a story with emotional depth and critical conflict, offers troubleshooting advice to fix common script issues, and tells us how to make a screenplay irresistible by simply saving the cat (or by shooting the hero's dog).


Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clarke

With a mantra of “You need tools, not rules,” Peter Clarke has collated a list of fifty essentials that writers of all kinds can use every day, notwithstanding the purpose of our output. I believe the modern iteration has fifty-five tools, but I have the fifty. 


This was one of the first books I read about the writing process, and it blew my mind. From golden nuggets like giving words space and activating verbs to creating structural story blueprints and learning from criticism, it’s a handy toolkit brimming with practical tips that writers of every stripe can use to spark our creativity. Under a fiver on eBay, I’d say, if you’re going to get one of these books with the purpose of making a difference in your work, this is the badger. 


Well, that should keep you busy. I hope you find them useful, and please let me know how you get on (via Threads, where I often get my book geek on).

Please also consider:

Buy them. Steal them. Borrow them. Read them. Put them on a shelf. Revel in the bibliosmia. Dip into them again. Lend them to a colleague. Lose them. Seek them out again in second-hand shops. Put permanent searches on eBay and revel in bargains. Repurchase them. Reread them. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Five Film Production Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part two of five. 

Continuing my recommendations for the books that should be on every content marketer's shelf, and because I’m a big believer in paper, it’s time to look at five for film and video production. Please also see Five Writing Books, Five Graphic Design Books, Five Web Design Books, and Five Marketing Theory Books that I believe we should own as tomes of inspiration and reference to improve our work.


I studied (experimental) film and TV production and worked in the feature industry just long enough to get jaded and tired. I share a BAFTA for an interactive project I directed. Cinema on a Sunday is my church. Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Lulu Wang, and Sam Raimi are part of a pantheon of Corinthian gods. I script and produce explainers regularly, talk to animators and editors daily, and still revel in my own video projects—dabbling in AI video, machinima, doing voice-overs for friends projects, and still writing for pleasure. Some of these books are personal, and I’ve had them for decades, and some are more accessible recent acquisitions. All are worth a read.


Film Directing Shot by Shot by Steven D Katz

This was required reading when I studied for my MA, even though I studied Production and Script Writing rather than Direction. I swear by this one and have bought it as a gift for other people, usually when I see a second-hand copy in the wild, many, many times. Probably the best and most accessible pre-production film book I have ever read, mainly due to his ability to cut through the industry jargon and offer clear illustrations to match its explanations. There are at least two copies in the house right now—one in the downstairs loo. 


"Shot by Shot" offers a time-tested take, providing tools, rules, and a wealth of glorious examples from cinema history. Applying these insights effectively is up to the filmmaker, but whether you’re heading for a career in game design, animation, storyboard illustration, or want to create content in the aspect ratio of TikTok, this is a bargain secondhand for as little as a fiver at World of Books or Oxfam.


Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

In a reply on Twitter, this was recommended to me by my old friend Matt Cooper. Matt is a BAFTA shortlisted/RTS nominated scriptwriter and filmmaker with credits from EastEnders to Emmerdale. As a long-time collaborator of some 30+ years from the halcyon days of the indie-film-making Leeds mafia, I picked up a copy, knowing I was probably onto something good. I’m very glad I did.


With critically acclaimed movies under his belt like 12 Angry Men [1957], Serpico [1973], Dog Day Afternoon [1975], and Network [1976], Lumet’s words are a gift for anyone curious about the filmmaking process. Dripping with on-set anecdotes, this is a seminal work on wrangling the best from performers and the overall creative method, told in Lumet’s trademark pragmatic style and easy to read, non-technical, entirely relatable, and wholly unpretentious. I worked in the features industry back when I was young enough to embrace a young man’s game, and making films is hard work, tricky, and packed with challenges—but it's also rewarding. As runners and production assistants, we’d grumble in our ignorance that directors had it easy, just picking the right people to handle everything on their behalf and being two-faced to the talent. However, Lumet clearly demonstrates just how essential and involved a director's role truly is. Why does a director pick a certain script or keep actors genuine across so many takes? How can you stage a big shootout in New York with extras and taxicabs or satisfy studio bosses? "Making Movies" is the perfect insider's view from start to finish, packed to the rafters with clear, honest, inspiring insights you can take to any production, regardless of size and scope.


How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck 

by Steve Stockman

Gotta love that title, and to be fair, it does what it says on the cover. This a straight-shooting guide to filmmaking that easily drew me in, and it's particularly accessible for those interested in creating YouTube/Vimeo content or the likes of Reels. Stockman shares his golden rules to improve our videos and covers everything from storyboarding to technical tips on lighting and sound—useful for both vloggers and feature filmmakers. He briefly skips over specific equipment and software recommendations, which was useful on my first pass. He does repeat himself a bit, which, while making it easy to follow, makes a cover-to-cover read somewhat déjà rêvé, and it’s best dipped into. Check out this interview with Stockman ℅ YouTube.


Special Effects in Television by Bernard Wilkie

Wilkie spent a quarter of a century creating special effects for Auntie Beeb, where he was manager of probably the largest and most specialised visual FX unit in the world. I’ve got the second edition of this, and I’ve had it a very long time. I’ve had it so long, since 1993, that I was a pence-poor student and I had to save up to buy it. This is the Spons' Workshop Receipts of practical film and video effects, with instructions on everything from shooting matte shots to building wind machines and from blowing up miniature landmarks to Peppers Ghost. It’s an insight into the Magic Circle that was the BBC Visual Effects Department. I’ve had my money back from this book tenfold, especially in my student days. 


Alas, a mint one of these now goes for the price of a working kidney, but it is possible to find a reasonable (all be it stained, likely singed, and invariably dogeared) copy on eBay at the price of an artisanal sandwich. Mine also has the Jagoroth spaceship on the cover from Doctor Who/City of Death [1979], which has to be a further plus, and I don’t lend it out. You can pull it out of my cold, dead, obsessive hands.


The Smartphone Filmmaking Handbook 

by Neil Philip Sheppard

Something more recent and probably more applicable to the modern content marketer, this is a lexicon of advice for those who want to embrace mobile filmmaking. Nine times out of ten, as content creators, all we have available is our devastating good looks and the contents of our pockets. Armed with just a smartphone and some basic know-how, this is the doorway to creating decent video, no matter the technology at our disposal. Whether we're a budding filmmaker, vlogger, educator, student, wanna-be influencer, or in-house marketing Shemp, it’s packed with solid tips to help us get the best results with just an HD phone.


From picking the right equipment and apps within our budget to mastering lighting, sound, and some decent camera tricks, this is an easy-to-read point of reference that covers all we (probably) need to know about smartphone filmmaking. Great for beginners, and cheap as chips second-hand, Sheppard gives us the scoop on the best gear, video editing, live streaming, squeezing the best from the format, and sharing our masterpieces online. The updated 2023 edition—because things move on—is probably worth considering and includes welcome advice for the foibles of the iPhone 14 Pro.


Also, for your consideration: 

I hope that’s useful, and if you have other suggestions, I’m all ears. Please let me know via Threads; I’m always up for connecting with like-minded souls and for reading something new or just chatting about movies and video production—if that’s your bag.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Five Web Design Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part three of five.

As content and creative markers, we need to be polymaths. A part of that is embracing, at least, a common knowledge of the disciplines surrounding us and our output. I worked directly on the web for a long time, creating eCommerce sites and SEO copy for an eclectic array of products and services, both in-house and in agency. Many of these books I’ve picked up on my travels and had recommended by folks I respect, from UX experts to web developers, and their words of wisdom have stood me in good stead.


Even if you’re just speaking with external web agencies, creating approachable content for search engines, want to create compelling web copy, or may be diligently posting thought-leadership to WordPress, we need to (at bare minmum) understand the basics of good web design theory. While you’re here, and to further broaden horizons, please also consider my thoughts on my favorite Graphic Design Books, Marketing Theory Books, Copywriting Books, and Film Production Books. Some of the books below will invariably cross into the realms of design and psychology, but that’s the nature of the web design beast.


Design is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton

Design goes beyond showing off our brand's traits, creating navigation, or displaying what we think our audience likes. It plays a huge role in people's feelings, guides their choices, and molds their view of what we offer. Is this strictly web design? I don’t care. A smart design can make a packet of biscuits seem tastier and healthier than it actually is, boost someone's focus, or even stir up anxiety—which applies to the web as much as it applies anywhere else. It's all about the impact our design has on the viewer. Lupton effortlessly breaks down complex theory into engaging, bite-sized lessons. She explores the psychology behind design through storytelling, offering insights for everyone, from filmmakers to web professionals. With principles given context, she illustrates these models in action, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the hidden power of design.


A web designer bookshelf indispensable for under £12, it includes the essentials of visual storytelling, the impact of color on emotions, and the intriguing principles of behavioral economics. It’s worth it for a clear definition of the "rule of threes," to which I thoroughly subscribe, a powerful storytelling and design principle she puts in cultural and historical context, from ancient myths to modern advertising. 


Laws of UX by Jon Yablonski

In 12 insightful chapters, Yablonski demystifies design laws and theories with clear examples from familiar digital interfaces like Facebook and Twitter [X]. This is a great read for designers who want to get a grasp on how users psychologically engage with digital platforms. 


Effective design should simplify user goals and enhance positive interactions, and it acknowledges that while complexity can't always be eliminated, it can be managed to make the user's journey smoother. With a light, approachable style, it’s a fantastic intro to UX principles and a convenient refresher on design theories. It's a quick, enriching read and a perfect guide for anyone looking to further their understanding of the user experience. 


I picked this up off a colleague's desk and inadvertently never returned it (sorry, Jon). It's not a cheap one, but if you take your time, you can find it for under £30 on eBay, and it should be a staple of any web agency library.


Web Designers Idea Book by Patrick McNeil

"Web Designer's Idea Book," available (used) on Amazon for under a fiver, is a visual feast and creative companion, packed with over 700 website designs sorted by themes like layout, color, and style. Cherry-picked from Mr. McNeil’s vast online catalog of examples, it’s the perfect tool for sparking ideas and being able to say, “No, I mean like this.” The designs are categorized for easy browsing and brainstorming sessions, and it’s a treasure trove when consulting with colleagues or clients. Grab this one when kicking off new projects; it’ll keep the inspiration flowing.


Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

I’ve bought at least four copies of this book, in its various iterations and revisions, and given all of them away or lent them to the needy, never to be seen again. When I briefly lectured on web usability, it was on my required reading list (and still is). Not being able to find a copy on my shelves, at the time of writing, actually makes me a little anxious. 


Easily one of the best work-related books I've read, it's aimed at those looking for the core fundamentals of user experience design and content strategy. A clarion call for the path of least resistance in navigation and messaging, it’s chock full of indispensable wisdom. It’s a breezy read that practices what it preaches, and I find myself mulling on its principles with regularity, especially as the face of our web design best practices when talking to designers and our external web agency. 


Get the latest version; it’ll be worth it. And pick me up another copy while y’there.


Web Design Playground by Paul McFedries

The full title of this book is “Web Design Playground: HTML & CSS The Interactive Way,” but I didn’t want to put you off. Trust me, this is the perfect starting point if you're new to web design. It’s a surprisingly entertaining, interactive guide that takes us from the basics of HTML and CSS to the more advanced tricks of the trade. Through these pages, we get to play around with actual code, building our own web pages as we go, and there are questions after each chapter to check our progress and drive things home. Yours for under a fiver on World of Books. Do it.

If you have opinions, and I hope the suggestions above stimulate the creative juices, feel free to grab me for a chat and connect on Threads or LinkedIn. If you know of other web-related books I should have in my TBR pile, I’d love to hear about them. I can always put up more shelves.

Also in this series:

5 Writing Books

5 Film Production Books

5 Marketing and Psychology Books

5 Art and Design Books

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Five Marketing Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part four of five.

Since taking (what I thought would be) an easy night school A-level in psychology back in the 80s, relating psychology and sociology to marketing has always fascinated me. It’s an area I read for pleasure. Content marketing leans heavily on the core principles of engagement, and crafting the right headline or ad copy is the meat and two vegs of what we do. From creating buyer personas to target our output and weaving the right call to action, catering to user intent and the purchase process must be an underlying consideration of our work. We are not being paid to believe in the power of our dreams, and we are here to support the sales process.


As such, here are five books I have repeatedly mined for marketing theory gold, specifically with an eye to creative content creation and copy for marketing. Yes, we may already know the core principles, but sometimes we need a reminder and a kick to apply them to our day-to-day.


Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith

Tons of quick, practical tips that'll open the eyes and stimulate the neurons of even the most jaded marketeer. Yes, you may know them already, but we all need to be reminded and inspired from time to time. Packed with easy-to-digest insights, it debunks common myths like the pitfalls of focus groups and discount pricing while shining a light on the emotions that genuinely sway an audience. The magic of vivid storytelling, the power of first impressions, and quirky lessons from black holes to grocery lists. Overlooked gems for research, presentations, and keeping clients happy. I own it; I pick it up and open it at a random page every so often to stop myself from getting cocky.


Everybody Writes by Ann Handley 

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer (CCO) at MarketingProfs, set out to create an accessible paperback that was: “Part writing guide, part handbook on the rules of good sportsmanship in content marketing, and all-around reliable desk companion for anyone creating or directing content on behalf of brands.” This she achieves with aplomb. This is peppered with golden rules that blend empathy and integrity into brand work. Ann dishes out practical tips for mastering branded content, equipping us, the reader, with the skills to support solid copywriting and B2B/B2C strategy. Updated in 2022, it’s a must-have for agency bookshelves and was always suggested reading when mentoring content creation colleagues.


Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish

This is a must-have for those of us tapping away at the content marketing keyboard. Whether we're crafting technical documents by day or copywriting by night, this book is a gem for its clear-cut guidance on how to make our writing more engaging, punchy, and memorable. Loaded with tips on everything from perfecting web content to making every word earn its place, the interactive, almost conversational tone makes it a comfortable and informative read, and its 'key messages' summaries at the end of each chapter are a godsend for quick reference. 


It's far more than just theory; she gets into the nitty-gritty with practical guidelines to help us cut the fluff and get straight to the point, ensuring our content is a conversation our readers will want to join. Don't expect to snooze through this one; it's the kind of book you'll read with a highlighter in hand. Whether you're a novice emailer or a seasoned scribe, grab this book, stick in some Post-Its, and you’ll be back.


Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson is one of the leading figures in the world of content strategy and user experience (UX). As the brain behind Brain Traffic, a consultancy specializing in content strategy and the voice of The Content Strategy Podcast, she’s shaped our industry with her killer expertise. She's the driving force behind the widely celebrated Confab and Button conferences. Her work has made her an indispensable resource for anyone looking to master content strategy and UX.


This guide is a clear and simple roadmap for those of us crafting content strategies, tailored especially for business professionals who do the writing themselves. It's especially useful for its practical advice on shaping our strategy and turning it into effective content that actually makes an impact. Well worth a tenner of anyone’s budget.

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

This book is a riveting exploration into the mechanics of why certain ideas become unforgettable while others fade away. The Heath brothers, combining academic insight with real-world examples, show us the “secret sauce” to creating ideas that stick through their SUCCESs acronym. This book isn’t just for marketers but for anyone looking to make their ideas resonate, including librarians and educators grappling with making instructional content and strategic communications more impactful. With a mix of storytelling and practical advice, the Heaths dissect the anatomy of ideas with longevity, offering tools and techniques to make our messages unforgettable. Whether we're crafting a strategic plan or looking to leave a lasting impression in job interviews, this is an essential guide filled with wisdom and resources to help our ideas make a mark.

If you liked that, try these:

5 Writing Books

5 Web Design Books

5 Film Production Books

5 Art and Design Books

Thanks for reading, and if you pick up any of the above, I hope they inspire you like they have me. I’m always open to reading something new, so please grab me via Threads if I’ve missed something I should have on my bookcase or if you just want to correct my punctuation.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Five Art and Design Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part five of five.

By way of context, I studied graphic design when a 14pt Pica type-slide and cow gum were essential to the craft. I still use ‘lorum ipsum’ and the fleuron. Second-hand bookshops are one of my happy places. I have more ephemera related to graphic design, photography, painting, art history, perspective drawing, and the creative process than is probably healthy should the house catch fire. Some of these books are good, solid guides to creative practice, and some are reference books that have inspired me over the decades. All are worth the few quid you can find them for on eBay.

As a content marketer, it’s important to stay creative and inspired and to embrace the creative process. Humans are, for the most part, visual creatures. We need to understand the basic concepts of layout and emphasis in design and lead our prospects to that final point of action. The power of brand is undeniable. Just look at this blog; it sets a tone and visual standard that stresses the (possible irreverence of) the content. Often, even if we don’t have our hands on the design process directly, we will have to talk to infographic designers, illustrators, and other visual creatives, and we need to be able to speak the same language. An undervalued part of staying creative as a content marketer is surrounding ourselves with creative inspiration, and good design is inspiring.


And we’re away…


Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Almost a pamphlet at a mere 160 pages, this is brimming with frame-worth illustrations of refreshing takes on creativity, urging readers to embrace influence through study, remixing, and transformation rather than striving for pure originality. Kleon advocates for starting creative endeavors now, without waiting for a fully formed distinctiveness, and stresses the importance of doing work that resonates personally, even if it means emulating heroes or engaging in side projects for the sheer joyful shenanigans of it. This book champions kindness, routine, and the power of subtraction in navigating the overwhelming possibilities of the creative process, making it a guide for anyone looking to unlock their creative potential in a connected yet overwhelming world. It’s a lovely little thing to read and even more precious to give as a gift—but be careful with the spine, or it will explode on day one.


A Designer's Art by Paul Rand

Frankly, I’d watch Paul Rand paint a fence. Rand was a trailblazer in American graphic design, and left his mark with iconic logos for giants like IBM, UPS, and ABC. He pioneered the Swiss Style in the U.S., blending simplicity with functionality. Rand would be at the top of my ultimate TED talk wish list, but sadly, he passed away in 1996. This book, however, is essential reading and crosses all creative disciplines, including online, which was almost before his time.

This is a truly insightful look into the deeper aspects of graphic design, going beyond simple aesthetics to explore visual theory and design philosophy. This is the Tao Te Ching and Jonathan Livingston Seagull of design thinking. He examines the power of repetition, a principle that brings rhythm and memorability to art and to everyday life. It's a thoughtful read more suited to reflective moments than bedtime reading. Perfect for anyone fascinated by the intricate philosophies behind art and design and looking to understand better the nature of our relationship with our clients, the audience, and our art. While the book is a treasure and a joy to hold, and recently reprinted, a decent original is as rare as rocking horse do-do. It is, however, such a seminal classic that it’s available online as a PDF.


100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design 

by Veronique Vienne and Steven Heller

This one’s a bit left-field and personal, but it’s been a source of great inspiration to me over the years. There is a difference between art and graphic design, and this book is a comprehensible window into a discipline that has changed perceptions, culture, iconography, and minds—indeed, a discipline that created and crafted social revolution and transformation.

This is a visually stunning journey through the milestones of graphic design and a treasure trove for anyone looking to improve their understanding of the visual arts. This book isn't just a read; it's an experience. With hundreds of concise vignettes showcasing the evolution of visual communication design, and each idea is graphically illustrated in a way that’s pleasing to the eye and suits the subject matter. While certainly not structured for cover-to-cover reading, it’s an ideal reference for creative stimulus and skimming. Still, its breadth of corporate art and design aesthetics makes it a worthwhile addition to any creative’s coffee table. It is a call to consider beauty and style in design as much as function and suitability, and a fresh lens on our visual world that I pull off the shelf for pleasure, often.


The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins

This isn't your typical how-to book; it's an animated feast to stir the creative appetite. Judkins, hailing from the much-acclaimed St. Martin's College of Art, serves up 90 short, thought-provoking chapters. He draws from a diverse well of historical and contemporary figures, the sort of approach I eat up like cheese and charcuterie, blending anecdotes and a smorgasbord of ideas to challenge “conventional” thinking.


This book isn't meant to be devoured in order, and one should dip in and out as one’s pallet demands. While some might crave more depth or diversity among the examples, it's a Harrods hamper for those seeking a taste of creativity in their daily lives. I’ve talked before about staying creative as a content marketer, and this is one of the places to which I turn when Calliope and Erato are “out at lunch with their sisters.” If I open any page, something will invariably stir me to think, create, and even contradict—because that's where true creativity begins. A must-have for under £5 on WoB.


Well, those should keep you occupied and give you something to think about. I hope you find them as useful as I have. Sorry about all the food metaphors in the last one; I’ve no idea where they came from. Low blood sugar? Anyway, please share your thoughts with me on Threads—a more friendly place where I’m invariably talking about my latest reads. Should I write more reviews from my bookshelf?


Books are brilliant. They smell nice, look nice, they’re tactile and are filled with wisdom and inspiration. Whether you beg, borrow, or bag a deal online, please jump in and enjoy the journey. Let the scent of pages fill you with joy. Let the wall of colorful spines bring you happiness. Revisit your favorites, and maybe (if you can part with them) pass them on to a friend. 


If you enjoyed finding these, you might also like:

If you’d prefer to read this as one big list, you can do so on LinkedIn


Sic erat scriptum, and Boomshanka.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Ten Obvious Tips for SaaS Marketing

Standing out among a rapidly swelling and roiling sea of SaaS offerings, fulfilling every software niche from AI podcast managers to ML behavioral baselining solutions (or whatever) is going to require an innovative strategy and (likely) a deeper understanding of your audience and the ongoing friendship of your resident Product Marketing Manager. 

However, there are similarities and basic principles we can explore as a foundation for some good working strategies. By way of bullet points (and rocket science, it ain't), the notes for this post were corralled together as part of my visiting lecturer series at Nottingham Trent University in 2013, basically the same but now fluffed a little for 2024. Software as a Service (SaaS) is a cloud-based service model that allows users to access and use software applications over the internet, typically on a subscription basis. In 2013, it was a moderately cutting-edge and a mildly revolutionary thing where I wanted to show that core marketing theories, with a twist, still apply. I’ll leave you to expand on these bullets yourself, but trust me, if it was difficult, I wouldn’t do it for a living.

1.  Audience Understanding

Success begins with knowing your audience inside out. Use analytics, surveys, and direct engagement to uncover their needs, preferences, and pain points. Create buyer personas. Tailoring your marketing efforts to address these specific prospects and their genuine needs and cares can seriously increase any product's appeal and customer satisfaction. What boxes does your SaaS product tick for prospects?

2.   Sell Solutions, Not Features

It’s a classic. No one wants to buy an electric drill; they probably just want a perfect hole. Customers are looking for solutions, not just software. Sell them the perfect hole. Highlight how your SaaS solves problems or improves their life or business. Transform features into benefits in your messaging, making it more relatable and compelling. 


3.   Content Rules

Create valuable content that prospects will give a damn about that educates, entertains, and engages your target audience. Blogs, eBooks, webinars, sales support with solution briefs, and videos that address cover the challenges or questions position a brand as a thought leader and build trust with potential patrons.


4.   SEO: Your Best Ally 

Visibility is gold, and organic SEO is still an important factor for any content marketing efforts. Bootstrap your site for mobile. Do some keyword research and lovingly roll content in relevant keywords. Use H tags, internal cross-linking, meta descriptions, and court high-quality inbound links with guest-posting and digital PR to increase rankings. For more in-depth advice on this, see my post on SEO in 2024.


5.   Harness Social Proof
Testimonials, reviews, and case studies are gold in establishing credibility. The SaaS audience also traditionally loves things like the Garner Magic Quadrant and (sponsored) brand placement in Forrester Reports etc. If you can afford to take part, it’s also good for decent inbound links from reputable and decent PageRank sites.

We can showcase customer success stories and ratings on our website and across social media to build trust and encourage conversions. If you’re one of those industries, like microsegmentation tools, where getting clients to take part in case studies is as rare as rocking horse do-do, get creative with something like this (which I made last year).


6.   Prioritize Customer Success 

Beyond acquisition, focus on retaining customers through exceptional support and success programs. Happy customers are more likely to become brand advocates and contribute to organic growth through word-of-mouth. The importance of keeping punters happy and keeping them renewing can’t be overstated for SaaS products.


7.   Free Trials and Demos

Offering free trials or product demos lowers the barrier to entry, allowing potential customers to experience the value of your SaaS firsthand. Show ‘em it’s good and get ‘em hooked—if it works from drug dealers in 80s cop shows, it can work for us. Make sure the trial/demo process is straightforward and supported by sales engineers to make the most of conversion opportunities.


8.   Pricing Strategy

How is this the job of marketing? A pricing strategy can make or break a SaaS product, trust me. It needs to reflect the value you provide while remaining competitive. It's too expensive; there are plenty of alternatives. If it is too cheap, our skeptical online audience won’t see the value. How about flexible pricing tiers to cater to different customer segments or needs? Be transparent with the cost, and clearly show the ROI. Marketing absolutely should have a say here. Do some competitor research and come to the pricing meeting armed with the facts and a solid solution. 


9.   Build a Community
Fostering a community around a product encourages engagement, feedback, and loyalty. Make the most of your own technical/community forums, social media groups, or user events/webinars to create a space for patrons to connect, share experiences, and provide valuable insights for product improvement. Do not underestimate content and community marketing for renewals, as well as new business; this is where we give away our swag and make our evangelists.


10. Be Data-Driven
Make the most of analytics to track the performance of marketing efforts—continuously. If you’re not data-driven, even casually, you were dead in 2013, and you’ll be doubly so today. Know what you want to achieve; qualified leads, demo requests, installation documentation downloads, whatever, and measure it religiously. Understanding what works and what doesn't lets us iterate and adapt strategies quickly, meaning our marketing remains effective, agile, and ROI-positive. 


By way of inspiration, dive into these tips, and you can not only attract but also retain customers, which is absolutely death-row serious for safeguarding any long-term success for any SaaS business. Who’s demoing the new features and getting the existing customers talking? Who’s answering the FAQs? How are you teasing the next release? How’s the community using the software already?


Now, SaaS marketing is an admittedly evolving field that requires a blend of creativity, analytics, and customer-centric strategies—and far more in-depth than the bullets above. This, however, is a starting point and will hopefully get the creative neurons firing. Stay agile, keep learning, and always put your customers at the heart of your marketing labors. 

If anyone wants to buy me a coffee, I’ll be in the refectory.