Continuing Education for Marketing Professionals
by Chad Rueffert

I get invitations on an almost daily basis to attend training seminars designed to teach me the newest and latest trends and techniques in marketing and advertising. 

I never go.

Sometimes I even feel guilty for not attending, wondering if I’m missing out on the next big thing that might make my business – or better yet, my clients’ businesses – more successful.  The problem is, most of these so called “new techniques and trends” have nothing to do with true marketing.  They are either rehashing of common-sense ideas every marketing professional should have learned in college or their first job, or they are promotional seminars designed to sell a medium or a product.  Certainly there are good training seminars, but once you’ve wasted a valuable day listening to a demographer discuss statistical models, you get a little gun shy.  And your bank account is usually about 250 bucks lighter.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m a firm believer in continuing education in any business.  Marketing and advertising change as fast or faster than any other business function.  And sometimes it is just as important to go back and relearn some of the things you’ve forgotten over the years.  But I don’t want to learn marketing from people who make their living giving seminars.  I want to learn marketing from people who make their living as marketers.  With that in mind, here are three books every marketing professional should have on their shelves and re-read on a regular basis – written by people who live the life instead of just talking about it.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, by Al Ries & Jack Trout. 

In the ten years since this was written, I’ve yet to find a better book on the true strategies behind marketing.  There’s a reason these two men are considered the world’s premier marketing strategists.  This is not a book that tells you what percentage of your budget you should spend on TV or radio.  Rather, this book discusses what it takes to create a product or service that will dominate the marketplace.  It’s a book about avoiding mistakes before they happen, about planning ahead for success, and about fundamental laws you violate at your own risk.  Here’s my favorite passage which happens to be the first paragraph in Chapter 1:  “Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing prospects that you have a better product or service.  Not true.”  This book is only 143 pages long and is worth more than many university degrees.

The End of Marketing as We Know It, by Sergio Zyman

Affectionately known as the “Aya Cola”, Sergio Zyman was the marketing czar for Coca-Cola, and the man who made jaws drop when he cancelled the Mean Joe Green ad because it wasn’t selling Coke. What I love about this book is the simple premise Zyman works from:  If your marketing isn’t selling more product, it’s not working.  Here’s a passage that defines the message of the book perfectly:  “Twenty or thirty years ago people used to say that they were in the ‘marketing game.’  Over the years, marketers have repositioned and elevated it to be the art of marketing.  Well, it’s not a game and it’s not some decorative or magical art either.  It’s business, pure business.  Marketing is about systematically and thoughtfully coming up with plans and taking actions that get more people to buy more of your product more often so the company makes more money.”

Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy

I still can’t believe that in four years of undergraduate study of advertising, I was never once assigned to read this book.  This is the man Time magazine called “the most sought-after wizard in the advertising business.”  The book was written 20 years ago and still makes as much sense today as it did then.  And even if you get nothing else out of it, it is a telling history of a man who dominated his industry for nearly half a century.  Here’s my favorite passage:  “What’s the big idea?  You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas.  It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product.  Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan

I’m sure Luke Sullivan would be astounded to be mentioned in the same breath as David Ogilvy, but he’s acquired some pretty serious accolades himself.  A copywriter for one of the country’s most prestigious advertising agency, Luke was twice named by Adweek as one of the top advertising writers in the country.  “Hey Whipple” is the book I wished they’d assigned in creative classes in college.  It’s a how-to book on creativity for advertising filled with wit, examples and invaluable techniques.  Here’s a section I particularly like on finding a concept for your ad campaign:  “Find a villain.  Find a bad guy you can beat up in the stairwell.  Every client has an enemy, particularly in mature categories where growth has to come out of somebody else’s hide.  Your enemy can be the other guy’s scummy, overpriced product…If the product’s a toothpaste, the villain can be tooth decay, the dentist, the drill, or that little pointy thing Laurence Olivier used on Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man…  A knee gracefully raised to a villain’s groin isn’t just fun, it’s profitable.  Because competitive positioning is implicit in every villain paradigm.”

Each of these “continuing education” courses is available at your local bookstore for under $30.  Or stop by my office, I’ll loan you one. If I’m not rereading it.