Our Culture

What We’re Reading: Books for Marketers (or Not)

You know how the saying goes: Don’t judge a book by its cover. But you can judge a book based on our recommendations. We’ve curated a list of our favorite books we’re reading right now, spanning from sci-fi to memoirs and self-help to classics.

Related: More of the podcast type? We’ve got you covered.

Check out our team’s faves and add more books for marketers to your to-be-read pile.

Paul Buckley, president: I really enjoyed reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, a book about a brand planner who is set on a mission to find the creator of these mysterious video clips that are exploding on the internet. All of the characters are interesting in ways you wouldn’t expect. Cayce Pollard, the main character, has a sensitivity to corporate logos and advertising (weird), and Hubertus Bigend has a ridiculous name to match his ridiculous personality. It’s a fun read, full of twists and turns. 

Brian Kendall, managing editor: While Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is a sprawling, shapeless, 1,000-page tale chock-full of meandering prose and too many subplots and minor characters to recall, it does have an interesting take on marketing’s role in our day-to-day lives.

For instance, there’s the “Year of Glad.” Glad, in this case, is not an adjective synonymous with happy, but the large American company that specializes in trash bags and plastic ware. In the novel’s not-so-distant dystopian future, companies bid on the naming rights of every year. This is marketing gone awry, capitalism on steroids, and the dark side of brand promotion. It’s laughable to think that this overload of commercialization — where brands compete to see whose logo appears largest on an ancient ruin — could be effective.

Yet, if we’re not vigilant as marketers, this comical idea could become a sad reality. It’s refreshing to know that at D Custom, we’re what I like to call “the good guys” in the race to gain brand attention — the ones churning out content that stands out for its originality and ultimately improves a brand’s presence without succumbing to marketing tricks that could potentially turn into a punch line. If marketing continues down a path that leads to a sea of logos, targeted ads, and annoying jingles, original content delivered on a human level will stand out and keep brands above the fray, helping them become even more relevant.

Paris Dahlstrom, digital media strategist: The Sound of Gravel, a memoir by Ruth Wariner, is a chilling account of a young girl’s life in a polygamous Mormon cult. The story itself is gut-wrenching — her family moved often, education was far from stressed, her mother dealt with spousal abuse, and many of her siblings were developmentally disabled. Despite the harshness of this reality, I find it fascinating to read about a part of the world or an undercurrent of society that I’ve never experienced or, in many cases, fail to remember exists. This story is a stark reminder that we all have different experiences — some good, some horrifying — that have shaped the lens through which we see the world. It’s a good reminder that we never really know who we’re reaching when we share content. Sure, we create personas as a way to build an individual character to define a group we want to reach, but no one matches this person to a T. And it’s important to keep this in mind when developing and distributing content.

Veronica Buehnerkemper, operations manager: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, is a fable of sorts with a clear message: You can’t resist change, so you better adapt. My dad — like many before and since — recommended this book to me, and its 32 pages made it painless and more than worth the effort. It’s about two mice and two mice-size people (don’t give up on this just yet) and their search for cheese in a maze. One day they find a significant supply and remain for a time. The mice, instinctively knowing the supply will run out, stay prepared for the eventual, arduous task of finding more cheese. The humans, however, become complacent and get stuck in a routine. Ultimately, one of them discovers that it takes more work to stay where you are than to get up and keep moving.

This book can apply to anyone’s work. It reflects what I do here in that every day is different, and if you aren’t constantly growing and changing in the way you serve clients and interact with team members, then you’re moving backward.

Kate Crouse, director of digital media strategy: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a great book for business and just general life perspective. Essentially, the premise is to get over positivity. Seeing the silver lining in every situation is not the answer. It’s being able to better let the things that suck roll off your back so you can learn and move on from them. He suggests taking a few big-picture things that are important to you (e.g., career, health, family), and anything that doesn’t fall into one of those categories? Stop giving a f*ck. 😉

Michaela Brandt, digital media strategist: I recently read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time ever — shocking, I know, but none of my high school English teachers assigned it — and its 158 pages spoke loudly. Among its many takeaways, one that stood out to me as a marketer was this: Substance and conversations matter. In a world of clickbait headlines and news summed up in 140 characters, it’s increasingly more important to dig deeper and connect with each other beyond screens. Our culture boasts connectivity and entertainment, yet we find ourselves alone and bored. As consumers, let’s aim to pause from time to time and extinguish the ever-burning glow of our smartphones. As marketers, let’s dedicate our art to producing and promoting topics of substance and real interaction. Together, we can restore the values of deep knowledge, face-to-face relationships, and real conversation.

Izzie Ramirez, editorial intern: I’m a sucker for books that have enchanting, flourishing sentences and compelling, diverse characters who sweep you off your feet. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is exactly that — and more. It’s a story about a Mexican-American preteen girl coming into her own as a writer in a neighborhood that both drags her down and inspires her. Reading “The House on Mango Street” changed how I viewed writing; you don’t have to be wordy or deep, you just have to be purposeful. Now, I think about every phrase, every plot, every possibility. Because good writing sings when you read it. 

Have a book for marketers you think our team should check out? Drop us a line.

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