Because I run a content marketing company (and I live in the year 2016), it's super easy to let myself get caught up in only reading articles online while I let my reading of physical books fall by the wayside. I'm surrounded by online content all day, every day — and chances are good that many of you are, too.
Now, this isn't to say that reading articles online isn't time well spent — I learn a lot from reading online content by interesting, intelligent people. Still, there's something special and timeless about reading books that enriches your life and makes you a better person.
Below is a list of seven books that have inspired me in the past year, and while they're not all about content marketing, they've each brought new ways of thinking to the approach I take to it. So if you're guilty of occasional book neglect, I hope this list will be helpful.
1. "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz
Horowitz presents an insane amount of business knowledge in this book by tackling topics ranging from how and when to fire your friends to creating an atmosphere that survives war times to what to do when things start falling apart.
But one major point I gleaned is something very subtle that the author added to the beginning of each chapter: hip-hop lyrics. Horowitz is known for his love of hip-hop and investing in Rap Genius, and he even starts each post on his blog with a hip-hop lyric. I love that he included this element of his personality in the book because it communicates authenticity and seems true to Horowitz's voice.
Lesson for content marketers: Think critically about what aspects of your writing really allow you to showcase your authentic self, and go all in on those aspects. Embrace authenticity and what you love, and your content will be stronger for it.
2. "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek
If you can't explain the "why" behind what your company does, you can't change opinions or behavior — that's the core message behind Sinek's powerful book and TED Talk. His "Golden Circle" aims to get companies to understand that without passion and a common goal — the "why" behind your brand — you can't build brand advocates. Loyalty, trust, and a true love for a brand comes through when your audience understands your mission. For anyone unfamiliar with this idea, I recommend checking out Sinek's TED Talk first to get your feet wet before diving into this must-read for any team or company leader.
Lesson for content marketers: Read your five latest articles, and ask yourself whether you did a good enough job of explaining the "why" to your readers.
3. "Hug Your Haters" by Jay Baer
Just like anyone excelling in customer service has to understand what his or her customers want, good content marketers also have to understand what their audiences want — and both have to deliver on that. Baer's book discusses the danger of brands ignoring their haters and presents embracing them and turning them into advocates as a solution. Guy Kawasaki said, "'Hug Your Haters' is a landmark book in the history of customer service." I think that makes it a must for content marketers, too.
Lesson for content marketers: Consider how you can use content to turn your haters into brand advocates. Think about your prospects' objections, your past clients' feedback, and any negative comments, and see whether your team can create and distribute content to showcase how your company is handling them.
4. "All in Startup" by Diana Kander
This book is fantastic for those who prefer fiction but feel like they should be learning something practical for their businesses. Kander seamlessly combines real business advice about understanding and adding value for customers with a tantalizing story about an entrepreneur and poker player.
Lesson for content marketers: Instead of assuming you already know what kinds of content your prospective clients want, flip your process for content brainstorming on its head by implementing tactics from this book to ask the right questions, better understand what your audience members want, and deliver more value to them.
5. "The Art of People" by Dave Kerpen
In his most recent book, Kerpen outlines 11 people skills, from meeting the right people and connecting with them to changing people's minds and leading others, that are essential to achieving success. To help you build those skills, he dives into more than 50 strategies and tactics with real-life stories that illustrate what you can do right away to improve the skills you use to interact with people. It's conversational and easy to read while still being practical and valuable.
Lesson for content marketers: Just because you're creating content doesn't mean you're not also building relationships with the people who read that content. Try using some of Kerpen's tips and advice, such as storytelling over selling, to rethink the way you create content for the people in your audience.
6. "The Zen of Social Media Marketing" by Shama Hyder
At Influence & Co., the responsibility of managing and growing our social presence rests with our content and social media manager — not me. I don't exactly consider myself an expert when it comes to using social to grow our business, and that's part of why Hyder's book has been so helpful to me. She makes understanding the how and why of social media much easier, and as a content marketer, I love her inclusion of blogging and content in the social mix in the most recent edition of her book.
Lesson for content marketers: "Publish and pray" isn't a realistic or effective content strategy. Without the right tools to distribute and promote your content, the chances of your target audience actually reading and engaging with it are pretty small. Use the foundation and tactics in "The Zen of Social Media Marketing" to find new ways to get your content in front of the right audience at the right time.
7. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This story is a perfect example of how an author can fit a lot of big ideas into few words (the whole story is only about 6,000 words) that captivate your attention early and compel you to continue reading. And it happens to be my favorite short story of all time.
Lesson for content marketers: Challenge yourself to communicate your message more concisely. My guess is that the message and ideas in your next blog post won't be as daunting as those in "The Yellow Wallpaper," so try crafting shorter articles that still accomplish the goals of your content and see how your readers respond.
After all of these great reads, if you're still looking for another book that will inspire your content, help you build better relationships, and help you achieve greater success, keep "Top of Mind" on your radar. "Top of Mind" is the first book by Influence & Co.'s co-founder and CEO, John Hall, and it focuses on the philosophy that staying top of mind is the best way to build better and more profitable opportunities for your business and your life. It'll be released later this year.
What books or stories have inspired you in the past year? I'd love to hear about what you're reading and how it's impacting your work in the comments!