W.T.F. are you reading Mr.Brand Manager?


We all know what books brand guys are supposed to read, right?

Philip Kotler and the likes.  David Ogilvy.  Ries and Trout. Martin Lindstorm, Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Pink. Or all those stories about cool companies like Coca Cola, Nike, Starbucks, Google and Facebook.

I could never read through too much of traditional marketing literature written by the business gurus. Its too much of what’s already been done. I could rather just go through business mags and not waste my time too much.

So what did I read that made a difference to the way I think and act on brands?

I like this line: What does a marketer know, who only marketing knows?

I have shamelessly tweaked a cricketing quote (from CLR James), but there was no other way to make this point better.

This blog could have been titled as “10 books written by non-marketers and that have nothing to do with marketing, but which can provide valuable lessons for brand management”.

So here goes the list:


Marketing at its most basic is the dark art of creeping into people’s minds and influence them without letting our motivations show. Robert Cialdini sent his students to join religious cults and teams of network marketers to gain inside insights on how influence really works. Here we run across flower sellers, the ISCKON movement, mass suicide cults, and think around how perfectly normal germans put jews to death without batting an eyelid, and why people who drive past accident victims. A lot of research on psychology is packed into this and works as a great primer for understanding human motivation.

Human zoos by desmond morris

Think consumer understanding, and we tend to start with MR. Traditional market research has drawn heavily from the world of psychology and deep interviewing. That was until the little understood but cool sounding concept of Semiotics caught everyone’s fancy. But if we are talking of observing human behaviour, anything by Desmond Morris (a social anthropologist) can offers deep and insightful revelations. In particular I love the Human Zoo, which looks at how much city dwellers’ behaviors are a result of packing a lot of people into very small claustrophobic clusters like animals in a zoo.


Theodore Zeldin can make Desmond Morris sound like a struggling Kindergarten teacher. I could define it as a trawl of human feelings through the ages… but no short summary can do justice to the sheer breath and richness the book as to offer. He covers relationships, ravel, love of food, power, compassion and everything else you can imagine. A glance at the contents page is normally enough to suck you into the delightful pleasures of reading one of the most remarkable minds of our age.


He’s a mix of art critic and cultural anthropologist. But there is a section on how we consumer media. And it has this one memorable passage, which went a long way into influencing the way I handled a ‘women’s brand’ like Scooty. If you like this kind of stuff, John Berger is a rock star.

“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”


When every brand is pretty much like everything else, what queers the pitch is how ‘Cool’ you are. A study of cool as an essential product of  American  culture from the days of Walt Whitman all the way through Bob Dylan and Elvis and McDonald’s to Eminem and Hip-hop. John Leland is a pop-culture critic and his style and choice of words make you not just understand it, but actually ‘get’ it. In your gut.


Marketing is great, but it’s not the panacea for all the ills of business. And in some cases, it can possibly be harmful too. An insider look at the world of fashion brands and how marketers and designers engage in an endless tussle to control the soul of the brand.


If you have approved a script and then find yourself having to approve a shoddy film, its possibly a problem with the way the production was planned. A PPM (Pre-production meeting) is possibly one of the most under-rated interventions a brand manager makes. But this is the critical stage between a good script and a great film. Sidney Lumet tells us exactly how to go about making a movie out of a script.


If Lumet focuses on the more technical aspects of directing, Frank Hauser’s Notes on directing is much more about leading a team of creative professionals and is all about when to let go and when to take control, and how to get a point of view across without pissing off those hollywood stars with egos that can make advertising and marketing folks seem like saints. Tips from a master that reads more like a book on Zen.


I have possibly learnt more about the way our brains (or minds?) process information, the way various forms of art work on it, use of icons, signs and symbols, the merits of realism and abstraction, the role of silence, space and time in narratives, the power of the unsaid to stoke imagination… I could go on. There is so much in this graphic book that every reading throws up a nuance that can spark a thought.


And now for the last and possibly most important book I have read in a long time.

Marketers and brand managers and even business leaders can be quite ineffective unless they are able to get support from the key stakeholders – and that includes dour and intimidating figures like the CEO and board members and armies of consultants and other money bags. Brand managers who desire to make drastic change need to get a mandate from the powers that be. And this book (and a whole lot of other books with similar titles) tells you how to build an argument for your case. This is mandatory reading for lawyers and is just as useful for business managers. And if you want to plunge deeper into this area, you can start as far back as Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

Now that’s a lot for now, and time for me to head back to my book shelf and nose around a bit more before I come out with my next list.