Friday, October 11, 2019

Fall Back to Reading with 12 Thought-Provoking Business Books

Those of us who have a passion for reading begin the summer with a large pile of books that we hope to read. As often happens though, events intervene, and the pile of books seems just as high at the end of the summer as it was at the beginning. However, this past summer, I read a dozen business books containing memorable insights about leadership, marketing, and customer experiences, and I highly recommend that you add them to your fall or winter reading list. A suggested Tweet for each book is included at the end of each review, and Twitter handles for all authors and referenced links are provided at the end of the post.

This book introduced the concept of “cult brands.” After defining a brand as a co-authored experience, a mutual relationship that lives between the customer and a brand, Bueno explained that a business does not control its brand. While you may control what your brand does, how your brand is perceived is entirely up to your customers. He explained that “Apple is the embodiment of a cult brand, a company that commands fanatical loyalty from its customers.” An example is when Apple fans line up for hours, sometimes even days, to purchase new versions of the iPhone before ever seeing or using one. Other examples of cult brands include Harley-Davidson, Southwest Airlines, and IKEA – based on the relationships they have forged with their customers. 

Bueno identified seven golden rules of cult brands:
(1) The Golden Rule of Differentiation = Consumers want to be part of a group that’s different
(2) The Golden Rule of Courage = Cult brand inventors show daring and determination
(3) The Golden Rule of Fun = Cult brands sell lifestyles
(4) The Golden Rule of Listening = Listen to the choir and create cult brand evangelists (value their opinions)
(5) The Golden Rule of the Tribal Imperative = Cult brands always create customer communities
(6) The Golden Rule of Openness = Cult brands are inclusive
(7) The Golden Rule of Freedom = Cult brands promote personal freedom and draw power from their enemies

TWEET THIS: Successful brands add value to the customer experience across all touch points and are trusted because they CONSISTENTLY deliver on their promises. – BJ Bueno via @CultBranding #BrandTip

To quote Paul Smith, “Every great leader is a great storyteller…[but] the first and most important part of being a great storyteller is knowing what stories to tell.” Smith explained that a leader must be able to answer these questions in order to become a great storyteller:
(1) Where we came from = a founding story
(2) Why we can’t stay here = a case-for-change story
(3) Where we’re going = a vision story
(4) How we’re going to get there = a strategy story
(5) What we believe = a corporate values story
(6) Who we serve = a customer story
(7) What we do for our customers = a sales story
(8) How we’re different from our competitors = a marketing story
(9) Why I lead the way I do = a leadership philosophy story
(10) Why you should want to work here = a recruiting story

TWEET THIS: Strategy is how you’ll get from where you are now to where you want to be, a journey. And what better way to describe a journey than a story? -@leadwithastory #LeadershipTip

The sub-title of this book was “How to Be Relevant and Engage Your Customer by Speaking Human.” How often do brands “speak like humans” and ask customers, “How can I help you?” According to Lund, “In a business marketing setting, effective conversation elevates content from a tired commodity to prose that motivates. It humanizes a brand…The Conversation Age requires businesses to educate, motivate, inspire, and even entertain their customers, all while telling a human story. When brands speak human, this conversation begins and the journey from customer discovery to customer loyalty can begin.”

Lund’s content marketing strategy can be boiled down to three/five questions:
(1) What does your target audience need to know right now? (relevant, useful, trending)
(2) What’s the right angle? How can your brand talk about the issue in a unique way?
(3) What’s the punchline? What do you want them to do?

TWEET THIS: By integrating your brand with your audience, and earning their trust over time, you’ll enjoy a greater lifetime value with each customer. -@KLundT3 of @T3Custom #CX

The sub-title of this book was “A Guide for Applying Disney World’s Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Your Life.” I interviewed author Dennis Snow, a fellow alum of The Walt Disney Company, on my blog last summer (August 2018), and the link to my interview is provided at the end of this book review post. While Snow shared ten important lessons from working at Walt Disney World, my favorite was lesson number seven: “Never ever say ‘That’s not my job’ – don’t even think it.” No matter what industry you work in, the “it’s not my job syndrome” must not ever appear in your corporate culture.

TWEET THIS: A customer-focused culture is one in which everything is designed with the “lens of the customer” in mind. -@DennisSnow #CX #BrandExperience

According to Green, “From the time we get up in the morning until we lay our heads on the pillow at night, we’re bombarded with information from countless sources. Advertising, emails, voicemails, texts, Twitter, Facebook, TV, radio, etc. They say that we live in the Information Age, but many days, it feels like the Distracted Age…Slowing down to go fast starts with actively seeking out information from a variety of sources. Pay attention to trends and events outside your industry. Then look for ways to apply that information to improve internal systems and processes or to add value to customers in new and better ways.”

TWEET THIS: At weekly management meetings, talk about an idea or technique from another industry and how it might apply to your business. -@HollyGGreen #BizTip

BUILD AN A-TEAM by Whitney Johnson
Whitney’s best teambuilding advice is to be a CEO, defined as a Chief Encouragement Officer, because “You don’t win unless your team does.” In addition, managers need to know the seven accelerants of learning, which include:
(1) The right risks = become a talent developer
(2) Distinctive strengths = pinpoint employees’ talents and utilize them
(3) Embrace constraints = use time limits to motivate and hone focus
(4) Battle against entitlement = celebrate success and be generous in helping employees fulfill their potential
(5) Step back to grow = sacrifice short-term productivity to encourage curve jumping
(6) Give failure its due = let employees take on uncomfortable challenges and support them through failures
(7) Be discovery driven = shift players on your team as their skills and talents emerge

TWEET THIS: In the first week of employment, hold a strategy session with a new hire, just as you would a customer. In fact, a new hire is a customer, a highly important, long-term customer. -@JohnsonWhitney #EmployeeExperience

Toister began his book by sharing a story about how a Tampa International Airport employee went above and beyond the call of duty to reunite a six-year-old boy with his lost stuffed animal. This was an unforgettable example of when “employees are obsessed with service,” and can happen once Toister’s directives are followed:
(1) Define your culture
(2) Engage employees with your culture
(3) Align your business around a customer-focused culture
(4) Set goals that drive your culture
(5) Hire employees who will embrace your culture
(6) Train employees to embody your culture
(7) Empower employees to support your culture
(8) Make sure that leaders/leadership team support, communicate, and live the culture
(9) Commit to a customer-focused culture for the long-term

Toister also pointed out that it’s important for organizations to remember that not every brand can be Disney, Southwest, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, or Amazon. “Trying to copy another company’s culture is an exercise in futility. There are too many things that vary from company to company, such as, business models, target customers, product line, organizational history, and even the skills and personalities of the employees.”

Lastly, since employees are the secret sauce in this discussion, Toister suggests creating an Ideal Candidate Profile for the hiring process that includes the following elements:
(1) Organizational must-haves
(2) Organizational nice-to-haves
(3) Job-specific must-haves
(4) Job-specific nice-to-haves

TWEET THIS: A hero moment occurs any time an employee, a team, or an entire company rises to the occasion to provide customers with outstanding service. -@Toister #CX #BrandExperience

KICK-ASS LEADERSHIP by Dr. Deborah Osgood
The sub-title of this book was “Discover What Makes Great Leaders Tick,” and six leaders representing a variety of businesses and the military were featured. Ten characteristics that make leaders tick were introduced and explained: adaptability, perseverance, networking, teamwork, focus, courage, conviction, innovation, self-discipline, and passion.

TWEET THIS: The more we can collaborate to inspire others to find their leader within, the better! -@OsgoodandAssoc #LeadershipTip #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding

On page three, Franz asked, “Is your company guilty of not putting the customer in customer experience?” While the theme was how to CREATE A CUSTOMER-CENTRIC BUSINESS, first, you must know who your customers are. After providing a definition of customer experience as “the sum of all interactions that a customer has with an organization,” she suggested that too many businesses focus on customer satisfaction metrics, rather than on the customers themselves. 

Does your business ask, how will a change impact the customer? Will this product or service change add value, or does it create pain? How often are customers’ best interests included in new product or service design discussions? Do you empathize with customers? Do you have a customer journey map? Have you aligned your business around the customer? And lastly, Franz discussed Jeff Bezos’ empty chair concept. At Amazon meetings, Bezos includes an empty chair to represent the customer. This is a constant reminder that everything Amazon does is for the customer. Does your business operate in this manner?

TWEET THIS: Put the customer in customer experience – and make the customer experience your highest priority. -@AnnetteFranz #CX #BizTip #BrandExperience

In his book of nearly 700 pages, Reid explained, “The Sustained Leadership WBS will guide those who wish to learn more about being a leader to understand the skills, actions, and characteristics of successful leadership, offer a roadmap for assessing  their current leadership acumen, and provide a personalized course of study and actions to improve their leadership.” 

A memorable quote by Andy Stanley in Vince Molinaro’s book, The Leadership Contract, was shared, “When a leader attempts to become well-rounded, he brings down the average of the organization’s leadership quotient – which brings down the level of the leaders around him. Don’t strive to be a well-rounded leader. Instead, discover your zone and stay there. Then delegate everything else.”

This incredible quote will remain with me and join my list of favorite leadership quotes. How often do you encounter leaders who think and act as if they must be well-rounded in every aspect of a business? As this quote explains, this perspective causes damage.

TWEET THIS: Choosing to be a leader is neither simple nor easy. -@_TomGReid #LeadershipTip

In a follow-up book to Fader’s Customer Centricity, Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage (link to my review at end of this post), Fader and Toms provided an alternative perspective to customer-centricity. First, they defined customer centricity as “the alignment of the development and delivery of a company’s products and services with the current and future needs of its highest-value customers while also recognizing and celebrating customer heterogeneity.” And if you’re a baseball fan and a Dodgers fan, you’ll enjoy the case study that ends the book entitled, “The Los Angeles Dodgers – A Home Run for Customer Centricity.”

Readers learned how to:
(1) Develop a customer-centric strategy
(2) Understand the right way to think about customer lifetime value (CLV)
(3) Finetune investments in customer acquisition and retention
(4) Foster a culture that sustains customer centricity and understands the link between CLV and market valuation
(5) Understand customer relationship management (CRM) systems

TWEET THIS: If I could pull out my magic wand and wave it and see the future value of each and every customer, I would run my business differently. -@faderp #CX #BrandExperience

TWEET THIS: For me, customer experience is surfacing all of your expertise, your goodies, and your secret sauce to your customers. -@SarahEToms #CX #BrandExperience

In this, the third leadership book I’ve read by Andersen (links to other reviews are provided at the end of this post), a fairy tale and its highlights are referenced throughout the book. The fairy tale demonstrated six timeless attributes of an effective leader. The attributes are listed below:
(1) Farsightedness = Leaders see possible futures that are good for a business, articulate their vision in a compelling and inclusive way, model their vision, see past obstacles, and invite others to participate in the vision
(2) Passionate = Leaders commit honestly, make a clear case without being dogmatic, invite dialogue about their passion, act in support of their passion, and remain committed despite adversity and setbacks
(3) Courageous = Leaders make necessary/tough choices, put themselves at risk for the good of the business, do things that are personally difficult, take full responsibility for their actions, admit and apologize for mistakes
(4) Wise = Leaders are deeply curious/listen, assess situations objectively, reflect on and learn from their experiences, see patterns and share their insights with others, act based on what they believe is morally right
(5) Generous = Leaders assume positive intent, share power and authority, share knowledge, freely give credit/praise/reward, provide the resources necessary for others to succeed
(6) Trustworthy = Leaders tell the truth as they understand it, do what they say they will do, keep confidences, speak and act for the greater good, act capable and get results

When looking at leaders you’ve known and followed over the years, how many of these attributes have you personally witnessed? Do you agree that Andersen’s set of tools are necessary? I do!

TWEET THIS: You CAN become the leader people will follow. -@erikaandersen #LeadershipTip #LeadershipDevelopment

To make this list a baker’s dozen (13 books), here’s a work of fiction: 
THE LAST ALIBI by David Ellis
This is a murder mystery, a legal thriller, and a who-dunit all wrapped into one. A big surprise will leave the reader shaking his or her head long after the final page.

You can follow and learn more about the authors on Twitter:
BJ Bueno @CultBranding
Paul Smith @LeadWithAStory
Kevin Lund @KLundT3 and @T3Custom
Dennis Snow @DennisSnow
Holly Green @HollyGGreen
Whitney Johnson @JohnsonWhitney
Jeff Toister @Toister (Book’s website:
Dr. Deborah Osgood @OsgoodandAssoc
Annette Franz @AnnetteFranz and @CXJourney
Thomas G. Reid @_TomGReid
Erika Andersen @erikaandersen
Peter Fader and Sarah Toms @faderp and @sarahetoms
David Ellis @DavidEllisBooks

Post referenced in review of Dennis Snow’s book:
“Why Your Brand Needs a University and Other Tips for an Amazing Brand Experience” 

Stories referenced in review of Jeff Toister’s book:
“Boy leaves stuffed tiger at TPA, returns to a tale of tiger's big adventure”
“Stuffed Giraffe Shows What Customer Service Is All About”
“Great Customer Service Never Ends: Joshie the Giraffe - Part 2”

Concept referenced in review of Annette Franz’s book:
“Why You Need an Empty Chair at Important Meetings”

Book referenced in review of Thomas G. Reid’s book:
The Leadership Contract by Vince Molinaro

My review of Faber’s first book on
Is Your Business Customer-Centric?

Other Erika Andersen book reviews:
Review of: Being Strategic: Plan for Success, Out-Think Your Competitors, Stay Ahead of Change
Review of:
Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey’s Library.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Always Have a Conversation with Your Audience

The best part of social media, and especially my favorite platforms Twitter and Instagram, is the people I meet from all over the world and the information they share. Recently, I met Bart Egnal, and due to his passion for leadership, I invited him to appear on my Blog to share his expertise. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.

Bart Egnal has 20 years of experience as a speech writer, executive coach, and leadership development professional. He is the a author of Leading Through Language: Choosing Words That Influence and Inspire (available on Amazon at: He built The Humphrey Group into a global company by finding like-minded people who believe in the power of inspirational communication. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his amazing wife, three wild children, and a fierce eight-pound wiener dog. You can find Bart on Twitter (@THG_Bart), his podcast (, and his company's website (

QUESTION: We “met” after I read an article you wrote about social media and the decision you and your company, The Humphrey Group, made to leave Twitter. I was inspired by your article and then wrote a Blog post (link provided at end of this post). What three pieces of advice would you give to a leadership team that might be considering the same decision?
BART EGNAL: It was a tough decision because of the pressure to "be social." My advice: You have to love the channel for its own sake, you have to have a client base that connects with you on it, and you have to "feed the beast" and keep up the stream to make your presence sustainable.

QUESTION: How do you see the employee experience tied into or aligned with the customer experience, ultimately what I refer to as the overall brand experience?
BART EGNAL: Deeply tied. Our vision is to make The Humphrey Group the go-to company for inspirational communication. Obviously, that's for clients who want to lead and inspire, but equally important is how we want to attract talent who shares our passion, and then give them a great place to work. Our brand is built on both what our clients and our team experience. We can never stop working on making both of those great.

QUESTION: Everyone has heard about “McDonald’s University” and “Disney University,” where employees learn about corporate culture before direct interaction with customers. Do you think every company should create a similar form of initial and repeat training?
BART EGNAL: Ideally yes! Of course, you need a certain amount of scale to make such an endeavour possible. But every employee should learn about what the company stands for, it's "WHY," before doing any work. This is both so they are energized but also so they can share that raison d'etre with clients. If you don't have the size of Disney, you can do that through conversations.

QUESTION: As a public speaker, you must have some communication tricks up your sleeve to keep your audiences engaged. What three tips would you like to share to improve my readers’ public speaking skills?
BART EGNAL: Remember: You're never giving a presentation or speech, you're always having a CONVERSATION with your audience. So connect with the room, be personal and be vulnerable. We've (thankfully) left behind the age of the "sage on the stage," and audiences want to connect in an authentic way with speakers. And a tip: they aren't there to read your slides - they want to hear from you.

QUESTION: What three things must everyone do to create a memorable personal brand?
BART EGNAL: I'm not a brand expert, but when it comes to leadership communication, it all starts with knowing yourself and what you stand for. This is fundamental to authenticity. Once you know that, define the ideas you want to convey so you can be ready to lead. And finally, you have to work at it. I just told a client I was coaching last week that those who look like naturals have often worked unnaturally hard at it.

QUESTION: Lastly, one of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): "Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others" What does that quote mean to you?
BART EGNAL: Great quote! In this day and age, leadership is increasingly de-coupled from hierarchy and from credentials. Leading rarely is about your skills or aptitude or title. It's about how you can create followership in others. Where will you lead them? What will be inspiring to them? That's what this means to me.

My gratitude and appreciation to Bart for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring insights.

Blog post referenced above in first question:

Social Media: Brand Builder or Mission Distraction?

Image Credit: Bart Egnal quote with WordSwag app.