If you’re up for slipping in some professional development while reclining pool-side, here are my five favourite books on the art of persuasion.
1. Understanding persuasive mechanics
Do you ever feel that people aren’t listening to you? That’s how I felt for most of my career in government. I thought I just needed to get better evidence and stop mumbling.
That changed when I read Influence. I saw that rational argument is only the surface layer of persuasion. Below that are psychological mechanisms of persuasion that we rely on every day, often without realising it. So we look around to see what people like us are doing. We’re open to helping people who’ve helped us. I learned that being persuasive is as simple and as difficult as tapping into those instincts.
This isn’t a grimy, salesy book, though. Unlike so much marketing literature, Cialdini treats people like people, not like bulk solids in a sales funnel. That focus on tapping into human nature makes this book relevant to persuasion of any type — closing sales for your product, or winning converts to your bright new idea.
2. Writing like a champion
More than a million copies sold, with fans from hard-boiled journalists to bushy-tailed tech entrepreneurs. Whatever writing task is in front of you, start here.
Zinsser is an old-school journalist and writing teacher, so you’ll get detailed advice about the mechanics of writing. But he also tackles mistakes in how we approachwriting, such as woolly thinking or trying too hard to sound impressive.
There’s another reason I love this book: the mindset it teaches. Some writing experts say you’ve either got writing talent or you don’t, and if you don’t stop trying. Zinsser isn’t one of them. He sees writing well as eminently teachable: a skill everyone can improve on with practice and guidance.
3. Mastering online marketing
Do you suspect that people are visiting your site, poking around, and then just leaving? Then you need buy this book.
Here’s where I learnt how to structure and write content that compels people to take action. I also learnt that converting visitors to customers doesn’t have to be brain-meltingly hard. There’s some serious nerdery to be had up the deep end, but you can see major improvements in your website results with a few simple tweaks.
The tactics in this book are still alarmingly under-used by a lot of web designers. I see websites that look nice and flashy, but don’t tap into buyer psychology: there’s no incentive drawing people from the home page through to clicking ‘Buy.’ If you want to get in the driver’s seat of your online marketing, grab this book.
Caveat: the content on search engine optimisation is a little out of date. Not heinously old, but if you want cutting-edge SEO advice you should check out Moz.com or The Recipe for SEO Success e-course.
4. Stepping into my customers’ shoes
Our customers care so much less about our business than we do. They just want to jump on our website and get stuff done. And yet in our web content or press releases we weave long fables of our fabulousness. Our customers don’t want to hear that. They’ll lose patience and leave.
This book introduced me to the field of web usability. I learnt how to design and write websites that get results by answering two basic questions for my visitors:
- What do you do?
- What’s in it for me?
This book also taught me a bigger lesson: communicating is never about what Iwant. I need to start with the needs and interests of the person I want to connect with, and build from there.
5. Distilling ideas that take hold
This book taught me more about copywriting than any copywriting book.
Every marketer wants their brand to go viral. Mostly, that process is treated like alchemy; only known to the anointed few. These authors — an educational writer and an organisational psychologist — set out to pin down the properties of ideas that take hold.
And they nailed it. The properties they describe are deceptively simple: ideas endure when they are simple, unexpected and concrete. The work is in the execution.
I refer to this book almost every week. I’ve used it to when writing web copy for an international stakeholder relations consultant, coaching a team of economists, and writing about a dog trainer.
I didn’t realise how good this book is until I read a stack of other psychology books that didn’t even come close.
Which one should I buy?
My advice? Don’t buy these all at once. Pick one that most speaks to what you need right now, and start there.
And if you have a book you’d like to share with me, drop me a line.
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