Why reading still matters, and my top 3 picks

The second half of 2016 is the fastest learning period for me professionally in a decade. Being put in the new job, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone, and learn to “swim” quickly in the deep water of digital analytics world. A “multi-channel” approach has been taken:

  • participating interactive webinars (most of them are free as part of the solution-sell from vendors),
  • formal on-line training(passed Google Analytics IQ certification),
  • follow blogs and newsletters (started from Occam’s Razor),
  • peer to peer learning (10+ face to face meeting with leading digital marketers, and analysts within my company),
  • reading books

This approach is essential to build the competencies thru different angles, just like we need multiple “marketing channels” to promote products and services.  You will always want to know which one is the best. For me personally, “reading books” is the channel that come on top without doubt.

Why reading still matters?

A quick story from the speech I heard from the new CMO of the company I am working for – he asked a professor from a prestigious b-school for book list on digital marketing. The professor told him “reading book is not a good idea because they are getting obsolete in 2 years”.

I disagree with this professor, as you can’t stop driving because you might get into an accident.  The professor might just make a point on how this industry is changing fast, however, my point is: Publishing a book is hard, it takes efforts from authors, editors, publishers, and significant investment upfront (printing it). In this current world filled with “fast food” free on-line content, having someone do all the heavily lifting gate-keeping work for me up front, can significantly increase the chance of getting real value. It is just like why I like Costco personally (not many options there but most of the stuff are pre-selected). As a reasonable human being, getting a bad luck from Costco once won’t prevent me keeping going back to hundreds of valuable products, as long as returning for free is an option.  You can also return the books to Amazon as well (within 24hs, I have tested it)

On the other hand, having a “critical thinking” mindset in “reading” itself is also important. In this case, it means “you should not trust all the books said, even the book was written by an industry thought leader”. Sometimes, you will be surprised to see the author will NOT recommend his own book because his book is indeed obsolete. (I ended up buying his another book for this respectful behavior)

Let me be a bit more specific on my personal experience on reading on digital analytics/marketing area:

  • In 2016, I have added 5 books on digital marketing and 6 books on digital analytics into my bookshelf.
  • Compared to other learning channels, these books are mostly well organized, which is crucial as I am still in the knowledge structure building phase.
  • They are inexpensive, with an average price at around $25. That means I spent less than $300 in total, much cheaper than most of the paid training. For example, this well reputable web analytic course.
  • I read 15-30 min every morning before I started to work, and quite randomly in the evening mostly thru e-devices.
  • Having a group of awesome colleagues allows me to discuss and test the takeaways I got from books, to understand if it will work in the read world environment. I’d say slight over 50% of them worked. This provided me extra motivation to keep reading, while also maintaining humble understanding the gap between “book smart” to “real smart”

How to start finding your ideal book list

It is a very personal choice and I’d like to share my own as a starting point.

  1. Always start with one author (I started with Avinash Kaushik).  This author might say something attracting you from a keynote speech, a blog post, or a podcast.
  2. A simple Google search will quickly figure out if he has a publication or not (I found Web Analytics 2.0).
  3. Buy the book on Amazon or other places, or request a free preview (usually 1st chapter)
  4. If you like the book this author wrote, you also can look up the person who wrote the foreword, and any reference he has made at the end of the book. (I found Brian Clifton, Mitch Joel from “Web Analytic 2.0”)
  5. Then just replicate step 1-4 as it will become a cycle.

Lastly, I’d like to share my favorite books in the digital analytics field in 2016, based on “how inspiring to take actions”.

Digital analytics Web Analytics Actions Hero

  • Long-lasting: This book is published in 2011. however, the majority of the concepts, examples are applicable to my everyday work in 2016.
  • Strategic and tactics: It provides both high-level frameworks and hands-on “how-to” to tackle real challenges, to conduct digital analytics practice.
  • The only downside is: there are not many technical contents, as the author is a marketer. Ironically, technical contents don’t age well.
  • Here is my full bookshelf

Communication and storytelling (The WSJ Guide to Information Graphics

  • Concise: It is very, very hard to find one redundant word in this thin booklet. As a result, I only read 2-4 pages a day.
  • Hands-on: The concepts and suggestions from this book is very practical and easy to implement in everyday job
  • This book is NOT available on eBook, due to its high standard on formatting.
  • Here is my full bookshelf

Digital Marketing (Everybody write: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content)  

  • Feels like watch TV episode: This book has 74 chapters but only 301 pages. I am not a fan of it, but I admit it is reader friendly: learning content marketing from this book feels like watching “Friends” – Every 20 min you see a new story.
  • Too early to judge? I am only 30% finished, but I am 90% confidence that I will give a 5-star review in the end.
  • It has inspired me to write down this blog post.
  • Here is my full bookshelf

If you are interested in knowing more, follow me at GoodReads.

In the end, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book you like, and start reading! Maybe a gift-wrapped Kindle from your friends and family will help.


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