Marketing books for developers

18 February 2008

Peter Hilton

by Peter Hilton

To a software developer, 'marketing' is more likely to be a department that another kind of people belong to, than an activity that everyone should participate it. This could be because people outside The Marketing Department are actually forbidden from involvement, or even because of the Dilbert TV series episode where he accidentally destroys a successful company by introducing a marketing department. Although no single book is likely to restore this disastrous reputation among developers, there are at least a few good ones that entertain while broadening the picture a little.

The Cluetrain Manifesto Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices In Search of Stupidity Rules for Revolutionaries

The Cluetrain Manifesto, also available on-line, is a good place to start simply because its revolutionary take on marketing and the web presents such an opposite perspective. This witty and provocative collection of essays does much to argue first that marketing on the web can be different from the traditional marketing approaches that we have learned to hate, and second that it has to be different in order to be even remotely successful.

Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices provides far more of the same, from Chris Locke, the most in-your-face of the Cluetrain authors. This book is more lengthy and drags on somewhat, but does a good job of developing many of the anti-marketing ideas further, finding time to dish out far more insults and entertainment along the way. Of the four books, this is the one to skip first.

In Search of Stupidity, over 20 years of high-tech marketing disasters contrasts Cluetrain’s vision for the future of marketing with episodes from IT marketing’s history that were such failures that they are actually funny. The essential thesis of this book is that so many successful companies have killed themselves off by eventually making a single fatal marketing mistake and sticking to it, that the more humble goal of merely avoiding disaster would be a good start.

Rules for Revolutionaries continues this humility, while adding actual positive advice whose humour is centred around Apple Computer’s marketing over the years. These stories and rules from techie-friendly Guy Kawasaki are also very readable and entertaining, and manage to hint at a more positive role for marketing, as an activity. It is possible that Rules would manage to do this even if you had not been softened up by Cluetrain and Stupidity, and its accessible format and shorter length make it the one book to read if you want to skip the others, but I suspect that most software developers are far too cynical to take this stuff at face value without some preparation.

I am not sure where my ongoing marketing education goes from here; perhaps there is an argument out there that a traditional marketing department makes some sense after all, at least some of the time, but I have not heard it yet.

Peter Hilton is a senior software developer at Lunatech Research.