A book review: “Conversation Marketing” by Ian Lurie

Posted by AB
Jul 24 2008

Summary: If you are a small business owner who’s got a web site, but is unsure what to do next,  where to invest your hard earned money to make the web site actually work for your business, this book will serve you well as a good introduction into the Internet marketing.

Although anyone can read this book online for free, I’ve ordered a paper version of it about a year ago, after seeing it mentioned by Bob Walsh in his blog. I was not in the marketing mood, and I did not read it then. These days, I’m getting closer to releasing a new software product (stay tuned for the big announcement here, any day now :-) ), and I’m preparing myself to switching from the programming to the marketing mode for some time, so I decided it was time to read it now. I’m not a novice in the Internet matters (I created the first web site for my business back in 1994, before Google, Yahoo!, and MSN even existed), still I found this book of a good value.

Not that it took too long to read the book: it’s only 93 pages, including the Table of Contents and Acknowledgments. That was my first suprise when I got the book, “Can a book this thin be any good?”. It was, although not without some shortcomings. The biggest of which were rather awkward analogies used throughout the book. For example, the book begins with a description of an imaginary Farmer’s Market that is neat, shiny, visited by a lot of people, but that happens not to have any lettuce on its shelves. This analogy is used to illustrate a poorly designed web site, that does not do a good job of delivering what the visitors are looking for. To me, the analogy is poor: the problem of the missing lettuce was probably caused by a one-time misjudgement of the market’s management, and is easily fixed (by ordering the lettuce!). Problems with web site design and navigation are not so easy to correct.

Another example of a poor analogy is further in the book, when the author explains that you must use a double-opt-in method of subscribing people to your email list. “Don’t sign them up and then ask to unsubscribe!”, writes the author, “That’s just rude, like eating the last piece of cake and then asking if anyone wants it”. Sure, eating the last piece of cake is rude, but it does not illustrate the rudeness of the subscribing to an email list without asking for the permission first. A better analogy, IMHO, would be, for example,  a situation when you are standing on a bus stop, waiting for your bus, and a taxi driver would suddenly stop by you, push you into the car, and start driving, yelling “I’ll take you whenever you want to go, if you don’t want that, I can drop you off on the next corner!”. Now that’s what’s getting on an unwanted email list feels like, if you ask me.

Anyway, those are minor things, which fortunately did not diminish the good value of the book itself for me. What I really liked about the book is the practical advice the author has given, taking an imaginary small business as a case study. Too many books on the Internet marketing give a too abstract advice, that’s difficult to apply to the reality. “Choose the right keyphrases”, “implement good site navigation”, “start a blog”, all that sounds well in theory, but when it comes down to the reality, the question “how do I apply that to my particular situation, to my specific business?” often remains hard to answer. What the author of “Conversation marketing” did, he illustrated the advice he was giving by applying it to the specific situation of a specific small business, step by step, taking it from a regular “brick and walls” business to a business with strong Internet presence, and solid Internet strategy for the future.

The author does not go into the technical details too deeply, and that’s probably why the book turned out so thin in the end. But that’s a good thing, in my opinion: you don’t need to allocate a lot of time for reading it, just a few hours would be enough. Of course, when you start applying the advice to your own business and web site, you will want to revisit the pages, to make sure you’re not missing anything.

To summarize, if you are looking for a good review of the current state of the art and practical advice on doing business on the Internet, get this book. (Just ignore the analogies it has or come up with your own :-) )

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2 Responses

  1. Ian says:

    Thanks for the review, and your comments! I’ve had a few folks point out my analogies are a bit, uh, awkward…

  2. AB says:

    Ian, you are welcome, thanks for the great book!

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