Monday, February 28, 2005

Book Titles and Marketing Wisdom

threats don't make good titles Posted by Hello

Some colleagues are writing a book on blogs, and I'm absolutely sure this book will be a Must Read for anyone interested in blogging or marketing.

Their publisher, a fine, highly respected business books firm, thinks the title "Blog or Die" would be terrific. While I have no desire to belittle or anger the authors or the publisher, I felt I could not be silent.

I think titles for books, music recordings, artwork, etc. are often very difficult to invent. Sometimes it seems to be the hardest part of the whole creative process, since so many titles have already been used.

On the authors' blog, I posted a few of my thoughts.

My first post on this issue of their book title:

Please take the following comments in the spirit of friendliness that is intended....

"Blog or Die" is not the best title for this book. As a marketing professional, I feel I need to caution you here. I'm sure [Publisher Name] means well, but consider: do CEOs and business leaders, your primary audience for the book, accept threats or ultimatums?

"Blog or Die", my friend Bennett Theissen in Hollywood, would interpret, in his exile from New York East Village style, as "Agree with me that you need a blog, or I'll kill you". Cynical, but true.

Would you go up to a Mark Cuban or a Bill Gates and say such a thing? "Hey, dude, blog or die!" Somehow this sounds pushy, preachy, and prejudiced. That's my honest opinion.

[Publisher Name] is on the right track, but this title needs a subtle shift to be more appropriate and accurate.

No one's going to "die" if they don't blog. If someone told me "Podcast or die" or "RSS feed or die", I'd think they were daft punk joking or getting a bit cheeky with me.

Also, an email interview is wonderful, not "just an email interview." Actually, I think email is way better than telephone any day. I hate talking on the phone, and I don't like chitchatting in person either, unless I know someone well and we have a few Blue Moons with orange twists.

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | February 26, 2005 06:37 PM

Then, after seeing a couple of posts saying the book title "Blog or Die" was fine and dandy, I posted the following:

I just know I would not buy, or take seriously, any book with the title "[Do this] or Die".

There are many other ways to communicate the idea that if you don't use a blog in your public relations or marketing mix of media, you may severely regret it.

Many creative ways to issue the warning that: your competitors who do start a blog could very likely have a distinct advantage.

To respond to the title, "Blog or Die", one must agree with the premise, must think, "You know, he's probably correct. If I don't blog, I probably will die. I don't want to die. Thus, I better buy this book and find out how to gain immortality via blogging."

Quite comical, really.

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | February 27, 2005 09:04 PM

P.S. Here are some other books that use the "...or die" phrase in the title:

Innovate or Die--Jack V. Matson
Differentiate or Die--Jack Trout
Plan or Die--Timothy M. Nolan
Evolve or Die--Nesthone Antoine
Evolve or Die--Timothy Labadie
Adapt or Die--Kendra Okonski
Adapt or Die--Bob Betts
Dig or Die--William J. Hyde
Ride or Die--Solomon Jones
Grow or Die--George Land
Escape or Die--Ina R. Friedman
Do or Die--David Robbins
Detox or Die--Gerald H. Bagley
Truth or Die--Diane Hoh
Live Free or Die--Ernest Herbert
Alkalize or Die--Theodore A. Baroody
Detoxify or Die--Sherry A Rogers
Climb or Die--Edward Myers
Read or Die--Kurata
Do or Die--Leon Bing
Do or Die--Darren Coleman
March or Die--Howard Swigglet
March or Die--Philip D. Chinnery
March or Die--Tony Geraghty
Get Out or Die--Jane Finnis
Quit Monks or Die--Maxine Kumin
Go Free or Die--Jeri Ferris
Win, Lose or Die--Diane Hoh
Live or Die--Anne Sexton

The one that makes the most sense to me is "Differentiate or Die" by marketing specialist Jack Trout.

These are just a few of the titles in the ever popular "...or die" series.

Buy Them All Now...or Die.

I like the authors of this book.

I want them to succeed.

I will buy their book, and most likely recommend it to others.

So I felt I should, in a polite, but maybe slightly humorous manner, tell them my honest opinion and express my genuine concern.

According to Al Ries and Jack Trout, two of the smartest marketing writers I know, the name of a company, product, book, recording, what have you, is among the most important aspects, and the name has a huge impact in the marketplace.

I know...Jack Trout used the "...or Die" phrase in the title of his book. But like I said, in this case, it seems a bit more appropriate, because if you don't differentiate your product from all the other competing products, if you don't identify your niche, you will see a steep, "deadly" decline in sales.

"Breathe or Die" could be a good name for a book, but it's common knowledge that if you don't breathe, you'll die.

I guess my main caution for this title "Blog or Die" is that it's combative, confrontational, and confusing. How will a person or a business "die" if they don't operate a blog?

Aren't there some people and businesses who still don't have a web site or any other online presence...yet are still thriving without them? Hyperbole (exaggeration) is not a smart device to use in marketing.

Savvy customers will jump in to contradict you and to expose your swerve from objective truth. You then lose credibility and trust in the marketplace.

Ancient peoples felt that names had almost magical powers, and could even determine, to a large degree, an entity's destiny. Modern marketing firms and gurus agree that name, along with packaging, price, and mental positioning, remain extremely significant.

Something to ponder in your own business and product launches.

UPDATE EDIT Monday, Feb.28, 2005 11:30 AM

I was afraid the authors would be angry with me, due to my triumphalist critique of their book title.

Quite the opposite. They agreed that the title is not being well received and they asked for suggestions.

Here is what I wrote in reply:

For a title for the book, here's one approach: if you were going to write an email to a CEO, business leader, whoever is a prime audience for this book, what would you put on the Subject: line?

Another idea: "The Red Couch: How Businesses are Profiting from Blogs."

The front cover could show an executive actually sitting on a red leather couch, with a laptop on his lap, banging away at the keyboard, a pot of coffee next to him, and a stack of pizza. Maybe he should be in his pajamas, to appease the MSM (morbid stream media).

I do think that "The Red Couch" has become more than a place holder, though I do respect the fact that that is all it was meant to be originally.

I think, I may be mistaken, but I think "The Red Couch" has equity built up in it. It is bookmarked on a lot of PCs. People have been refering to "The Red Couch". I was even a bit envious that you guys had come up with such a unique phrase that was odd, like or or Purple Cow, yet it was also, and here's the genius of it, related to high powered corporate offices.

I think of a classy, successful business leader when I imagine a red leather couch. Red symbolizes passion and revolution. Couch symbolizes informality, relaxation, comfort, being approachable, casual, chatty, everything a blog is supposed to be.

"The Red Couch" is indeed a furniture meme that Maryam started. Why kill it now?

Having an "insider" main title bespeaks an expertise, an esoteric, secret, hidden aspect, and people love mystery and unusual terminology.

One business leader to another: "You need to red couch your marketing."

Other business guy/gal: "Huh? What do you mean by red couch? I don't get it."

Business leader: "I can see that. You poor little puppy. You haven't heard about Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's book or their blog about their book? Let me help you understand what's going on..."

Maybe a little fanciful, but the general idea is to start something Astonishing that is also High Quality. This is Seth Godin's idea.

His "Free Prize Inside" is the only marketing text to make it to the's Business Books of the Year 2004.

He is onto something, along with Al Ries and Jack Trout ("Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" and "Marketing Warfare") saying the name is so super important for marketing and sales.

The Red Couch is a Purple Cow. Ride that red couch into the blogosphere like Al and Jack drove that U.S. Army tank down Madison Avenue as a publicity stunt for "Marketing Warfare".

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | February 28, 2005 10:03 AM

UPDATE EDIT March 2, 2005 10:55PM

The debate continues. After reading more pros and cons of "Blog or Die", I posted a few more comments at The Red Couch blog.

"Again, I suggest: what would you put on the Subject: line of an outgoing email message to a CEO, to whom you wanted to explain your book?

"Blog Or Die" sounds offensive, mean-spirited, trite, hyperbolic (exaggerated), misleading, and unimaginative.

"The Red Couch: How Business Are Reaching Customers With Blogs"

"The Red Couch: Blog Revolution in Corporate America"

"The Red Couch: How To Use Blogs to Gain Loyal Customers"

The business realm seeks Practical, How-To advice, not theory, not history, not philosophy, not scholarly rhetoric, not poetic metaphors.

As for the first chapter, since I'm a writer, I'm very hesitant about telling other writers what to write...

...but okay, you forced me.

Go straight to the heart of what you have to say to readers. Skip the analogies, the history, the coaxing.

Say, "Here's what we have discovered in the CEO offices we visited. Here's what works. Period."

Be as hard-nosed, bottom-line oriented as your audience.

BEGIN with a short but profound anecdote, like many other books on creativity, business psychology, sales, marketing, etc.

Look at how the 30 most successful business books begin. With history and analogy? I doubt it.

Usually, I suspect, with a bold assertion and an amazing, memorable anecdote. The kind that makes you drop the book and go tell your girlfriend, buddy, or dad about.

That's how to begin a book. Fast, sharp, explosive. Memorable, pithy, astonishing. (Thanks again to my mentor Seth Godin)."

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | March 2, 2005 03:21 AM

The controvery continues. After a few pro-"Blog or Die" comments, I felt it was time to jump in again and advance my point of view:

I don't think the objection to "Blog or Die" is a matter of wake up calls or watering down the original idea.

It's a matter of hard nosed business thinking vs. exaggerated commercialized hype that CEOs and other business leaders will frown upon and not trust.

Robert and Shel need to protect and promote their credibility, and using hyperbole, "Blog or End Up in the Morgue", is not going to help gain the trust of business leaders.

You could tell average dumbed down public to "Overcome Obesity or Die" or "Stop Smoking or Die", but I don't think I'd feel comfortable and confident telling highly educated business professionals that they must "Blog or Die". IMHO, that's nonsense and a turn off.

Funny how this proposed title has stirred controversy. Yet I believe that names are vital and, although some products with stupid names have succeeded, still, a name or title must be selected with great care and consideration.

And my honest, spontaneous reaction to "Blog or Die" was that my heart sank and I felt it was a shame to put that title on this book. I understand what Wiley is trying to accomplish, and they are close, but this is not the best title for this book.

I tend to like my earlier suggestion of "The Red Couch: Blog Revolution in Corporate America".

I can see a CEO or business leader intrigued by "red couch", then wondering how a blog could start a revolution, then wondering why blogs are causing a big fuss in corporate offices.

If there is a "revolution" going on in Corporate America, it seems most CEOs, business leaders, and marketing types would want to know all about it.

Just my 2 pesos.

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | March 2, 2005 08:37 PM

Before I shut my big fat mouth, let me also state another reason why Robert's wife is a genius:

The "couch" in "The Red Couch" also creates a conceptual association with the psychiatrist's couch. This is good, due to the psychoanalystic Fundamental Rule of word association, saying, blurting out whatever comes to mind, a spontaneity and candor that is the essence of the blog.

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | March 2, 2005 08:45 PM

Man, this thing just won't die or retire in dignity. Here we go again.

Debbie Weil also thought "Blog or Die" was hyperbole (exaggeration) and not a good title. She wisely recommended a more truthful, though prosaic, mundane title, like her book Beginners Guide to Business Blogging which she said is a download favorite on Seth Godin's Change This site.

So, while I agree with Debbie Weil in the main, I felt recklessly compelled to chime in once again, as follows.

I tend to think that Red Couch is like Purple Cow,,, Yahoo!, Google...

...a weird word or phrase that induces curiosity.

Why name a bookseller Amazon? Totally inappropriate. Why not Books For Yet look at how it's a houshold word now.

Why name an employment site Monster? Why not The Hiring Or Yet look at the acceptance.

I do believe if you have something unique to say, you ought to have a unique name to say it with. That's why I like the name The Beatles much better than The Band, though I like Bob Dylan way more than John Lennon. Dylan Thomas vs. Vladimir Lenin.

Anyway, Debbie has a point, and often a "prosaic" title works great.

But then again what the heck is a Cluetrain? Robot Wisdom? Photo Matt? Boing Boing? Ideavirus? Eminem? What do Stars and Bucks have to do with caffeine? Why would anyone, except a Catholic, buy music from someone named "Madonna"? What is an iPod? One of those alien things from Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

Unusual names can trigger bemusement, capture attention, create an esoterica that business leaders like. Think of how many strange buzzwords enter business speech.

You need to red couch your online presence, Chief.

...and use a captcha for comment posts.

Posted by: Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate | March 9, 2005 07:03 AM

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