Best Books for Christmas

Books for Christmas?

Well it's the 1st December so time to offer some help in the run up to Christmas! If you are looking for some Christmas Book inspiration for friends, family, colleagues or your team what better than to give a top business or marketing book to give them something to think about when they aren't passing the port or munching on a mince pie. These are the best books that I've read recently and I've sorted them into four sections: digital and internet, brand & marketing, economics & business, personal & entrepreneurship. Each one would make a great book for Christmas either because they are beautiful or packed full of fascinating and useful ideas.

Digital & Internet Books for Christmas

The Revolution will be Digitised by Heather Brooke

This book is sub-headed: "Dispatches from the information war." And opens with a powerful quote from Thomas Jefferson about the value of ideas spreading being like the air in which we breathe. 

What is so compelling about this book is that it is a series of vignettes from Iraq to Washington to Berlin all about how information and ideas are changing our beliefs and understanding of the world both for good and ill. 

The premise for the book is that we are in an extraordinary age – akin to a new enlightenment where information and knowledge flows freely. However there is also huge negative forces at work – the gulf in information equality, the power of the state and big business, and how our privacy is under threat and no longer valued.  

This is a well written, punchy, easy to read and engaging dip into the war for information that is surrounding us. 


The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser

I've done a video review of this book in a previous post

Information is Beautiful by David McCandless

What with infographics everywhere around us today and the Guardian-style of information communication becoming more and more prevalent this coffee-table book presents a set of fantastic examples of how to bring information and data alive through graphics. 

All of us may have been taught at school with ruler, pencil and graph paper how to draw a table, or chart, and may have even got quite good at graphs in Powerpoint but if you really want to see how information can be beautifully rendered and represented then this book is a must have. 

Information is Beautiful would make a wonderful Christmas Book for the right person interested in data and analysis not just in business but across the spectrum. 


Marketing & Brand Books for Christmas

Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom

Brandwashed has got a mixed press but I enjoyed it. Like many books of its like it tries to make a huge amount of fuss over what is pretty standard marketing and brand practise. 

We all know that marketing surrounds us all and uses psychology to try and trick us into letting our buying barriers down. Martin Lindstrom's examples are good and the book is easy to read. 

You don't need to be in marketing to enjoy this book just a consumer, victim to some of the £16bn spent on trying to BrandWash us in the UK every year. 


Priceless: the hidden psychology of value by William Poundstone

No-one knows the price of anything anymore. Everything is deep discounted or on offer from GroupOn! With DFS shouting about 75% of that sofa how do we actually know what the actual thing costs. 

Pricing is a very modern game from "free" models on the internet to the psychology of the sale this book explores how we think about value and what we use to assess it. This book is packed with examples and experiments into price that expose why we react, for example to £9.99 vs £10 and why. 

A well researched and yet still entertaining book for any business or marketing person. 


LogoDesignLove by David Airey

As Christmas Books go for brand and marketing folks this is a winner. Again it is of the coffee table variety but is a beautifully produced object in it's own right. The graphics, typography and illustrations are wonderful. 

This book goes through all the elements of what makes up an iconic logo from Kellogs to Nokia to Google breaking them down into elements, process and the representation of a product that connects with consumers. 

This would make an amazing Christmas Book for someone with a brand design bent. 


Business & Economics Books for Christmas  

The Economics Book by Dorling Kindersley

Don't let the Dorling Kindersley tag put you off and make you think this is a noddy economics book. Whilst it might not satisfy Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes, for the rest of us it would make a great Christmas book. 

It is beautifully laid out and designed and gives a very satisfying dip-in, dip-out approach to economic history from the earliest forms of economic exchange to one page summaries on the key economic thinkers over time.

A wonderful looking book this would be a great book to give this Christmas. 


The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Perhaps a little heavy for Christmas but what better time to think about equality, or rather inequality, than at a time of traditional opulence. Reading this book will make that yearly viewing of Scrooge even more filled with meaning. 

I found this book full of optimism and hope suggesting a powerful diagnosis of why inequality is such a cancer in society and what we, and businesses especially can do to tackle it. Packed full of anecdote and examples Spirit Level is a well written and easy to understand book about an important subject. I also read Will Hutton's Them and Us about similar themes but this book is much lighter and digestible.  


Personal & Entrepreneurship Books for Christmas 

The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries

A modern classic and absolutely required reading if you are going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg! This book is packed full of practical and pragmatic advice, which is largely well founded and even when it isn't still makes you think about the way you are approaching building and scaling your business. 

The book is well structured and methodological without being too boring which many in this genre of books are. 

A great Christmas book for any budding or mid way through business and brand builders out there. 


Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

I absolutely loved this book and it would be a great Christmas book for any budding entrepreneurs. The book presents a 9 block approach to creating a business model from the value proposition to the value chain. It is easy to engage with and written in a very accessible way. 

The rather bland and academic title is perhaps slightly off putting because the book itself is an absolute joy and uses pencil illustrations and clever visual metaphors to deliver a very visually stimulating experience. 


And of course if you are still looking for a great book for any business leader or marketer then please consider my book: Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU? which is packed full of great research, frameworks, case studies and interviews about trust and how businesses and brands can build it with their customers. It's now available on Kindle as well. 


I hope December is a great month for you – and that your shopping is now a little easier!



A quick post to share a presentation that I put together for the UK Marketing team for Carlsberg. An old friend of mine (Ian Hannaford @ihannaford) is now a Marketing Manager at Carlsberg and he kindly extended an invitation to talk through some thoughts on brands and marketing with the team.

It was great to meet the team and I really enjoyed the session. Some really interesting ideas surfaced which provoked lots of discussion. I learnt alot about Carlsberg including the fact that it is run as a trust contributing to Danish projects and the top board is scientists and artists. How differentiated is that?

I was impressed that the team was open to hearing ideas and thoughts from other marketers and categories – I wish all teams were as open. Thanks also go to the Director of Brands Paul Davies for allowing me a slot at his meeting.

Do you want me come to your team meeting and provoke some thinking and discussion? Email me – I might just take you up on the offer!

As ever – if you have any thoughts, disagreements, energy and passion to share about brands and marketing then please comment below or drop me an email.

Update on Battle of the Big Thinking (for those that have been following my frustrations on Twitter) – I finally have a stable draft of the presentation. If you are attending see you there and if you aren’t you will be able to take part because I’m going to extend an invitation for you to join the debate!

Hope you are having a great day!


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I'm a huge fan of Pizza Express (for those non UK readers Pizza Express was the first sit down pizza restaurant chain in the UK established in the 60s). Both my sons were born soon after Pizza Express visits!

And despite now having a growing family we still love Pizza Express because over the past few years they have stepped up their innovation and much of it is based on really good insight into their customers.

After a recent visit a few lessons struck me on what pizzas reveal about customer led innovation:

1. Understand the desired experience not just the product attributes. My wife and I still like to spend an hour or so in a restaurant having a simple dinner. That hasn't changed now we have three kids. We've learnt, as many parents before us have, that the art to keeping that hour pain-free is keeping the kids occupied. Increasingly kid-friendly restaurants dole out the crayons and paper but Pizza Express have taken it to another level. They have tailored their kids menu to be multiple small courses over the space of an hour. So you quickly get garlic bread or dough balls for the kids to munch, then comes a small pizza, then an ice cream, then a really cute idea – the Bambicino – which is a frothy cappucino style milk. This means whilst we eat a starter and pizza the kids meal is paced to keep them occupied. Pizza Express have understood what I want and, more importantly, what my kids want so that we all get a good experience.

2. A well tried foundation is the best starting place for new ideas. Why is the pizza such an enduring food? Because it is a solid foundation from which to add and adapt. This is true for much innovation (and indeed solid incrementalism) – start with a good process or product, understand what is great with it, and then improve. A strong foundation also allows you to engage the customer through customisation…

3. Customisation was, is, and always will be a powerful way to engage. From its earliest origins the pizza has been a customisation engine. One of the reasons almost everyone can enjoy a pizza is that the solid foundation allows personal expression and the adaptation to personal taste and creativity. This is what I love about Apple products, a great base product facilitating creativity, for example, through the music you put on them or what you create on them. Dell were the masters of mass customisation but on attributes that were intrinsic rather than 'tasty'. Only now are they realising that allowing customisation on the surface is as important.

4. Innovation isn't always about adding things – it can also be about taking things away. Most companies that I've worked with start from a foundation of their current product or process and then think about features or benefits that can be added in order to innovate. This isn't a bad path to innovation but it can be illuminating to think about what to take away from the product. Pizza Express have a new product called the Leggera. This is a pizza with the middle taken out with salad replacing it. This fills a need for those who want a lower calorie option. I admired Vodafone when they launched their Simple proposition. A simple phone and tariff for those that wanted just a phone that worked like a traditional phone not a computer. Dyson took away the vacuum cleaner bag for a better experience. You don't always have to add.

5. Different occasions are sources of new volume, canibalisation can be a red-herring. In the last few years Pizza Express have launched a line of retail pizzas. I bet this gave them some sleepless nights. I can hear the discussions now: surely this would canibalise their take out business or, even worse, their core restaurant business (especially in these more difficult times as people trade down)? Perhaps it would damage the brand because they couldn't gaurantee product quality? Overall I think it works well and from what my friends in the supermarket industry tell me it has been a hit. It has provided a new occasion for loyal users to use the brand and allowed those who don't visit the restaurants to buy into the franchise in a different way. I bet frequency of consuming a Pizza Express product is way up since their introduction. Starbucks are now launching into instant coffee with their VIA product. I suspect they had lots of similar debates. If the product is good I bet it will slowly creep into the Starbucks loyalists' non-Starbucks coffee consumption and potentially open the brand up to non-users.

What do you think? How do you innovate? Got any lessons to share? Please comment below. Feel free to share this post with other innovators (or pizza lovers!)


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Why do big companies struggle to get the customer experience right?

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get my wife a new mobile phone. It should be simple – but its been a really frustrating experience. (She wants a new phone so she can keep twitter tabs on me – my twitter feed!).

I’m going to recount the experience and then draw some conclusions on Why Big Companies Struggle to get the Customer Experience right.

The story started a few weeks ago with choosing a contract and phone. We all know how confusing this can be. Last time I chose a phone and contract was a good few years ago and I would have hoped that this frustration would have been resolved but its still as confusing as ever. I battled through this and chose a £30 contract with 300 minutes, texts and data and a Blackberry 8900 on Vodafone.

Firstly talked to VirginMobile to port the number and get PAC code. This was a good experience and Virgin delivered, with a nice operator and a letter confirming PAC code a few days later. Again Virgin delivered a good experience. (If they offered Blackberries we would have stayed with them).

I decided to apply for the Vodafone contract online. Seemed to me a sensible choice – after all I’d researched online and the apply now button was blinking away at me. The Vodafone website worked just ok: stopped once and had to reload losing the data I’d filled in, somewhat confusing on PAC code and lost this during the process but overall got through it. At least I receieved some confirmation emails saying things were progressing which was good.

Got a call a few hours later asking for confirmation of some details and again was told everything was going ahead and to expect the phone soon. Two weeks later (on the day contract was due to finish with Virgin) we had recieved nothing – no phone, no sim, no letters, no emails, nothing.

So a few days ago I rang the call centre. And this is where the whole thing took a massive turn for the worse. Initially a woman answered (after a two stage, 5 options choice menu) told me “we are nothing to do with online applications and can’t access their details” and therefore she would have to transfer me. She transferred me to a number that was closed. I then rang again and talked to a guy who was much more helpful, he confirmed that “they” were nothing to do with “online” and started to check the number transfer and set up. Basically nothing had happened in two weeks. He now, politely, started to get me to buy the same contract with him that I had applied for online. This felt really wierd as a customer – surely I had already taken out a contract with Vodafone online? Why was I now having to do it again. He asked me to email the PAC code to him for process.

I then found a number for the online team (not from the Vodafone website – that number led to the call centre that denied all knowledge of online applications, but on an old email) and rang them. Then talked to a member of their team who was dismissive of the issues and could not explain why nothing had happened. She then proceeded to say that she could do nothing until the “dispatch” team were in on Monday and they would call me. I said, quite angrily (which I regret), that as far as I was concerned they had done nothing with my request to open a contract and therefore it wasn’t done and I would go elsewhere. Of course they didn’t call – I assume that my application got lost in their process somewhere.

I then emailed the PAC code to the Vodafone call centre guy and started the whole process again with him.

Finally, and adding cherries to the top of this bad experience cake, were the two calls that I recieved the afternoon after this from an automated system that was asking me to “spend a few minutes answering some questions” on the experience that I had just recieved from Vodafone. Both these calls failed during the process!

This story is not unique – I am sure many of us have the same experiences repeated over and over again by big companies that aren’t joined up and put more effort into selling than servicing or correcting errors. Why do big companies struggle to get this stuff right?

1. Most big companies aren’t big companies at all but a collection of smaller units and departments (some outsourced) that come together under one brand. This causes many, if not most, of the issues. Trying to co-ordinate these fiedoms is a nightmare. The only way is to define the desired customer experiences through good customer research then design the experience process with good process development techniques to deliver within key tolerances that can be monitored and have ONE PERSON accountable for the whole experience.

2. Most big companies suffer from the “they” disease. This disease infects companies which are lukcy enough to get big enough that people don’t know each other within the company. When I ring Vodafone it doesn’t matter to me which bit I am talking to from the myriad collection of smaller units. I (foolishly) want to call one integrated company. So why do most people – not just call centre folks – refer to other teams and units as “they”. Shouldn’t it be “us”. I don’t care that the call centre folks can’t access the online apps – I don’t want to know that “they are nothing to do with us”. I just want someone to stand up and take responsibility (see 3). A good customer experience is only as strong as its weakest link. The process needs to be understood by everyone from start to finish. “We” and “Us” are powerful words to make me think I am dealing with one brand, one company and a bunch of people who care about the service I am getting.

3. Most companies don’t allow individuals in call centres to be honest, take personal accountability and sort the issues out. Call scripts and training often exacerbate bad situations. Handovers should be much more transparent and honest with the customer. Ultimately my major source of frustration was the fact that “online” were nothing to do with anything else. And the handovers failed. This should be handled in a much more grown up way with the customer. What about acknowledging that the situation isn’t great? That my call might get lost and that if it does I can get back to the person I am talking to at that moment to try another solution? Giving out people’s names and allowing call handlers to take personal responsibility is a rarity but ultimately I went with the guy who said “I will take responsibility – email me directly and we will sort it out”. [If anyone from Vodafone wants this guys name please email me and I’d be glad to get him some credit – he saved the situation for you].

4. Most companies are living with an IT infrastructure that is outdated. I think many consumers think that with the resources at the disposal of companies like Vodafone, especially a mobile technology company, they would have “cutting edge” IT systems. I bet they don’t – I bet their systems are mired in “legacy” decisions and a patch work quilt of different technologies. The result for the consumer is almost always crap. When will companies start to invest in systems that can talk to one another. Why didn’t the phone people have access to “online” applications? Surely in this age of Web 2.0 and APIs, where, for example, I can access my facebook page on my mobile phone, my blackberry, my laptop, my Mac, my PC, Vodafone can get their systems talking – this is crazy. Web 2.0 and Cloud computing might give us hope that connectivity across departments in companies might in the future be solved.

5. All the research I have seen on customer experience says that we all know things will go wrong – its the recovery that is so important. Indivudal units trying to solve complex issues rarely works. Departments are closed, call transfers don’t work. Its better to create the equivalent of the SAS for sorting out customer issues and resourcing this properly. I wish there were more complaint/issue teams that are empowered to access all systems, that are trusted enough to give money off or refunds at point of call, that give their names, numbers and email addresses out, and most importantly stand up and say, “I will sort this out for you until it is solved”.

6. Its easier to deliver a good experience when your brand stands for something. I’m consistently surprised at how Virgin, across multiple categories and products, delivers a good and distinctive customer experience. The Virgin Mobile guys had the “Virgin chat” and “attitude” – one that I like – and it made it better and easier even though I was leaving them. What does Vodafone stand for? I am sure they have “brand manuals” and “brand personality” guides, and have probably spent a decent amount of money paying customer experience experts and brand consultants to translate these words on paper into action. But the bottom line is that I don’t really know what Vodafone stands for, I guess you don’t and therefore the guy in the call centre, especially if outsourced, won’t know either. Or even if they do it is just so bland and boring that it provides no guidance what-so-ever.

7. Most companies measure the wrong things across their customer experiences. Firstly most tracking happens at the unit or department level – it is rarely integrated. Most tracking focused on the process as defined by the company, rather than the consumer. For example, what is web downtime as the key measure, rather than how many points of failure there is in a web application? It’s better in my mind to be told, “our website is down come back in an hour” than start a web application only for it to fail 10 times and take me an hour). Most tracking asks “were you satisfied?” when actually this is a very crude measure – a better measure is to ask the trio of questions: were you satisfied overall, how satisfied were you against your ideal experience, and how satisifed were you against your expected experience? This gets at the fact that if I am talking to an Indian call centre agent I have VERY different levels of ideal experience and expected experience. These ideas and joined up mesaurement are central to the work of Professor Claes Fornell (University of Michigan) and his consultancy CFI Group. Measurement needs to be joined up, from a customer perspective, and intelligent enough to give real insight that can drive action.

I know its hard for big companies to deliver across their processes (I spent a few years trying to do it) but even so “must try harder” is most often the experience and that isn’t good enough when its just too easy to switch.
As ever would love to know your thoughts and comments on this topic. Feel free to comment below and share this blog with others.


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