Decoded, by Phil Barden (Hardcover, 2013)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book draws from several existing works, and puts many powerful ideas in
one place. I'm not sure there were any new concepts in it for me, but the
examples were mostly new to me. Whatever wasn't covered in my graduate marketing
courses (early 1990s) has been covered in the literature since then. Now, some
people will ding the book for "lack of originality," and that is a mistake. Any
serious work in business literature needs to draw from existing data. Making
things up is great when you're writing fiction, but not when you're writing
something for business.
Where originality comes into play is in how the author frames and
explains existing, documented facts to teach something to the reader. Mr.
Barden's presentation strikes me as original. But is it accurate?
Mostly, it is. But in some cases, he misapplies some datum or idea when
trying to explain why something is the way it is. He's reaching, rather than
reasoning. To me, these mistakes were glaringly obvious and the author
should have not made them. An informed reader should be able to spot them at
once and none of them undermine the main points of the book, so I won't
belabor them here. These exist in every chapter, but are particularly
numerous in Chapter 3, "Decoding the Interface." So read that chapter with
the proverbial grain of salt when the author tries to explain the science
behind why something is the way it is. You should be able to spot the non-sequitors.
The author is based in the UK and I am in the USA, so I am unfamiliar
with many of the brands he refers to. This was a bit jarring in places; if
the author were intending to write for a larger audience than just the U.K.,
he should have avoided local brands or provided some clue for the reader.
For example, rather than just start talking about Dettol, say "Dettol
(sanitary wipes)" so the reader immediately knows what that's about. But
perhaps this jarring was intentional. It did pique my interest in a
particular example, when it occurred.
Setting aside this brand issue and the relatively minor accuracy issues,
the next question to ask is "Is it useful?" I think it is. Time and again,
Barden illustrates a principle that can improve how anyone, whether in
marketing or not, produces content. And by "content" I mean anything in
which the author intends to communicate effectively, whether to persuade or
Whether writing an advertisement or a technical article, you must
consider the many "codes" that send a message. That's just for the text, and
there's more. How you lay out the ad or article, what graphics you include,
and how harmonious the text and graphics are with each other will
communicate something. Being aware of this interplay and the coded messages
can make the difference between behind highly effective or flopping.
The way Barden wrote this book is, to me, an object lesson in how to do
exactly what he's talking about. You could learn much from this book by
simply scanning the headings, viewing the graphics, and reading the
captions. It all fits together, and deliberately observing that pattern is,
in itself, a learning exercise. Asking, "Can you learn how to put cultural
coding to effective use from this book" is like asking, "Would you take golf
lessons from Tiger Woods or guitar lessons from Eric Clapton?"
This book makes an excellent addition to the collection of anyone
involved in persuasion. I think for people involved in a dedicated marketing
role, it's a "must have." In several places, Barden describes discussions he
had with clients in those roles. From my own experience in working with
media buyers, I found those descriptions bringing back some memories. Some
marketing managers, media buyers, and content developers are super-savvy.
And others really need to find a different line of work. Those in the middle
can raise their game by studying and applying what's in this book.
Decoded consists of 6 chapters and "Closing Remarks" (with a blank page
between each of these seven) in 256 pages. Each chapter has an excellent
summary at the end. It consists of bullet point items under the headings of
"What we have learned in this chapter" and "What this means to us as
marketers." This is followed by a 9-page reference "Recommended Reading."
The index is only two pages long, but for this particular work I think that
is the right length.