Book Review-Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer

Reviewed by Special K, ETMG Writer and Blogger

Book Review Chris Penn's Marketing White Belt - Basics for the Digital Marketer

Entrepreneurs and marketing professionals looking for a primer or a refresher course on marketing basics will appreciate Christopher Penn’s book, Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer. Penn not only teaches Internet Marketing at the University of San Francisco and co-hosts a weekly podcast, Marketing over Coffee, but he also holds a black belt in the martial art of ninjutsu.

The Four Elements of Marketing

Using both his marketing and ninjutsu skills, Penn’s organizing metaphor for the book is a well-run martial arts dojo where white belt students-in-training learn the basics by focusing on four different elements: earth, water, fire, and wind. Penn successfully translates these elements into a fresh approach to thinking about the marketing endeavor. The book isn’t just for beginners. Any martial arts practitioner will tell you that maintaining a “beginner’s mind” is essential to meeting new challenges.

1. Earth – Fundamentals

Penn uses the first element, earth, to discuss the groundwork that makes marketing programs work. This section begins with a review of basic business archetypes (product, reseller, service provider, and media) and the ways in which value is often added or transformed (customization and service). He also discusses setting strategic marketing goals and aligning them with business goals.

 Marketing White Belt Basics for the Digital Marketer

2. Water – Science

In the second section, Penn focuses on cool and collected insights that can be gleaned from metrics. Relevant tools here include quantifiable metrics for understanding the difference buckets of people in your marketing funnel and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analyses. Penn concludes this part with a wonderfully concise yet thorough review of the deceptively simple formula for determining ROI. He explains that this metric is best used for monitoring cost containment.

3. Fire – Connection

Marketing is all about building audience which is a lot like starting and maintaining a fire. Not surprisingly then, Penn’s third element attends to the human aspects of feeding and tending your audience. Growing your database requires identifying hubs of influence to attract large numbers of eyeballs to your properties. Social networks are some of the most important places to build and maintain connections with your audience. Penn explains that once one reaches a critical mass of connectivity, the benefits of a network grow larger than its costs. This explanation includes a formula for the more mathematically inclined.

4. Wind – Service

With the last element, Penn emphasizes the importance of putting knowledge to work by beginning with a basic marketing campaign plan. He provides some structuring questions for thinking through your plan and cautions against common pitfalls such as obscuring the big picture with overly complex details. This last section also walks the reader through a basic competitive analysis.

Penn concludes by emphasizing the importance of maintaining a beginner’s mind to successfully adapt and grow with changes and challenges. Whether you are new to the marketing world or a more seasoned manager looking for innovative ways to think about business endeavors, the wisdom (and exercises!) in The Marketing White Belt will breathe new life into your approach.


Marketing Over Coffee Podcast

Marketing White Belt on

Further Reading:

Marketing Basics – Branding & Presidential Campaigns

Marketing Metrics – Polling and Survey Tools

Using Brand Journalism to Tell Your Story

5 thoughts on “Book Review-Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer

  1. I really like this book review, which means that I’ll probably take a look at the book. The air, water, fire, wind idea makes it easier to think about marketing balance, and I like that a lot.

  2. I love the point of having a “beginner’s mind” in tackling new challenges. I can see this book being a great way to refresh your creative juices when developing, working, and accessing your marketing tactics.

  3. I haven’t thought about SWOT analysis since business school (a long time ago!). It is a true marketing fundamental that has withstood the test of time. What are some others? Are the 4 Ps still relevant, for example?

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