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2021 holiday gift guide for marketers and leaders (that doesn’t suck)

Gather ‘round, everybody.

I’m taking a break from inspiring you to break through your own fear barriers to find your voice and sharing research around why we humans cling to conformity like Rose clung to that door at the end of Titanic (there was totally room for Jack, by the way) for very important announcement.

To those of you who have me on your gift-giving list this year, I’m sorry. Also, please do not, under any circumstances, give me any of the following:

  • A necklace that is just my Twitter handle

  • More memory for my computer

  • A t-shirt that says “Eat, Sleep, Blog” on it

  • An “instant marketer, just add coffee” mug in Papyrus font

  • A “GIRL BOSS MARKETER” mask

  • A power strip with four USB ports that’s “perfect for the ‘techie’ marketer”

  • These earrings

These are actual suggestions I came across while researching what highly objectionable items other websites are telling you are “Great! Creative!!! Unique!!!!11” gift ideas this year for the marketer, content creator or entrepreneur in your life. And all of them were shared without even the slightest hint of irony.

If you think I’m exaggerating how genuinely terrible these lists are, slap your peepers on this very real suggestion I came across today:

Dartboard: When your favorite content person is in search of that elusive word, they can tack a few pages of a dictionary to a dartboard and throw darts in the hopes of striking word gold.”

What?

Look, I appreciate how far this writer had to stretch to accomplish this level of an analogous reach in their suggestion, but this is not … no. Do not do this. If you give me this gift for this reason, I’m going to thank you and then lapse into a deep existential crisis of wondering what I did to hurt you.

👉 Related: Keeping your promises as a company (and a leader) should be hard

It’s with that in mind that I’m back for a third year in a row of sharing (hopefully) not terrible gift ideas for the content marketer, business leader or entrepreneur in your life. Before we get started, I want to note that anything linked below is not an affiliate link. So, neither BS+Co. nor myself will make any commission off of purchases you make by clicking on the links below.

Now, with that bit of housekeeping taken care of …

Let’s get some obvious options out of the way

OK, not all gift guides for marketers and entrepreneurs are terrible.

Seriously, there are some out there that don’t make me want to scream obscenities into a pillow. On the whole, however, they all tend to suggest a lot of the same basic gifts … but they’re also basic gifts I agree with. So, that’s where we’re going to start – with gift ideas you’ve likely seen elsewhere, but are actually solid.

MOLESKINE NOTEBOOKS

Moleskine notebooks are popular almost to the point of self-parody; they’re like the notebook equivalent of the guy who makes a big production of “writing his next big screenplay” in a local coffee shop. What keeps it from becoming an insufferable punchline is the notebooks are stupidly good.

Where it gets tricky from a gift-giving perspective is that you have a lot of options to choose from. And everyone has an opinion on what options they like best.

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Taco otter sticker not included. Get your own.

I used to only use hard cover notebooks, and I have no idea why. Now, I’m all about the soft cover. I also prefer lined pages (although blank and dotted are options) and the XL (7.5” x 9.75”) size. This specific combination works great for me because small notebooks suck for brainstorming sessions, I need the structure of lines and the soft cover means I can write anywhere, without having to lay my entire notebook out flat, as I would with a hard cover.

Oh, they also now have a “smart” Moleskine product that takes what you’re writing on the page and immediately brings it to your devices (through an app) digitally. This is not a great gift for me, as I drop expensive things in unfixable ways. (One time, I dropped a DSLR camera into an open slow cooker filled with the juices of a roasted chicken.)

Although this brings me to my next recommendation.

THE REMARKABLE

The reMarkable 2 is similar to the Moleskine Smart Writing System, in that I do not have one and there’s a solid chance I would break it within five minutes of owning it. So, why is it on my list of something I don’t think is a shitty gift idea?

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I am the only member of the BS+Co. leadership team who doesn’t have one. One of our company’s VP of marketing has one. Basically, I’m surrounded by actual marketers, business leaders, strategists and entrepreneurs who are all obsessed with it. Also, I have yet to attend a single meeting at BS+Co. where one hasn’t made an appearance.

In fact, right now, my inbox is full of emailed notes colleagues, clients and friends have sent me directly from their reMarkables. (One of those emails is a sketch of a garden I want to build in our backyard next year.)

So, if you have someone on your list who won’t break this little note-taking technology wonder, get it for them. This is an expensive product, but my keen observation skills are telling me it lives up to the hype.

REALLY GOOD PENS

The lengths I will go to, to secure a good pen is obscene.

For example, I stole a pen from the Oliver Royale in Knoxville after signing a check with it because I loved it so much. I’m a criminal. (Then I went back a few months later, and they changed to a lesser pen. My heart is broken.) I understand that, as a writer, I’m basically a stereotype in sharing that, but I don’t care.

Great pens make writing feel sexy and luxurious.

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My two favorite types are Le Pen pens (felt tipped) and Parker Jotters (ballpoint). Not only do they truly elevate the writing experience, they also come in a wide variety of colors, sets and packaging, so you won’t seem like you’re giving someone the office product equivalent of socks as a gift. It is worth noting that, recently, my LinkedIn audience exploded with support over the Pilot G5, but I’ve never tried it.

And … well, my husband loves socks as holiday gifts, so what do I know?

Books I read this year that I’m now giving as gifts

There are a handful of great books out there that we all know are bangers for the marketing and business crowd. For example, Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is a classic that never goes out of style. (And if you haven’t gotten that book for yourself or someone else, like … what are you doing?! Go do that now!)

But if you’re looking for books outside of the “usual suspects” you’ll find on a marketer or entrepreneur’s bookshelf, I have a few to share.

As the heading implies, these are books I picked up for myself and absolutely loved. And when I say loved, I mean I underlined and highlighted portions on every single page, and then read excerpts out loud to my husband without even asking if he was interested.

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Atomic Habits by James Clear

When I left my previous company to take this role, I used the opportunity to do some rethinking about how I approach my identity, as well as the goals I set at home and at work.

Admittedly, I bought this book at on my phone at 3 a.m. for pickup at Target, after kicking back a few glasses of Chardonnay. But once I finally pulled it out of the bag two weeks later and started reading it … I don’t know. All I can say is I see the world and myself differently now. (His newsletter is really good, too.)

Oh, and if this book sounds familiar to you all, (a) it’s a bestseller, and (b) I mentioned it in my last article about conformity and thought leadership.

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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (5th edition) by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

OK, this book is not for the lightweights out there. This dense volume is a profound, research-filled exploration of the seven levers of influence. And it’ll blow your freaking mind.

If you’re a social psychology junkie like I am, or influence at a personal or brand level is part of your job, you must read this book. It will change how you think about your job, social dynamics, why we say “yes” when we want to say “no” to things and … basically, everything.

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Think Again by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist many of you may already know from his books and/or his TED original podcast, WorkLife. This book specifically tackles similar themes found in Influence – persuasion, communication tactics, etc.

However, Grant’s approach is more digestible. It also has a greater, purposeful focus on the importance of learning how to “rethink” what we believe we already know when we’re making decisions, for success and, in some cases, survival. Fantastic ideas that, again, have both personal and professional applications.

His other book, Originals, will likely be on next year’s list … I just haven’t had a chance to break into it yet.

👉 Related: Why do we choose conformity if we say we want to stand out?

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Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Yes, it’s another book about retraining your brain and evaluating how you think. But if you’re familiar with the previous books of these authors – Freakonomics and Superfreaknomics – rest assured this book is also packed to capacity with treasures.

Backed by research and wildly fascinating anecdotes that challenge conventional thinking, this book teaches you the value (and competitive edge) of thinking like a child … among many other things.

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You Never Forget Your First: a Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe

OK, this book has nothing to do with business or marketing. But I’m including it on this list because it’s a ridiculously well-researched and entertaining subversion of the traditional (see: “super boring”) founding father/historical figure biography genre.

It’s an ideal gift for history nerds (like yours truly), or anyone interested in exploring a superb example of publishing an influential, respected work without sacrificing personal perspectives, voice or opinions that may ruffle a few “establishment” feathers.

And I’m willing to bet basically all of you fall into that latter category.

App Subscriptions that are actually worth it

I always find it weird when I see gift guides for marketers and entrepreneurs that suggest Spotify or Amazon Prime subscriptions. (Surprisingly, there are a ton of them out there.)

Technology subscriptions are highly personal choices (that most of us have already made). Morever, it’s not exactly easy to discreetly find out whether or not you’re considering a subscription they haven’t already purchased (or purchased and later unsubscribed from) themselves.

👉 Sign up: For our biweekly, no bullshit email newsletter, The Standard

That being said, here are subscriptions I love deeply and vouch for, because they enrich both my personal and professional lives almost every single day:

  • Sunsama for managing my tasks and productivity in a way that also helps me set healthy boundaries and expectations for myself. Also, it integrates with pretty much everything.

  • Ulysses for writing content drafts, journaling, virtual notebook-ing for copywriting projects and more. I know others swear by Evernote, but I hate Evernote. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. But Ulysses is a dream … and also built for writers.

  • Calm for getting myself to, well, calm the fuck down, when needed. Working remotely, and having a career that regularly involves a lot of self-loathing and mentally rigorous, on-demand creativity, I get stressed out. I get stressed out a lot. So, while this recommendation is potentially an obvious one, I absolutely love it. It’s also the only app subscription I’ve ever given as a gift for someone else after using it.

  • Masterclass for learning about big ideas. I’ll admit, I was on the fence about this one for awhile; would I really learn anything, or would it just be a bunch of famous people teaching me just enough to think they’re smart, but never enough to apply anything to my own life? I’m halfway through both Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris’ courses on writing, and I was completely wrong. It’s worth it.

  • Grammarly because, while this is another obvious choice, you don’t know what you’re missing until you have the paid version of it. Seriously, the suggestions you get behind the paywall are on another level. And it’s also something most people will likely not get themselves.

Random stuff that I use and also endorse for gifts

And now, to round out this list, here are a few things that range from completely boring to oddly specific. What these items have in common is (a) I own them, (b) I use them almost every single day and would become violent if someone took them away, and (c) I would buy them for other people.

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Yeti 30 oz tumbler

I am a lazy asshole who needs a portable coffee/beverage container for when I’m working that’s big enough so I don’t need to make more trips to the kitchen than absolutely necessary throughout the day. Even though my kitchen is down a flight of, like, seven steps and only 25 feet from where I’m sitting right now.

But what makes this specific tumbler worth the higher price tag, in addition to its larger capacity?

I’m so glad you asked:

  1. It’s dishwasher-safe.

  2. It’s easy to buy replacement lids.

  3. It actually keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold.

  4. The skinny bottom is so it fits in (most) car cup holders.

It may shock you, but it’s almost impossible to find a tumbler that checks all four boxes. (Or one that checks all four boxes and won’t crack, break or otherwise explode, because it’s a cheap piece of crap.)

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A Prescriptivist’s Guide to Common Issues in English Usage (a poster)

I have this poster hung in my office right now.

I received as a gift a few years ago, and it’s probably one of only a handful of times I can remember receiving a gift related to what I do for a living that I actually love. More times than I care to admit, it has saved me from making truly bone-headed and embarrassing writing mistakes to bosses, colleagues, clients and anyone else I would like to not I’m a moron.

It’s also really, really funny.

Check out the website and zoom in on a few of the examples, if you don’t believe me.

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This plush blanket from L.L. Bean

When I’m writing, I like being wrapped in this blanket. When I reading, I like being wrapped in this blanket. If I am trying to hide from someone because I’m running a bit behind on a deadline, undoubtedly you will find me under this blanket. This is a great gift for the remote worker in your life or the person at the office who is always cold, and it’s the softest, most amazing blanket ever.

I don’t know what it says about me as a human or my emotional state, but I refuse to work without it nearby.

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Harvard Business Review digital subscription (and books)

In an effort to redeem myself after admitting I’m the remote writer equivalent of Linus in recommendation before this one, I am going to end this list with something else I completely ignored as an option for years (and is much less embarrassing than a blanket)… and now I can’t live without it.

Every single day, I am so grateful for my digital subscription to HBR. It’s crazy to me how much value I get out of it for so very little money. So, while it may not seem like the most glamorous or exciting gift on this list, it’s going to be one that (for the right person) will make them thankful for it (and you) every single day.

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