There are 100001 ways to access information these days — we can listen to a podcast, watch a rap somebody made up on YouTube, or maybe even read a couple of haikus.
That’s all great. But if you’re looking for true mastery of a topic, you can’t beat a good, old-fashioned book. There’s just something about sitting down and reading hundreds of pages on a subject that takes you to a whole new level of understanding.
If you’re hoping to get your head around marketing, you’re in luck. Below, I’ve compiled the 15 best marketing books on the subject. These should keep you busy for the next few months!
- Overview: In the marketing world, we love to talk about “unique selling points” — but April Dunford thinks we’re getting it all wrong. She explains positioning from a fresh perspective, discarding common misconceptions, like the need to compare yourself to the competition.
- Why read it: Obviously, this book is awesome (sorry, I couldn’t make that joke). In case that alone doesn’t convince you, how about the fact that it will completely change your view about positioning?
- Key takeaway: There are three main ways to win at positioning: by dominating a subsegment, creating a new market category, and becoming the dominant player.
Kirk Simpson, Co-founder and CEO at Wave
Obviously Awesome is a must-read for any founder, marketer, or salesperson struggling to make their product stand out in crowded markets.
- Overview: The book’s main focus is a guide to the adoption life-cycle of high tech, along with examples and tips for practical application.
- Why read it: High-tech marketing has a unique set of challenges and requires specific strategies to be successful; no book discusses them quite as well as “Crossing the Chasm.”
- Key takeaway: All customers can be broken down into groups depending on how quickly they adopt your product — the most challenging part of high-tech marketing is “crossing the chasm” to mainstream customers.
Tom Kendra, Vice President of an IBM department
Crossing the Chasm has contributed more to the art and science of high-tech marketing than any other book in the last decade.
- Overview: There are six universal principles of persuasion — reciprocation, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Cialdini teaches us how to apply and use each one.
- Why read it: If you’re looking for a classic that’s stood the test of time, look no further than this gem from 1984. You might be thinking: “But hasn’t marketing changed a lot over the last 35+ years?” Yes, it has — but people haven’t, and this book is all about harnessing the power of persuasion.
- Key takeaway: The human brain is wired with shortcuts that we use to make quick decisions. To persuade people to say “yes,” we just need to exploit these shortcuts.
Journal of Marketing Research
For marketers, this book is among the most important books written in the last ten years.
- Overview: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely uses research evidence to prove that humans are irrational, before outlining how to make better decisions and understand others.
- Why read it: Contrary to economic theory, humans aren’t rational — but that doesn’t mean we can’t predict their behavior! If you’ve ever wanted to understand the human psyche better, this book is for you.
- Key takeaway: You can improve your marketing efforts by assuming people will act in predictably irrational ways and understanding what really motivates us, from social norms to overvaluing what we own.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, acclaimed writer and thinker
Refreshing evidence that there are domains and situations in which material incentives work in unexpected ways.
- Overview: This book essentially offers a detailed overview of rules you should obey when advertising, covering everything from the use of color to why writing in all capital letters is a bad idea.
- Why read it: Ogilvy is probably the closest thing we have to an advertising god. Why wouldn’t you want to hear what he has to say?
- Key takeaway: Choosing just one takeaway for this one is tough, but here I go. You don’t (necessarily) need to be creative or original to sell — but you do have to create a desirable brand image.
Ogilvy is the most sought-after wizard in the business.
- Overview: Richard Millington explains how to figure out what your community wants and common pitfalls along the way, helping you to turn casual visitors into regulars and build a sustainable ecosystem.
- Why read it: Online communities are becoming essential to marketing in the digital age, and few books take as deep a dive into them as “Buzzing Communities.”
- Key takeaway: For a community to be successful, it must have a clear mission that brings everyone together — and you must use data.
Justin Isaf, Director of Communities at Huffington Post
Millington has long been one of my go-to’s when I need advice that is actionable, concise, and — perhaps most importantly — instant explainable.
- Overview: Over 257 pages, Berger explains the secret behind contagion— and it’s not the luck of the game. It’s word of mouth. After all, which source do you trust more: your best friend or an advert?
- Why read it: Ever wondered why some ideas take off and others don’t? This question should be at the top of your mind as an owner or marketer, and few authors cover it better than Jonah Berger.
- Key takeaway: The six main factors behind making something go viral are social currency, triggers, emotion, being public, practical value, and stories. Make use of them!
Dave Balter, CEO of BuzzAgent
If there’s one book you’re going to read this year on how ideas spread, it’s this one.
- Overview: Lewis C. Lin outlines how to succeed in a marketing interview, from answering case studies to nailing your delivery.
- Why read it: Are you a marketer or thinking of becoming one? Do you have an interview lined up, or are you expecting to have one at some point in your career? If you can answer any of the above, this is the book for you.
- Key takeaway: There are tons of mini-takeaways. Overall, Lin makes it clear that a simple framework can get you through most interview questions.
Luanne Calvert, Chief Marketing Officer of Virgin America
Provides a solid grounding, with concrete examples and exercises, on how to stand out.
- Overview: Ann Hadley outlines how we can improve the quality of our writing — especially internet content. It contains theory, messaging, and practical insights for specific channels.
- Why read it: People might read fewer books now than they once did, but writing is more important than ever — everything we read online or on social media involves words! Knowing how to write good content is essential, and this book teaches you how.
- Key takeaway: Writing isn’t a talent you’re born with, it’s a skill you can develop — and all it takes to write good content for the internet is learning a few basic principles.
Jason Miller, Senior Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn
I just glanced at the table of contents and I’m already a better writer.
- Overview: This is as much a book about human psychology as marketing. Each law can be practically applied to positioning your brand and business in the international marketplace.
- Why read it: The tagline (“Violate them at your own risk!”) might sound intimidating, but don’t let that put you off. This book is a bible of marketing, condensing the whole field into a few simple laws. As relevant now as when it was published in 1994.
- Key takeaway: With 22 laws covered, it’s hard to pick just one takeaway. But here’s a standout — the reality is an illusion based on perception, and the job of the marketer is playing on those perceptions.
Ray Kopovlitz, CEO of USA Network
Straight talk. Strong medicine. A must-read.
- Overview: Filled with practical examples, the authors explain how to position effectively — from naming to pricing to getting into the audience’s mind.
- Why read it: Written by the same authors as “The 22 Immutable Laws,” this industry classic will teach you to position your business as a market leader.
- Key takeaway: Complexity is the enemy! Effective positioning is always simple. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
David Bohnett, Founder at GeoCities
Ries and Trout taught me everything I know about branding, marketing, and product management.
- Overview: Martin Lindstrom takes us across the truth about what drives and motivates us, with some surprising results. For instance, sex doesn’t sell but religion does.
- Why read it: You can’t be an effective marketer unless you understand why we buy the stuff we do. To find out, read this book.
- Key takeaway: Subliminal messaging and accessing the subconscious mind are the keys to making people buy stuff. It might sound dark, but it’s true!
Robert A. Eckert, CEO of Mattel, Inc
Martin Lindstrom is one of branding’s most original thinkers.
- Overview: Focusing on social media, Vaynerchuk teaches us how to stand out and tell your story in the most effective way.
- Why read it: It’s safe to say that Gary Vaynerchuck is something of a divisive figure. But whether you’re a lover or a hater, his notoriety alone should be enough to convince you he has something worth saying about marketing.
- Key takeaway: Get creative, tailor content to specific social media sites, and be interesting. Easier said than done, of course.
Beth Comstock, Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric
Offers important advice on how social media can make your business better.
- Overview: Brothers Chip and Dan Heath overview six successful principles for making ideas stick — simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and telling stories.
- Why read it: Few statistics are thrown around more often than the percentage of startups that don’t survive (90%). How can you make sure your business does?
- Key takeaway: No matter how important your message is, it won’t stick unless you use a good story to help your audience connect to it.
The New Statesman
This book is a gift to anyone who needs to get a message across and make it stick.
- Overview: This short book will talk you through what growth hacking is and how to do it right — especially regarding how to attract and retain customers.
- Why read it: Growth hacking is the future of marketing. Going viral and growing quickly matter for businesses of all sectors, and who better to teach you than the internet sensation Ryan Holiday?
- Key takeaway: Target early adopters. Then keep them around by rewarding them for being your customers and encouraging them to spread the word.
Ryan Holiday is part Machiavelli, part Ogilvy, and all results … this whiz kid is the secret weapon you’ve never heard of.
Time to get reading
A fountain of knowledge is just a few books away. So, make yourself a brew, grab your favorite packet of biscuits, and get reading!
Or maybe you’re thinking that it would take you a few years to get through all 15 marketing books, and you’d like something to accelerate your knowledge in the meantime.
Why not consult with an industry professional on GrowthMentor? With years of experience in anything and everything related to marketing, it’s safe to say that they’ve been around the block.