At the end of the first course lecture, a hand goes up.
“Could you recommend us any books to read?”
A variation of this happens in each course I teach. I often tell my content marketing students that the best way to create content is to listen to your users’ questions. I decided to practice what I preach and draft a list of essential books for marketers.
What started as a top 10 list became a 20+ list, so I spread the books in three categories based on experience. I also added a category with interesting or fun reads vaguely related to business and marketing.
Best Books for Beginner Marketers
Junior marketers should get the basics right. This category includes reads that will give you a strong base in general marketing knowledge. There are specific books that will help you understand customers better and provide value to them on a daily basis.
Philip Kotler: Principles of Marketing
Do you know what really stands behind the four Ps of marketing? Have you studied in detail the basics of product positioning or competitor analysis? You definitely should.
The most fortunate occurrence during my exchange semester in The Netherlands was the need to read Kotler’s Principles of Marketing. This is one of the best and most concise summaries of general marketing knowledge.
Scott M. Cutlip: Effective Public Relations
If you’re interested to go beyond marketing and understand the key concepts of communications, then Effective Public Relations is something you should go through. It covers every main aspect of communicating with internal and external audiences.
You will learn the basics behind media relations, internal communications, planning and evaluating PR campaigns. Even if you’re not interested in a PR career, you will benefit from learning the basic mass communications concepts.
Jobs to be Done is one of the hottest frameworks for understanding customer pains right now. And with good reason. It gives a different perspective on what your customers need.
Intercom’s book will give you a good basic overview of the concept and all its elements so that you can start applying it in real life. And it’s just 100 pages – a good impact-to-volume ratio.
Alan Klement: When Coffee and Kale Compete
For a deeper understanding of the Jobs to be Done concept, you will need more reading. Klement’s book brings a different viewpoint to the framework. It will be paramount if you are looking to do customer research on your own.
Klement focuses on the idea of progress and how customers are achieving it through specific products or solutions. There’s a lot of examples that bring the concept home.
Alexander Osterwalder: Value Proposition Design
Osterwalder has a talent for condensing complex concepts into a manageable series of steps. His first book, Business Model Generation, is a great manual for generating a specific business concept. I’m recommending Value Proposition Design because it’s much more connected to the work marketers are doing – namely, thinking about the value a product brings to their potential customers and communicating that value.
Value Proposition Design is a do-it-yourself kind of a book with lots of exercises and specific things you can do to understand what people are looking for and how you can help them with your solution.
Gary Vaynerchuk: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook
This is a social media book without being a social media book. Due to the fast-paced evolution of the internet, most social media books are already outdated when they come out. Jab, Jab doesn’t rely on small hacks and tactics. It shows the evergreen philosophy of giving value to your audience before asking for anything in return – a sale, a signup or a share.
Vaynerchuk manages to show the basics of content marketing – giving, giving, and giving more.
Indispensable Books for Intermediate Marketers
You already know what’s going on in the world of marketing. You put yourself in the place of your customers and know how to bring value to them. Now comes the harder bit – really understanding how to create high-potential concepts, how to start experiments and how to measure results.
Robert Cialdini: Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion
A seminal book of marketing psychology, Influence shows key principles of… well, influencing people. These include reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, scarcity.
The book has been summarized in videos and presentations countless times. I’d still suggest you read it to understand fully Cialdini’s ideas.
Jonah Berger: Contagious
In Contagious Berger examines the key principles behind word of mouth. He tries to pinpoint the reasons why some ideas catch on and get distributed between people. These include social currency (showing you’re in the know), triggers, emotion, social proof, practical value, and stories.
Berger’s book is jam-packed with examples and stories about how these principles work together to make powerful ideas go viral. It’s a framework you can use when brainstorming new concepts or writing copy.
Chip & Dan Heath: Made to Stick
Like Contagious, Made to Stick gives you an alternative look at what makes ideas catch on and stay in the customer’s mind. According to the Heath brothers, successful ideas are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories.
Again, you’ll find a bunch of examples and anecdotes illustrating each point. Thanks to them, you’ll fully understand what each one means.
Jay Conrad Levinson: Guerilla Marketing
Another classic, Guerilla Marketing teaches you how to get stuff going when you’re stranded on cash. It was first published in 1983, but the principles behind it are timeless. You can apply direct marketing ideas to email marketing and transfer these concepts to the modern age.
Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown: Hacking Growth
Going from the old to the new. Hacking Growth is the best primer on setting up a growth team and building a consistent experiments schedule. I’ve written about the book in detail – all you need to know is that it’s super-actionable.
Sean Ellis is essentially the Growth Godfather. He shares his process of experimenting with the full funnel and it’s all written in a way you can go within your own organization.
Alistair Croll: Lean Analytics
Once you’re ready to start experimenting, it’s also time to measure your success (or failure, it’s totally fine).
Croll’s book provides a deep understanding of the different pieces of measurement. It shows what needs to be measured in different types of businesses. In this way, you can understand and prove the impact of your everyday work.
Key Books for Advanced Marketers
The last stage of your development as a marketer is an important one. First, you need to start thinking strategically and start managing processes that are bigger than marketing alone – processes that inform your company’s future development. You should also learn about key new trends. And finally, you should make sure you take care of yourself and know where you’re headed.
Paul Leinwand: Strategy That Works
At this point, you should set your eyes beyond marketing into the strategic realm. And this is a great book to start. It shows a lot of companies aren’t effective in developing a strategy and keeping the company on track of this strategy.
It presents you with five ways to translate strategy into action:
- Focusing on the brand’s unique identity
- Developing your own path to success and not relying on best practices
- Creating a corporate culture in line with the company’s identity
- Distributing budgets based on unique capabilities
- Innovating in line with the these capabilities
The book is developed by PwC, so you can rely on a lot of stats and examples.
Jake Knapp: Sprint
Here’s something a bit more specific on the topic of innovation. It presents the process Knapp used with startups at Google Ventures (GV). By following it, you’ll be able to create quick prototypes of new solutions that you can test with real customers. All of this happens within a single week.
The book is super actionable and you get everything you need to put the ideas to practice – including a shopping checklist listing even fruit and snacks for the breaks.
Nir Eyal: Hooked
This is compulsory reading if you’re creating digital products, but I dare say its applications go well beyond that.
The model describes what it takes to build habits in the minds of customers and stimulate the use of our products. Eyal builds a fully usable framework, building on top of old models like B. J. Fogg’s and adding his own spin to things. You’ll learn what are the key motivators that drive usage, what rewards work for users and much more.
Martin Lindstrom: Buyology
We’re now going deep into the world of neuroscience. Lindstrom deals with this serious field in order to better answer the question “What makes people buy?” It’s time to look at brain scans and do proper studies.
I’m not saying you’ll get something specific and actionable out of this read. But you will gain a deeper understanding of how the human brain works – and that’s valuable enough!
Kevin Werbach: For the Win
As a true gamification fan, I can’t let this topic slide. Werbach taught me the major part of what I know about gamification with his Coursera course – and the book goes through all key concepts there.
Werbach explains the basics of gamification – using game-related concepts in non-gaming situations, mostly for the benefit of marketing. You will gain a lot of ideas about elements and methods you can apply to your marketing campaigns.
Arianna Huffington: Thrive
Being so far down your career as a marketer means you’re under constant stress. You need to do better and get better by the day. But you still need to take care of yourself. Huffington’s Thrive goes against the grain of popular personal development books and states that the true measure of success is feeling good and being healthy.
Bill Burnett: Designing Your Life
Time for some true career planning. We’re starting not with money or fame, but with the question what you’re getting energy from. Designing Your Life will help you think about the important things in professional development like fulfillment and motivation. And it will guide you through exercises that will make you know exactly how you want your career to continue.
Stories and fun
The final list here includes titles you can read at any stage – just for fun or to boost your motivation.
- Claude C. Hopkins: My Life in Advertising / Scientific Advertising – you’ll be surprised to see what advertising looked like before the turn of the 20th century and how much it resembles our era. Everything should be measured and success has to be demonstrated in numbers.
- David Ogilvy: The Unpublished David Ogilvy – when I’m struggling with writing copy, I pick up Ogilvy to get a boost of inspiration.
- Tom Standage: Writing on the Wall – a historian’s view of the early signs of social media in unexpected places – from Roman graffiti to Enlightenment coffee houses.
- Brad Stone: The Everything Store – a mandatory read for everyone in e-commerce, it demonstrates exactly why Bezos got where he is now.
- Phil Knight: Shoe Dog – this book combines two passions of mine, marketing and running. It tells the story of Nike and how the brand became a sports icon.
- Tony Hsieh: Delivering Happiness – another one on e-commerce, it shows how Zappos became not just a shoe store, but a synonym to “superior customer service”. There are also a bunch of lessons to managers on improving company culture that you shouldn’t miss.
So there you have it – a full list that can easily last you a year. Let me know what are your favorite marketing titles, what books you go back to again and again. Tell me what you like most from this list and what you’d add to it. I’m always looking for recommendations!