You got into business because you have a passion for your products. But selling those products requires a specific set of skills. While “If you build it, they will come” is a nice premise for a movie, it doesn’t always apply to product sales. For that, you need marketing.
From positioning to promotion to price, marketing helps you attract and engage customers. Fortunately, you can get quite an education on its dos and don’ts between the covers of a book.
Here are 20 of the best marketing books that deserve a spot on your bookshelf.
Start with these 12 classic marketing books
Some business books stand the test of time, while others become instant classics. These dozen titles will help make you a CMO as well as a CEO.
Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is one of the most highly recommended books on the topic of marketing, for good reason. In it, he shares the psychology of what makes people act the way they do, which is valuable insight when it comes to persuading someone to make a purchase. While Cialdini’s book originally was released in 1984, it’s been revised and updated to address the changing marketplace.
“The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.” ―Robert Cialdini
Key takeaway: Social proof is a powerful method of persuasion. Leverage it by adding testimonials or social media links to your website.
2. Permission Marketing
Seth Godin is another icon in the marketing realm. He’s written many good books, and one of his best is Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers—a must-read for small-business owners. Godin believes in offering value up front to build relationships with customers over time, an idea that’s especially relevant in an age of digital marketing, where businesses are competing for attention in an increasingly noisy marketplace.
“The goal of the permission marketer is to move consumers up the permission ladder, moving them from strangers to friends to customers. And from customers to loyal customers. At every step of the ladder, trust grows, responsibility grows, and profits grow.” —Seth Godin
Key takeaway: Email marketing is a form of permission marketing. Honor and keep customers’ attention by sending value instead of overt ads.
3. Top of Mind
When a customer needs the product you sell, your goal as a business owner is to be top of mind—but how? John Hall addresses this challenge in his classic book, Top of Mind. Combining branding techniques with business relationship building, Hall provides readers with the tools they need to stay top of mind with their customers and their business network.
“‘You Marketing’ revolves around a singular question: How can I make life better for you? Notice that the question is neither ‘How can I make life better for you so that you’ll buy whatever I’m selling?’ nor ‘How can I trick you into believing that I care?’ Consumers are too savvy and too wary to be manipulated. The instant you misrepresent yourself or your intentions is the instant you lose all credibility.” —John Hall
Key takeaway: Consumer needs and expectations have changed. Content that enriches lives has the potential to build lasting relationships.
Too many businesses call themselves “the Uber” of this or “the Netflix” of that. Being different can feel risky, but standing out is how you capture attention. In Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, the Wharton School’s top-rated professor provides inspiration and advice for having new ideas and practices without risking it all.
“Ultimately, the people who choose to champion originality are the ones who propel us forward. After spending years studying them and interacting with them, I am struck that their inner experiences are not any different from our own. They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. They know in their hearts that failing would yield less regret than failing to try.” —Adam Grant
Key takeaway: Keep an idea journal to record any and all ideas for your business. Many of your ideas may not work, but you’ll also come up with gems that can help grow your business.
5. Crushing It!
Gary Vaynerchuk is a bit of a rock star in the entrepreneurial world, due to both his attitude and his personal story of transforming his family’s liquor store into a $60-million business. His latest book, Crushing It!, helps entrepreneurs define their personal brands and use them to gain customers’ attention. It’s a practical guide for winning with social media marketing.
“What worked for me won’t work for you, however, and vice versa. That’s why self-awareness is so vital—you have to be true to yourself at all times.” ―Gary Vaynerchuk
Key takeaway: Social media platforms are different, and your marketing on each should fit the platform.
If you’ve ever wondered how customers make buying decisions, Martin Lindstrom’s book Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy will help. Lindstrom performed a three-year neuro-marketing study of 2,000 volunteers as they encountered ads, logos, commercials, brands, and products. He learned the importance of rituals, superstitions, religion, and the senses in branding and selling.
“If marketers could uncover what is going on in our brains that makes us choose one brand over another—what information passes through our brain’s filter and what information doesn’t—well that would be the key to truly building brands of the future.” —Martin Lindstrom
Key takeaway: Everything from color to texture affects a buyer’s decision-making process. If you understand how the brain works, you can make better brand choices.
7. Epic Content Marketing
Joe Pulizzi is an expert in the area of content marketing. He’s also the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, a great resource for brands that want information on connecting with customers through content. Pulizzi’s book Epic Content Marketing takes you through the process of creating stories to inform and engage customers.
“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves.” ―Joe Pulizzi
Key takeaway: To have success with content marketing you must fulfill an unmet need, deliver consistent value, and stay true to your brand and voice.
8. Made to Stick
Ever wonder why some ideas are well received while others never take off? Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath did, and they explore the shared characteristics of winning ideas in their book Made to Stick. With this book, you can learn to apply the principles of “ideas that stick” to your own marketing messages.
“In the world of ideas, we can genetically engineer our players. We can create ideas with an eye to maximizing their stickiness.” —Chip and Dan Heath
Key takeaway: To stick, ideas need to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and used with stories that help them connect with customers.
Another classic marketing book is Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It addresses the importance of not just creating a message but also of creating a position. Business owners need to understand how their company’s strengths and weaknesses fit in the marketplace and in the eyes of their customer.
“Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.” —Al Ries and Jack Trout
Key takeaway: You can use several techniques to capture your audience, including choosing the best name, finding your competitive advantage, and analyzing market trends that affect your positioning.
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10. How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age
More than 50 years after its original publication, Dale Carnegie’s classic book has been updated and reimagined for the modern marketplace. How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age shows you how to apply time-tested principles to building relationships with customers, off- and online, including taking an interest in other people, listening, and connecting with core desires.
“The two highest levels of influence are achieved when (1) people follow you because of what you’ve done for them and (2) people follow you because of who you are. In other words, the highest levels of influence are reached when generosity and trustworthiness surround your behavior.” —Dale Carnegie
Key takeaway: People want to feel important. Use your business to accomplish that and you’ll win friends and influence people.
11. Don't Make Me Think, Revisited
While Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug isn’t specifically about marketing, it will change the way you think about creating websites. This updated version will help you understand the principles of intuitive navigation and information design, and includes a new chapter on mobile usability. Krug’s engaging read has plenty of illustrations, which is why it’s one of the best-loved and most recommended books on the subject.
“It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.” —Steve Krug
Key takeaway: Friction can affect the user experience—no matter the medium. Reducing friction can help you deliver a better experience for your customers.
12. Tested Advertising Methods
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples was published more than 20 years ago, but modern marketers still get value from it. The principles shared around writing engaging copy that sells can be applied to nearly every medium. This book will give you insights on timeless, successful advertising concepts.
“The best headlines are those that appeal to the reader's self-interest, that is, headlines based on reader benefits. They offer readers something they want—and can get from you.” —John Caples
Key takeaway: Technology may change how we reach people, but great messaging and storytelling remain constant.
8 more books you may not have heard of
With hundreds of books released every year on the topic of marketing, it can be impossible to keep up. Here are eight that may have flown under your radar but are worth picking up.
13. The Marketing Book
If you need a step-by-step plan for marketing, look no further than Jason McDonald’s The Marketing Book. It provides a practical guide for creating a plan using the “think/do/measure” method. Each chapter outlines a task, explaining how to think about it, how to do it, and how to measure the results.
“[Marketing] is harder than it looks, and so this book breaks marketing down into five key activities: 1. Define what you sell, that they want. 2. Build your brand. 3. Make yourself easy-to-find. 4. Create compelling content. 5. Think and deploy; that is, promote your brand across digital and non-digital channels.” —Jason McDonald
Key takeaway: When you create a marketing plan, it’s important to understand the process, implement the best method, and then measure the results. Success takes all three.
14. Social Media Marketing When You Have No Clue!
Social media is an effective way to promote and market your brand, but it also takes some skill. Instead of taking a hit-or-miss approach, grab Gundi Gabrielle’s book Social Media Marketing When You Have No Clue! You’ll learn how to use social networks as channels for making money. Each chapter provides instructions for using various platform and looks at several social media trends.
“Social media is an ever changing world of buzz and intrigue. This also affects your marketing. What may have worked 2 years ago may no longer be valid, and it’s important to stay up to date with trends and changes for each platform.” —Gundi Gabrielle
Key takeaway: Millions of people use social media every day, and your business should leverage its power. Good marketing strategies can help you monetize your profile and build your brand.
15. Location Is (Still) Everything
If you’re running an ecommerce business, you might not think location matters. Wharton professor and marketing expert David R. Bell says that our physical world impacts how customers use the internet. In his book, Location Is (Still) Everything, he shares research about how consumers’ nearby stores and neighborhoods affect their decision-making, and what online retailers need to do to succeed.
“The way we use the virtual world of the Internet—for commerce and for information—is dictated to a large extent by the physical world that each of us resides in. This influence is pervasive, and sometimes counterintuitive, with implications for our lives in both worlds.” —David R. Bell.
Key takeaway: Suggest that customers have their orders shipped to their offices—then make sure your packaging advertises your brand. You’ll get more visibility at an office instead of a home.
16. Unleash Possible
If your business sells to other businesses (B2B), creating a marketing plan will require specific relationship-building techniques. In her book,Unleash Possible, Samantha Stone shows you how to approach marketing with a partnership mentality, making changes in your organization to address a complex relationship with sales.
“In our quest for using data to make decisions, we’ve swung the pendulum too far. If we can’t measure it, we’re unwilling to experiment with it. The truth is, in marketing, emotion plays an instrumental role in connecting with our audience. We must value creativity as much as data science.” —Samantha Stone
Key takeaway: B2B marketing means becoming a trusted partner and serving buyers. Doing those two things will drive more revenue, growth, and profitability.
17. Get Scrappy
You don’t need a big budget to create an effective marketing strategy. Nick Westergaard’s bookGet Scrappy will help you make the most of your marketing money. You’ll learn how to create relevant and engaging content that sparks dialogues—and hopefully sales—with your community of customers, from implementing digital marketing to doing more with less.
“Getting scrappy is getting smart. Putting strategy first and ensuring that you know what it is you’re trying to do in the first place. This not only leads to better marketing out of the gate, it also helps you measure what matters so that you can optimize your work for the long haul.” — Nick Westergaard
Key takeaway: Having a reliable, repeatable system for marketing will help you grow your community and your sales.
18. Creative Advertising
Teaching through example, Creative Advertising by Mario Pricken showcases a mix of timeless and less recognizable advertising campaigns and breaks down the thinking behind them. With more than 200 examples, you’ll get inspired by a wide range of advertising types, with each chapter highlighting different methods to help you create innovative and unforgettable ads.
“The best ideas take time. The more you think about the product, analyse it, examine it from every angle—play with it, in other words—the more freely great ideas will flow. Give your team all the information you can get ahold of.” —Mario Pricken
Key takeaway: Look at your products in a new way to create innovative marketing and advertising campaigns.
19. Everybody Writes
Marketing often feels like it boils down to messaging and measurement, and you can’t create compelling messages without knowing how to write. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley is a bit more accessible than other popular choices, which makes it a great entry point for any marketer looking to improve their writing.
“The best companies don’t just churn out regular blog posts with the heavy-handedness of an orphanage doling out gruel. Rather, they put the needs of their audience first; they regard the ability to create content as something of a privilege.” —Ann Handley
Key takeaway: Writing matters more than ever. Content tells customers who you are and brings your business to life.
20. Inbound Content
Inbound Content is a modern look at effective content marketing from Justin Champion, HubSpot Academy’s content marketing guru. It’s a great book to read before or while you plan your content strategy and one that contains advice on customer journeys, content organization, and site structure that will set you up to win for the long term.
“Most content marketers wear a lot of hats, leaving them strapped for time. Having a clear action plan that can be reused saves time and keeps you and your initiatives moving forward.” —Justin Champion
Key takeaway: Having a website and social media is not enough; you have to create content that draws customers in.
Marketing your business is an owner’s most important job. These books will help you succeed by showing you the best ways to focus on your customers, stand out from the crowd, and build strong relationships. Apply their principles and your products may (almost) sell themselves. Looking for more books to read? Check out our list of best books for entrepreneurs.
Illustration by Rachel Tunstall