Now is a good time to think about your 2018 marketing reading list. Reading one of the best marketing books listed below is likely to change and improve the way you market. While there are many classic marketing books that could make a best-books list, the recommended reading list below focuses only on marketing books published within the last 5 years.
Lawyers, doctors, engineers, and architects are all required to do ongoing education to maintain their licenses. Marketers have no license so must tackle the task of self-educating. Serious marketers should read the equivalent of 10 or more educational and industry books per year (2500 pages) to maintain and expand skills and knowledge. Below are our suggestions for the must-read best marketing books this year. Start by benchmarking your digital marketing skills with the BrightEdge digital marketing quiz.
After a few years in the sun, ebooks have declined in sales by 18.7%, according to the Association of American Publishers. Paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period, and hardback sales increased 4.1%. Ebook sales fell to about $877 million, while hardcover and paperback sales grew slightly to account for more than $1.7 billion and $1.6 billion each. A major driver for the increase in sales is the decrease in price Amazon forced on major publishers starting in 2015. Another factor is the growth of the self-publishing platforms and the lower prices that come with it, especially for digital versions. Self-published books and small publishers are growing at more than 50% at the expense of the 5 largest publishers, which are contracting.
Muddying the picture of digital vs paper books is the fact that many self-published books do not have an ISBN number used for inventory and sales tracking. Also, not many people realize how active a publisher Amazon itself is. Amazon now has 13 active imprints, or publishing lines, and in 2016 alone, Amazon Publishing released more than 2,000 titles.
With those commercial details out of the way, let’s get to the list of best marketing books.
Great marketing books for 2018
From new takes on influence to effective multi-channel marketing and to getting down to basics with ridiculously good writing and content, these marketing must-reads are likely to boost your marketing results in 2017.
Before you look at the list, here is a free bonus read: How Smart Is Your Content? based on industry research by BrightEdge, packs a slew of the latest content and online marketing best practices into 27 short pages. Learn how to create content that performs and drives better results online with four proven steps to content marketing. Also see our list of best digital marketing books.
Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
Storytelling is the focus of so many marketing books and assets in recent years that it is impossible to ignore; it’s like a tidal wave washing over drab beaches cluttered with pale, self-promoting, feature-based marketing.
Miller takes a topic that seems kind of obvious and adds his proven 7-step StoryBrand framework. He analyzes the structure of good story similarly to Nancy Duarte in Resonate: character, problem, meets a guide, gets a plan, drives to action, avoids failure, and ends with a success. Where Miller exceeds Duarte is that he directly applies the storytelling structure to business cases that resonate with marketers like me and you.
Download a free site style guide checklist to help you communicate your message to more customers.
One of the measures of a book’s value to me is how many points I mark up as I read, and I did that 70 times in 210 pages. Here are just a few:
“If you confuse, you’ll lose.”
The enemy of good marketing is noise. (corporate speak)
“Story is the greatest weapon we have against noise because it organizes information in such a way that people are compelled to listen. Story makes music out of noise.”
“The customer is your hero, not your brand or product.” The brand should be positioned as the guide to the hero.
“The guide, not the hero, is the one with the most authority.”
As you can see, the ideas are familiar, but the context and insights are fresh and compelling. Miller explains how the StoryBrand framework will also help with staff recruiting and managing corporate identity and culture. Miller also includes useful templates and instructions. I highly recommend this book. I think Building a Story Brand is the best marketing read for me since Marketing: A Love Story, which you can learn more about below.
Marketing: A Love Story, How to Matter to Your Customers
Don’t be deterred by the “love” in the title; instead focus on the ultra-compelling subtitle “How to Matter to Your Customers.” Mattering to your customer requires emotional connection.
The book does not have much structure because it is adapted from a series of blog posts Jiwa wrote, but the material is original and engaging, and the book is so short at 81 pages that it doesn’t matter. The book will apply for entrepreneurs, B2B, and B2C marketers.
If you have been unsure about how to introduce emotion into your sales or marketing communication, this book will give you more insight, ideas, and inspiration than any other book out there. She claims you don’t sell a product, you sell a story and doing so requires both facts and feelings.
Here are some examples from the book: “One of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur or innovator has is understanding how to make his ideas resonate. We tend to have no shortage of ideas, but we struggle to tell the story of how they are going to be useful in the world and why it will matter to people.”
“The smart brands of the new millennium have thrived on this notion of building for belonging….It’s more important to create deeper connections to the right people to make your business sustainable.”
“All the marketing tactics in the world won’t save us from our own indifference [to the customers we acquire].”
“Marketing is not a department; it’s the story of how you create difference for your customers. Marketing is about becoming part of people’s stories.”
Download a Content Funnel Mapping Checklist to help you deliver your message to your prospects and customers.
Like Simon Sinek, Jiwa brings up Why questions frequently. Why is an important question that marketers fail to ask often enough. This was my #1 pick from last year. Highly recommended.
The New Rules of Marketing and PR: 6th Edition, How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
by David Meerman Scott, 2017
4.5 rating on Amazon, #9,430 on Amazon
The rules of digital marketing are constantly changing. Using case studies and real-life examples, David Meerman Scott explores the latest best practices that lead to marketing success. Updated in 2015, Scott’s book also delves into the current social media trends, including Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat 2 of which are already dead. Things move fast on the Internet.
The book is a good introduction to the role of social media marketing and PR. The first part is an argument why organizations, especially smaller businesses and nonprofits, should emphasize social media and how the efficient use of social media depends on a different way of thinking compared to traditional media. The second part discusses the different tools of social media and how they could be used to support marketing and PR. He goes on to define niche and mission, providing information and targeted content, thinking about virtual audience, and dialogue with members and related organizations. He covers the implications for web site content as well. See how to maximize the SEO value of press releases with this checklist.
Scott’s essential message is that you can now bypass the traditional marketing channels and reach out directly to customers, provided you have a worthwhile offering and message. To do this, you must philosophically move from monologue to dialogue and from propaganda to participation. These necessary changes in marketing approach are the result of the Internet’s expansion of communication channels from one-to-many . . . to many-to-one . . . to many-to-many . . . to one-to-one. These four communication modalities combined with the ability to bypass land-based distribution channels and transact commerce online represents a sea change in marketing.
Don’t Make Me Think Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
Krug published the first edition in 2000, and the book has been the bible of user experience since the early 2000s. Web sites are the primary interface between most businesses and their customers. So all the great marketing campaigns in the world won’t work well unless the site is effective at handling the customers marketing brings to it.
The title is the recurring theme of the book: customers should not have to figure out or interpret your site, it should just work the way they expect. He adds his web facts of life to guide us: #1 We don’t read pages. We scan them. #2 We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice them. #3 We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through. For the most part, be conventional and don’t try to reinvent the wheel each update or release.
Download a free site style guide checklist to help you communicate your message to more customers.
The book is shortish at 191 pages and uses the principles he recommends. It is colorful, uses high-contrast layout, and is very skimmable with clear headlines and subheads. Every marketer with a web site needs to read this book periodically.
PRE-SUASION: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
by Robert Cialdini, 2016
4.6 rating on Amazon, #768 on Amazon
Cialdini wrote the seminal work on Influence in 1984; Pre-Suasion is the long-awaited sequel, and it delivers. Both books belong on a marketer’s bookshelf because marketers work to influence people to take particular actions.
In Pre-Suasion Cialdini goes deeper into the subtleties of persuasion, covering privileged moments, attention and importance, focus and causality, identity, place, crowds, and shared action. The book seemed particularly insightful and relevant after watching the momentous 2016 US presidential election. Watch a webinar on persuading your organization to support SEO.
These insights help a marketer in two primary areas: 1) persuading internal colleagues and executives to support the marketing plan and its initiatives, 2) persuading the consumers to take appropriate action.
Though the book is primarily sociological and psychological, Cialdini does give examples of how to influence purchase behavior and willingness to spend more. He cites studies that showed how free gifts increase tips dramatically, that people are pre-suaded to purchase by commonalities and getting compliments, and how social proof works. A compelling read.
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Digital Distraction
by Derek Thomson, 2017
4.3 rating on Amazon, #133 in Pop Culture/General
Thomson set out to study what makes things break big. This is an important topic for marketers whose main goal is to make their products known and loved by as many people in their target market as possible. He covers many media over the last 2 centuries, including Impressionist art, winning political speech and speakers, movies, music, fashion, books, Etsy hit products, and mobile apps.
Interestingly, he finds that viral distribution in the common sense does not really drive the results. Most of the hits benefit from a big push from one or more players with a large megaphone.
In the end he concludes there are no hard and fast rules to what makes things pop but there are some reliable patterns: 1) simplicity, 2) familiarity, 3) frequency, 4) influential supporters, 4) close-knit supportive groups, 5) rhyming and catchy copy, 6) logical balance and intriguing inversion in messaging, 7) cross-channel support, 8) gradual innovation, and 9) ad hoc random influences.
He uses a shorthand acronym, MAYA, developed by famed designer Raymond Loewy, which stands for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. This defines the range of where something new is novel and refreshing but also not so different from known elements as to feel too strange. That is a sweet spot for cutting-edge design and media.
Thomson is a good, young writer and fine storyteller, and he has put together a useful treatise on a difficult topic.
Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
by Ann Handley, 2014
4.7 rating on Amazon, #6102 on Amazon
Marketing is driven by content, so our second pick on the list of the best marketing books is about content creation. To create really good content, you need the writing skills to make your ideas come alive in an engaging way.
In this book, marketing guru Ann Handley gives insightful guidance that everyone can use to uplevel skills, write like a pro and develop high-quality content that gets results. The book covers all things writing, from grammar and organizing ideas to creating a compelling brand story. Read the free ebook on content marketing success.
From the author: “That means you’ve got to choose words well, and write with economy and the style and honest empathy for your customers. And it means you put a new value on an often-overlooked skill in content marketing: How to write, and how to tell a true story really, really well. That’s true whether you’re writing a listicle or the words on a Slideshare deck or the words you’re reading right here, right now. And so being able to communicate well in writing isn’t just nice; it’s necessity. And it’s also the oft-overlooked cornerstone of nearly all our content marketing.” Learn more about what smart content is and how marketers are succeeding with content.
This book has dozens of useful insights for how to produce really good writing content. Highly recommended for all the marketers who write or edit content.
Watkinson is a designer and consultant who helps businesses get their customer experience right, and he brings a product and service design perspective to customer experience.
Midway through the book he recommends to “start at the start and end at the end” in other words really understand the customer experience in step-by-step detail and as a whole flow. He explains that setting and exceeding expectations are critical to managing the customers’ reaction to the experiences provided. He brackets the situations into Dissonance, or not matching, Absence, or no expectation exists, and Inference, or the customers’ expectations are being set elsewhere.
Great customer experiences are effortless — for the customer. He outlines 3 areas to address: 1) Time on task, 2) Convenience, 3) Simplicity. Companies often lose track of this principle as they evolve and update their products and services. Less is usually more if you deeply understand what is most important to your customer and what they value most from you. Organize information in predictable ways: 1) category, 2) time, 3) location, 4) alphabet, and 5) continuum. In the stress principle, Watkinson covers proper error handling and recovery. Download a checklist of site usability and readiness.
The book is an excellent read on design and customer delight which leads to better customer retention with many practical tips and takeaways.
What Customers Crave: How to Create Relevant and Memorable Experiences at Every Touchpoint
Like Watkinson in the previously reviewed book, Webb advances the discussion of how to treat customers and move beyond customer service to creating exceptional customer experiences. He recommends starting with an audit by an outside provider to properly allocate time and resources to establishing a benchmark and finding problems. Instead of simple personas, Webb advises to frame up what your customers love and hate. He defines a model for customer typing based on ESP, Expectation Sensory Experience and Price/Value.
The heart of his customer experience analysis are the 5 touchpoint moments: pre-touch, first-touch, core-touch, last-touch, and in-touch. The in-touch element is about building a relationship with the customer based on personal, relevant, and valuable exchanges and content, somewhat like the Challenger model.
Learn how to map to customer touchpoints with this content funnel map checklist.
This is the heart of modern content marketing and why this new book makes a great addition to my recommended marketing reading list.
Non-Obvious 2018: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future
I bought this book two months ago and just got around to reading and finishing it. I prefer books with a core premise or two; Bhargava focuses on the landscape in which we work, spots trends, and explains how marketers can tap into and take advantage of them. He also explains how to curate information and spot trends for those who are interested.
Bhargava republishes the book each year as he understands that trends are fast moving and he wants to keep a current perspective. His trends include: Enlightened Consumption, Overtargeting, Brand Stand, Backstorytelling, Manipulated Outrage, Lightspeed Learning, Virtual Empathy, Human Mode, Data Pollution, and Predictive Protection among others.
Learn about the present and the future by reading the free Future of Marketing and AI Survey Report.
These trends are great for marketers to understand and incorporate into their commentary and thought leadership. Overtargeting describes the tendency to over focus on performance and exclude market segments that are less well understood. Brand Stand explains how a company takes a principled stand in favor of a cause and also generates positive PR and customer connection. Manipulated Outrage drove the 2016 presidential election. Lightspeed Learning explains how to increase the adoption of information and knowledge to drive business by getting the duration and weight of the material right. See how I tried to do some LightSpeed Learning by benchmarking your digital marketing skills with the 4-minute BrightEdge digital marketing quiz.
By Ryan Deiss and Russ Hennesberry, 2017
4.6 rating on Amazon, #53 in web marketing
Digital Marketing for Dummies is published by Wiley. This book is an excellent reference, and it includes many practical, specific, and current details, insights, and advice.
Learn more about the channels and the digital marketing technology in the free Martech Stack Checklist.
It’s a very readable 300 pages and covers the customer journey, marketing planning, landing pages, blogging, SEO, SEM, social, display, email, and data and analytics.
I like the focus on landing pages, which often get lost in the shuffle of channel and media planning as a high-leverage link in the funnel chain. They also reiterate the importance of the offer and revisiting and tuning the offer regularly. They provide 57 blog category ideas, including List, How-To, Research, Stat Roundup, People to Follow, Parody, Issue, Comparison, What-If, Challenge, and Products Tips to name just 11.
On email, they recommend writing to answer the four questions: Why now? Who cares? Why should they care? Can you prove it? They also introduce data.studio.google.com for visual reporting.
Chapter 14 is The Ten Most Common Digital Marketing Mistakes and includes ten classic errors to avoid, like being product-centric, not aligning Marketing’s goals with Sales’, and the distraction of shiny objects. They also add information on marketing jobs and resume building. Overall, it is an extremely useful and valuable marketing book.
By Ray Dalio, 2017
4.5 rating on Amazon, #2 in business books, #35 overall
Principles is not a marketing book per se, but it is a management book with wild popularity and readership. And since marketers are also managers, I add it to my review list.
The book is long at 552 pages–thunk. The first 2 sections are autobiographical and Life Principles. I do not think Ray Dalio’s life is interesting enough to fill 121 pages as I read business books for ideas and not summary of activity. In Life Principles he shares mundane insights, like be radically open minded and understand that people are different. He covers in detail the Myers-Briggs Personality Typing, which has been around for decades. It is unnecessary in a book that is already very long. On page 280 he gets to Work Principles and has a sensible framework focused on Culture, People, and Build and Evolve Your Machine. The graphics seem like they are from a 1990s MBA text.
To me the book could be titled: Every One of My Thoughts on Life and Work.
All of the titles on this best marketing books list are well worth the money and time and will help set you up for a productive 2018.
Free bonus read: How Smart Is Your Content? based on industry research by BrightEdge, packs a slew of the latest content and online marketing best practices into 27 short pages. Learn how to create content that performs and drives better results online with four proven steps to content marketing. Also see our list of best digital marketing books.