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.
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.
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Below are our suggestions for the must-read best marketing books this year.
Great marketing books for this year
1. This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See By Seth Godin, 2018
The latest from one of the great thought leaders in Marketing.
Marketers make change by creating tension which leads to new choices. Those are some of the central premises of the book.
Godin points out that marketers’ job is to pick a story and repeat it and stick with long after we marketers become tired of it. He reminds us that over-reliance on ad spending is for lazy marketers. He disembowels marketers who cut price and race to the bottom as the laziest. “Low price is the last refuge of a marketer who has run out of generous ideas.” Or maybe never had any to begin with.
2. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success By Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, 2017
Most marketing books are old wine in clever new bottles, but about once or twice a year I come across a book that is completely new wine. Hacking Growth is that wine, er, book and my top pick for 2019. Ellis named and started the growth hacker movement in 2010 after his successes at Dropbox and Logmein.
The book is a how-to guide on running a growth program in your company. If you are in digital marketing and not evolving toward growth and away from channels and marketing activity, you are in danger of being left behind.
Epic, breakout book. Highly recommended.
3. Play Bigger: Create New Categories and Dominate Markets By Maney et al, 2016
Serious marketing executives need to be familiar with this book. In it the authors describe the process of category creation and how to become a category king. They cover how to discover a category, the power of a point of view, creating a flywheel, continuous category creation and how to overcome the innovator’s dilemma, and finish with category definition and creation for your career.
Though marketing plays a big role, category creation has to be embraced by the whole company from the CEO down to have a chance.
4. Data-Driven Marketing with Artificial Intelligence: Harness the Power of Predictive Marketing and Machine Learning by Magnus Unemyr, 2018
The author says he was looking for a book that introduced and explained the martech companies and products that are using AI to help us do our jobs, and he could not find one, so he wrote this one. He identified the top two dozen products and interviewed each company to populate the first section of the book.
He groups the products into the following sections: Competitive Intelligence, Predictive Pricing, Ads Strategy, E-commerce, Content Marketing, Lead and Customer Acquisition, Customer Relationships, Segmentation, and Customer Journey. That makes it a very helpful roadmap to evaluating and adopting AI solutions.
5. Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller, 2017
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: 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.
6. Marketing: A Love Story, How to Matter to Your Customers by Bernadette Jiwa, 2014
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 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.
Download a Content Funnel Mapping Checklist to help you deliver your message to your prospects and customers.
7. The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Scott, 2017
The rules of digital marketing are constantly changing. Using case studies and real-life examples, Scott explores the latest best practices that lead to marketing success.
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.
He covers the implications for web site content as well. See how to maximize the SEO value of press releases with this checklist.
8. Don’t Make Me Think Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability By Steve Krug, 2014
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.
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.
9. PRE-SUASION: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini, 2016
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. A compelling read.
10. Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Digital Distraction by Derek Thomson, 2017
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.
In the end he concludes there are no hard and fast rules on what makes things pop, but there are some reliable patterns: 1) simplicity, 2) familiarity, 3) frequency, 4) influential supporters, 5) close-knit supportive groups, 6) rhyming and catchy copy, 7) logical balance and intriguing inversion in messaging, 8) cross-channel support, 9) gradual innovation, and 10) ad hoc random influences.
Thomson is a good, young writer and fine storyteller, and he has put together a useful treatise on a nebulous topic.
11. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley, 2014
Marketing is driven by content, so our next 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.
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.
Read the free ebook on content marketing success.
12. The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences by Matt Watkinson, 2013
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.
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. 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.
13. Non-Obvious 2018: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future By Rohit Bhargava, 2018
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.
See how I tried to do some LightSpeed Learning by benchmarking your digital marketing skills with the 4-minute BrightEdge digital marketing quiz.
14. Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong By Eric Barker
This is a more general business success book that marketers will find interesting. Barker reviews some well-trodden success paths and digs further and adds nuances that are fresh and interesting. He cites research that is less well known than what is usually cited in business success books.
Here are some of the most interesting takeaways:
Drinkers make 10% more money than non-drinkers and smokers make 7% less because drinking is social but smoking is usually private. Speaking early and often in groups causes other people to see you as a leader. Employee networks are valuable to companies; contacts are worth an average of $948 each. Wearing glasses does make people think you are smarter.
Read the book to learn how all these data points fit together to make a person successful.
15. Digital Marketing for Dummies By Ryan Deiss and Russ Hennesberry, 2017
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.
Most 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 year.
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