The world of marketing is vast. As such there are many great resources for marketing professionals to read and discover. But, how do you know which resources will actually help you with your marketing goals? In this article, marketing professionals share the book that changed how they approach marketing. Use this list to help you create your must-read list and improve your marketing strategies.
"Lean Startup" by Eric Ries has hands down been the most influential book not just in how I approach marketing but, how I approach business in general. The lean methodology taught in the book has helped us rapidly test, iterate and grow the campaigns that we run for our clients in a systematic way.
I truly believe that you are not using the lean startup approach when it comes to marketing you're doing yourself a disfavor. The reason being is that it shifts the focus on doing one big campaign launch into small iterative tests that will allow you to consistently tweak and refine your campaigns towards success.
"The 1-Page Marketing Plan" by Allan Dib helped me simplify the way I was marketing my SaaS copywriting business. Working with VC-backed startups, I knew marketing could be very complex, multi-channel, and expensive. About 4 years ago, I was trying to take on too many different marketing channels for my own business. I was marketing myself with Instagram, LinkedIn, my blog, cold email, and publicity. After I read that book, I knew I was spreading myself too thin. The single-page plan helped me focus on optimizing one channel first and to upsell current clients to additional projects.
I decided to double down on cold email pitching, and immediately scored great clients and portfolio pieces. Although I now market my business primarily with publicity and SEO, at the time it was really helpful to focus on outbound marketing. My SaaS copywriting business wouldn't be what it is today if I hadn't pitched my ideal clients back then.
Very few books ever truly talk about how to sell expensive products. Other resources tell you to raise your prices, but then continue to give you the same marketing advice as if you were selling discount gummies. However, "The Luxury Strategy" actually delivers on the promise of the title. It’s the only book I’ve ever found that actually goes deep into how luxury brands like Gucci, Rolex, and Prada sell products to the rich.
This includes how to market with status, exclusivity, and scarcity rather than trying to be a “better” product. Personally, I work with ecCommerce brands that rely on their pricing power to differentiate their products and to afford their advertising costs. In the past, I tried to sell their products using the same high-pressure tactics infomercials used. It worked, but it crushed our margins.
After reading The Luxury Strategy though, I now focus on strategies that position the product as a “must-have” gift they need to collect rather than just a "good deal". This has resulted in every client making more sales and with higher profit margins. It's by far the most important and unique marketing book I've ever read.
The book that completely changed the way I do marketing is "SPIN Selling" by Neil Rackham. Although we often treat sales and marketing as two distinct entities, they both involve persuading consumers to take a particular action or make a purchasing decision.
SPIN Selling shifted my mindset by introducing me to the concept of consultative sales. Instead of following the “old school” model of having one-way communication with potential customers and trying to get them to buy immediately, we can make sales by offering value and leading the customer through their decision-making process.
In the early part of my career, this was revolutionary. Not only did it change the way I do sales, but it changed the way I approach content & SEO as well. Now, my firm focuses on producing content that helps guide readers towards the ideal solutions for the challenges they face. Sometimes that means they purchase our clients' products, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it works well and is a sustainable way to build strong brands and a loyal customer base.
I'm sure this book will come up more than once in this list, but there's no other book that changed my view of marketing than "Contagious" by Jonah Berger. I received the book as a gift, which in turn has led me to gifting it to at least a dozen other people who work in marketing.
Contagious is a book about why and how things go viral while others don't. It centres around Jonah’s six principles of STEPPS (Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical value, Stories) as to why things catch on, with chapters dedicated to each. The intro is a little on the long side, but once you get past it, it's full of stories, case studies, and deep breakdowns on why certain things catch on, and how you can purposefully create a viral hit of your own.
The number one book that changed the way I approach marketing is "Breakthrough Advertising" by Eugene Schwartz. While it was written in 1966, it hits on essential truths that remain just as applicable today.
The most common mistake when thinking about marketing a product is to begin with a product-centric approach. While it may seem natural to construct your delivery this way, it misses the mark. People do not buy features, and they only tangentially purchase benefits. What they are really buying is the satisfaction of some want or need.
Therefore, your job as a marketer is to identify the strongest desire your product can fulfill, and hammer away at it relentlessly. Point out that your product solves it, reinforce that your product solves it, and then show that it explicitly (or symbolically if needed) that it gets the job done. Your customer is buying the satisfaction of a desire - show them they will get what they are looking for, and you've done your job.
Malcolm Gladwell’s "Blink" is about the unconscious decisions we make. Blink is not explicitly about marketing, but Gladwell’s hit book has been embraced by marketers and I find it fascinating. Blink examines the thinking we do when we are not consciously aware of it and how that affects our snap judgments on what products/services to purchase or avoid.
These snap judgments are what marketers should pay attention to when they want us to buy their product or service blindly without thinking too hard about it. Gladwell argues that these split-second decisions can be made rapidly and with great accuracy due in part because of our intuition which relies heavily on emotional intelligence. This is a great strategy for marketers trying to connect better with customers/clients to understand what makes them tick.
The book has allowed me to think about conversion optimization along with the SEO we perform for clients. We need the website traffic to convert with split-second decisions for purchases, calls, or form submissions.
If I had to choose one book that influenced me the most as a marketer, it would have to be "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.
While it’s not a marketing book per se, it taught me a lot about how to help people feel understood and valued. Not only has this helped me operationally as I work to expand our marketing team at Prehired, but it also makes my campaigns more effective.
Learning the techniques in the book helped me heal from severe social anxiety, and got me interested in deeper ways to connect to people. From there, it became more natural to leave my previous career as a software engineer and get into sales & marketing.
Now that I’m primarily focused on creating & managing PPC campaigns, this knowledge of what motivates people helps me to craft messaging that resonates, and I constantly talk with our new members about their journeys to gain deeper knowledge of what motivates them, and how we can help them achieve their dreams.
"Blue Ocean Strategy" was the game-changing business book for me, recommended some years ago by a mentor. It’s still the best business I’ve read! Authors Kim &
Mauborgne does such a wonderful job of illustrating why business is so hard without strategies. Specifically, they show why so many companies struggle: a lack of differentiation that results in seemingly zero-sum competition. (A red ocean, a bloody competitive space.) This also handily explains so many marketing strategies and execution struggles.
Instead, they recommend you pursue a blue ocean strategy. A blue ocean strategy seeks or creates spaces where there is no competition. Put another way, if you can change the definitions of your industry, claiming uncontested market space is much easier! The authors also challenge you to reject false choices in strategy. For example, it’s a misconception that value and low cost can’t coexist. With proper innovation and automation, you just might be able to provide a compelling business offering that hasn’t been before.
For me, the book that changed my idea of how to do marketing was the book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini PhD. In this book, I learned the "recipes" of what makes someone decide to buy a product or service, in an ethical manner.
Many marketing books are a collection of templates with marketing ideas that have worked in the past but may not work anymore. Cialdini instead goes deeper and teaches how to "pull the strings" that move us to make our choices. So instead of learning a paint by numbers approach, you learn color theory with his book.
We, humans, are complex creatures, we are moved by a combination of rational decisions and emotions, mixed in various proportions, this book teaches how to identify what buttons you need to push in order to fully convince your audience on why they need the product or service you are offering.
When I first got into marketing I was coming from a completely different world (banking and finance) so I was learning and reading anything I could find.
I attribute my deep passion for marketing to a few books that showed me the psychological aspects of how marketing worked and how businesses could use different aspects of human nature to encourage and influence what people thought or bought.
"Neuromarketing", "Buy-ology"and "The Buying Brain"
As much as 95% of our decisions are made by the subconscious mind, deeply embedded through evolution, our senses, and our emotions, and given my previous background I had no idea about any of this.
I realized not many years ago I wanted to study psychology so it's not surprising that I was so interested in these topics.
Understanding psychology and how we make decisions has not only helped my marketing career but also improved my understanding of people in general which has been beneficial for relationships and leading a team.
"The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande
It is not a marketing book per se, but whether we like it or not, many of the day-to-day tasks that we do as marketers are repetitive processes done over and over again for our clients or our websites. That’s also where the efficiency of what we do lies. Having good processes in place frees up your mind – and gives it the space it needs to do the creative & strategic thinking that truly moves the needle in the long run.
For me, Checklist Manifesto was the book that drove home the importance of having checklists, processes & SOPs for all of my marketing & content efforts. The book provides many examples from construction, medical & aviation fields where checklists are critical to the day-to-day work & functioning of those organizations. I’m sure the importance of processes & SOPs is covered in many business & marketing books, but it is those examples that really made me see the importance of them.
Before reading the book, my organization, notes & task management was all over the place. After reading it, my content marketing efforts are much more systematized, automated, efficient & I try to make some time to think about the bigger picture every day.
"Storybrand" by Donald Miller will change the way you market your business forever. It’s an ingenious way of thinking about communicating to your target audience where they’re the hero and you’re a guide on the journey. I’ve helped multiple clients adopt the principles of this book and it’s helped them grow their business substantially.
No one cares about the year your company was founded or that you have a ping pong table in your office. They care about how you’ll make their lives better, who you’re uniquely qualified to help and what they need to do to work with you – or buy your product. This really comes in handy when writing content for your website.
It’s dead simple but often quite hard to implement. I’d highly recommend this book to someone who is trying to transform their marketing messaging. They also have a lot of resources, including a podcast, that you can utilize to help improve your marketing.
"Traction" by Gabriel Weinberg - this book has the right formula. You must balance time between your product and getting 'traction' in equal amounts. This book provides a sound summary framework for different channels and a great tactical strategy. Finding ways to incorporate all 19 different traction channels is a great mindset for a CEO to have. Ensuring your startup is successful requires a methodical, quantitative approach in many areas.
I appreciate how the 'bullseye' formula lays out a simple methodology to follow. Similarly, it is important to establish a rule of ‘thinking’. Defining the critical path for a startup is crucial. Testing the success of marketing channels and strategies and quickly determining their efficacy is paramount.
This book lays out simple, effective ways to accomplish this and subsequently optimize your approach. Once you’ve optimized your critical path activities you are well on your way to executing against the goals you’ve set.
The book that had the biggest impact on the way I approach marketing is “The Ultimate Sales Machine” by Chet Holmes.
The book was written in 2007, but the lessons inside its pages feel more important to me than ever.
I read "The Ultimate Sales Machine" for the first time 4 years ago while on vacation in Sanibel Island, Florida. I have re-read it every summer since. In fact, I’m probably going to have to order a new copy before this beach season because the pages are tearing off the spine of my original. I reference it that often.
It instantly shifted my mindset regarding how to generate revenue and market my online businesses.
The tagline of the book is “Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies”, and throughout the book, Chet reminds you that only with true laser focus will you be able to build the business of your dreams.
That constant reminder to focus and build predictable sales and marketing systems helps me break through many plateaus during my online marketing journey.
"Content Chemistry" by Andy Crestodina is one of the most detailed books I've ever read. From brainstorming content, setting up keywords, and writing with links in mind to tweaking based on data. This book covers all your bases when it comes to content marketing. It's a great resource for anyone who creates written content online!
"Ask" by Ryan Levesque - Much has been said about doing market research to find out what exactly your customers want. But I think the one book that teaches it right is definitely Ask. It helps you take out the guesswork of the equation so that you can give your customers exactly what they want even if they don't know what they want.
The pillars of the system are four primary surveys:
Using only these four surveys, you can easily extract actionable information from your prospects while building trust and intrigue at the same time.
Has saved me a ton on unnecessary ad spend. I rather give that money to the prospects for filling out the surveys.
I want to share the classics. When I was a student, an older friend of mine gave me two books that laid the foundation of how I think and work on marketing. The first one was "Marketing Warfare" and the second one was "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" written by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
My main takeaway from this book was that the "supermarket" marketing approach isn't suitable in 99% of cases. To win the customers' minds, you have to establish positioning. Any good positioning has to find a niche, refer to a specific audience, and be simple enough to be formulated in 2 or 3 sentences.
With time, in the over-communicative world, this became more and more important. Successful marketing has to have a laser scalpel approach and be consistent. Not too many products can afford to change their positioning after the launch. Take your time to think and plan your positioning before launch. Because, with one product, you will likely have only one shot to hit it!
"Profit First" by Mike Michalowicz
Do you think that your business is profitable?
Many entrepreneurs think that to be profitable depends on having a good business idea that generates a lot of money. They would never realize that their success or failure depends on the way they manage their business.
Who doesn't have trouble managing their budget? I guess this book has changed the way I make money. Dividing all incomes by container is one of the greatest ways to manage your money. It doesn't matter what you need your money for. Investment, Tools, ADS, you name it.
Another thing that was so important in the implementation in my business was to talk about an emergency budget. This is one budget that may be as a young person you don't think about. But believe, you will sleep better if you have one.
Don't think too much to start reading this book, this is a must.
Because of my strong background in search engine optimization, I naturally gravitate towards books that not only tackle hardcore SEO, but also how SEO can be integrated seamlessly and effectively with sound digital marketing practices in order to produce results. For me, one book that has had a profound effect in my profession and career is "The Art of SEO: Mastering Searching Engine Optimization (3rd Edition)" by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer and Jessie C. Stricchiola.
This book simply offers a wide range of insights into basically all facets of the SEO process. From the fundamentals of how search engine algorithm work to more complex topics like vertical, mobile, or local SEO. It even discusses how data analytics, social media marketing, and other digital tools can help SEO practitioners build a successful campaign.
While it's true that "The Art of SEO" is quite an extensive guide, with close to a thousand pages, its scope constantly serves as a ready reference for me whenever I want to refresh my knowledge.
There are so many marketing books that influence me and help me evolve as a marketer. Seth Godin, Nir Eyal, Ryan Holiday, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Donald Miller have all authored books that have made me a better marketer. But the one marketing book that I find myself revisiting from time to time is "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath.
In the book, the Heath brothers illustrate how the curse of knowledge can create obstacles for us in clearly communicating our ideas to our audience. When we know something, it's hard to imagine not knowing it. Thereby making it difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, creating the curse of knowledge.
The book goes on to explain how this "curse" can be beaten by following the six principles of stickiness. Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories. Each principle is described in vivid detail in different chapters with examples and illustrations to really help marketers master the art of creating sticky ideas.