What are the best marketing books of all time?
It’s a question that I get asked, multiple times per week via email. It seems like people just coming out of school or professionals looking to up their game want to know not just what the latest and greatest books are, but which ones would be considered the seminal books on the subject of marketing. So, if I were putting together a MBA program with a focus on marketing, and was gifted the privilege of providing the reading list, these would be the ones that make the final cut.
The 20 Best Marketing Books Of All Time (in alphabetical order):
- The Anatomy Of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen. Before word of mouth marketing became a profession unto itself, Rosen was busy trying to figure out why certain brands get attention and how they do it. This is one of those classic business books that every marketer should read.
- The Art Of The Pitch by Peter Coughter. If you are in marketing, you will have to get good at presenting and selling your ideas. I’ve read countless books on the topic, and this is the only one worthy of reading, studying and applying. Woe the marketer that doesn’t heed these words.
- The Cluetrain Manifesto by Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger and Rick Levine. If you could point your finger at one book that changed the face of marketing, it would be this one. The entire social media movement came out of this book. Long before Facebook and Twitter, this visionary book told the tale of everything we believe and hold dear in these times of inter-connectedness.
- Seth Godin. I am cheating here (so, sue me). Not only could I not choose just one book by Seth Godin, but I found it hard to choose only five. So, I made my life easy by doing this. Buy and read everything Godin has published. Permission Marketing? Yes! Purple Cow? Of course! Unleashing The Ideavirus? You better! Linchpin? If you’re interested in a future, yes! The Icarus Deception? How could you not? I could go on and on (The Dip!), but I’m hopeful that you get the idea. Buy all of his books. You won’t regret it!
- Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. This book is not for the timid. Shirky is more academic than fluff, and this book dives deep into technology and social media with beautiful and high-brow writing. So well written and researched. It is a gem.
- Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. When was the last time that you read a business book and laughed out loud? Yes, this book is that funny, but it’s also one of the best books out there on what makes an ad great, and how to push yourself to create a great one as well. Written by a copywriter, this book demonstrates the power of words and the power of spending the time to find the right words.
- Influence by Robert Cialdini. An incredible book about how we make decisions and what influences them (hint: it’s not what you think)… and this was published long before behavioral economics became so very cool. This is profoundly powerful because of all of the science and research behind this book. Most marketers haven’t paid any attention to this book, and it shows in the vast majority of terrible work that we’re exposing the public to.
- The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. Marketing isn’t just about the ads. Marketing is also about the product and how to bring it to market. So many companies do everything right and yet still lose market share. If you’re interested in marketing and you haven’t read this book, it is a must-read.
- Life After The 30-Second Spot by Joseph Jaffe. Another one of those seminal books that you can look back at and marvel at just how prescient it was. This one is almost a decade old, but still resonates with some very deep thinking about where advertising is going.
- The Little Red Book Of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer. Don’t be fooled by the title. This simple, fun and short book is full of how to better position, market and sell both yourself and the products and services that you represent. In fact, anything by Gitomer is well-worth your time. This just happens to be one that I re-read each and every year.
- Made To Stick by Chip And Dan Heath. There have been countless books written on viral marketing and how brands should tell a better story. None of them hold a candle to this one. Perhaps one of the best books ever written on how a brand can (and should) tell a story (and how to do it).
- Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. A key component to better understanding the power marketing is to learn about how to network and connect with others. I devoured Never Eat Alone when it first came out, and recommend that anyone trying to figure out how to better market themselves pick up this book. Stop eating lunch at your desk and get out there!
- The New Rules Of Marketing And PR by David Meerman Scott. This book has been updated by Scott many times over. If you’re looking for the ultimate primer on social media, what it means and what it can do, this is the perfect book to bring you up to speed.
- Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy. What would a list like this be without a nod to one of the most well-known Mad Men of our time? David Ogilvy had a passion for advertising. He believed that it was a noble pursuit and a profession that should be taken seriously. This book is a great example of how to think like an advertising executive whose sole purpose it was to help brands sell more. Sometimes, in our digital times, it’s fun to read books like this and re-think all of the analytics and optimization talk we have and get back to the advertising as a form of art.
- Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is one of the "must have" books if you’re in marketing. It covers a ton of space on the topic of how to brand products and services and how to place them both in market and in the mind’s eye of the consumer. This should be the first book that anyone reads when they enter a Marketing 101 course.
- Re-Imagine! by Tom Peters. Not exactly a full-bore marketing book, but still Peters delivers in spades with this one. It’s also beautifully designed, which makes it fun to read. There are countless brand stories about excellence in this one.
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A wise individual once said to me that Gladwell has a knack for writing books that business leaders feel stupid for not having on their bookshelves. Pretty poignant and true. The Tipping Point is great because it helps marketers better understand the inflection point that happens when a product is ho-hum and how it then takes off like a rocket. It’s not really science so much as cultural, but it’s fascinating.
- Waiting For Your Cat To Bark? by Bryan and Jeffrey Einsenberg. The Eisenberg brothers posses an expertise unlike any other. They are experts at understanding and explaining the power of marketing optimization. Sadly, this is one of the most important aspects of the marketing sphere that most professionals spend little-to-no-time working on. This book is chock full of practical and powerful advice about consumers and how to help them by making your marketing easier to follow.
- Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. If you have spent more than two minutes reading any of my content, you will know that I am an unabashed fanboy of Avinash Kaushik, the digital marketing evangelist at Google. In fact, the notion of Sex With Data from CTRL ALT Delete was heavily inspired by Kaushik’s work/thinking. Most marketers eyes glaze over when they hear the word ‘analytics,’ but thankfully Kaushik is here to help make it fascinating and important. This book is packed with ideas about how to think better about your marketing and what it’s capable of doing.
- Where The Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg. Most people in my world know Rothenberg as the President and CEO of the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). What most people don’t know is that in 1995, he authored this book. A book that is, without a doubt, one of the best books on the advertising industry.
Anything missing? What would you add?
(special thanks to Jean-Philippe Belley for asking the question again to me today via email, and for inspiring me to pull this list together by roaming through my personal book collection).