20 Best Marketing Books Of All Time

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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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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! 
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. 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!
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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).


  1. Love this list, Mitch.
    I might add “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and “Contagious” by Jonah Berger.

  2. I agree with Joe! “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek – I read that every year ๐Ÿ˜‰
    (I’d also find it hard to pick just ONE Seth Godin Book)

  3. + Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman to learn/understand the foundation fundamentals of content marketing
    + To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink to learn/understand/reinforce what your good friend Peter Coughter makes a case for in Art of the Pitch — when are we selling? All the Time!
    + The Start-Up of YOU by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha to learn/understand the continuous learning process in marketing ourselves
    + Reinventing YOU by Dorie Clark to learn/understand we’re never to young/old to shift gears and adapt when preparing and marketing ourselves for multiple careers

  4. Including the “All Time” part made me think of other timely classics…
    The Daily Drucker – a bite-sized desk reference from the master himself. The first person to say business has only one objective “to create a customer”
    Good Strategy Bad Strategy – a must-have reference for all. Strategy isn’t a wish-list, this book helps you ensure yours aren’t.
    Competitive Strategy – Michael Porter. Porter’s 5 Forces might have fallen out of favour but the lessons for determining where the white space is for your business remains pivotal.
    Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. In a digital world, this concise 101 on usability and web design is a wonderful way to ensure you’re creating marketing environments that work.
    Building Strong Brands – David Aaker. One man who has done more to codify the business of brands and brand thinking.
    How Brands Grow by Sharp. Artful and provocative view on how real people actually choose brands…and what marketers aren’t doing right.
    Playing to Win – A.G. Lafley and Canadian favourite Roger Martin go toe to toe on marketing strategy using their 10+ year collaboration at P&G as a back drop.
    I’d completely agree that Simon Sinek is a must-have.
    Great list Joel. Thanks.

  5. Thw Wizard of Ads Trilogy by Roy H. Williams – The most important advertising/marketing books I’ve ever read that have had the most profound impact on me and my business

  6. If you won’t say it I will Ctrl Alt Del. I have brought this for so many people after reading it. Also agree with to sell is human by Dan Pink.

  7. Thanks Mitch and everyone for adding your favourite books….I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Adding my top pick to the list…..UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging by Scott Stratten
    Happy reading!

  8. “Ice To The Eskimos, How to market a product nobody wants.” by Jon Spoelstra (yep, father of the Miami Heat coach). Anybody who can take attendance of the (then) NJ Nets from dead last to third in the league while his product continued to be “a bunch of head cases even their mothers wouldn’t come to watch,” is worth listening to. Though centered around his many years in NBA basketball, Jon’s marketing advice will work for nearly any field – and he gives lots of specific examples, not theory.
    “The Letter Book” by Robert Collier. An oldie but goodie. Examples seem dated. Then again, they don’t.
    Way off the beaten path: “Save the Cat, The last book on screenwriting that you’ll ever need.” by Blake Snyder. Yeah, a book about screenwriting but Robert spells out with utmost clarity the components of a great screenplay. I became enthralled with this book because his advice easily transfers to marketing, too. Not always obviously, but there isn’t a huge chasm to cross either to seeing how his screenwriting principles should be applied to marketing.

  9. Thanks Mitch. Happy to see that I’ve read a few, not too many to catch up on. Funny also, I’ve read two of Seth Godin’s titles and neither are mentioned here.

  10. I’m not familiar with all the books listed here, but to me the list seems more focused on tactics and operations, rather than strategy. So I’d suggest adding a couple by Malcolm McDonald: Market Segmentation: How to do it, how to profit from it, and Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them.

  11. You have to have “The One-to-One Future” on here from Peppers & Rogers. Half of the books listed–especially Permission Marketing–borrow heavily from its vision (knowingly or unknowingly). And I think Joseph Jaffe himself would put “Flip the Funnel” on here before “Life After the 30 Second Commercial.” That book can and should guide a lot of companies efforts for years to come.

  12. “MARKETING BOOKS” break down into just four categories usually numbered in homage to the numbering that afflict most marketing books, but here alphabetized: a) Histories (Madison Avenue USA, for example b) Biographies/Justifications (Ally and Gargano, for example c) New Business Pitches (most of them, but most loverly was Ogilvy’s Confessions which he oft-times confessed was a new business pitch in a binder and 4) Dogmas (of this last group, most fall. Or to express oneself better: Most fall in this last group. From Scientific Advertising to the Myriad Immutable Laws of Marketing published every year.
    Three guys—one from academia, one via an ad agency in Chicago and another who pops up ofttimes in Rolling Stone and Forbes—have written books that caused me to break my business-book fast imposed after a binge-reading session last year which caused my hat size to go from 7 5/8 to Mardi Gras dimensions, with little of the joy of Bourbon Street in February.
    The first, by former copywriter Hadji J.S. Williams, is Knock the Hustle: How to Save Your Job and Your Life From Corporate America. This is a true testament to the free enterprise system: Williams avoided the agent-publisher-editor route by starting his own publishing company, Prodigal Pen. Knock the Hustle is now in a second edition. The copy I read came with a cover warning: “This exclusive Promo Copy contains some occasional misspellings and other minor grammatical flaws.” I noticed none of them, but don’t go by me. It is the sort of book that is best read before you go into business, as it mixes the truly heroic with the truly pernicious in precisely the proportion you are likely to find in the world of commerce. Williams, it appears to me, is trying to argue for a Christian-Jewish-Islamic-Pagan Capitalism, as he draws upon St. Luke, the Psalms, Malcolm X and Gore Vidal for inspiration. MBA programs should buy the book in bulk; it’s more valuable in the long run than Money and Banking or The Managerial Revolution. Flaws? Sure, but what the heck, I don’t even agree a month later with everything I write.
    The second book, Selling the Dream: Why Advertising Is Good Business, is by John Hood, who is president of the John Locke Foundation, a “think tank.” To be a real contrarian, try to defend junk mail, jingles and telemarketing. Show that they are good for business and good for the consumer, and you have a refreshing argument, at least. For the second year in a row, the 4A’s is devoting its major conference to ROI (return on investment), and several ad/marketing blogs are inundated with debates about ROI. Advertising’s critics never question the return on investment that advertisers garner; they question whether advertisers, to achieve their massive returns, manipulate the young, the old, the naive, to do things their nature otherwise wouldn’t do, like buy a home air conditioner or use underarm deodorant. The “Good” in Hood’s title is more moral than practical, and Hood has written a book that absolves you of any guilt if you’ve ever worked on Fedders or Sure.
    Those books are as helpful today as Adam Smith’s Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was in the 18th century to give a moral and practical foundation for an economic system that would bring prosperity to the masses. Oddly, just as I was writing this, I came across a review of a new book about Smith’s work, a sort of abbreviated Wealth of Nations by P.J. O’Rourke. It’s 200-some-odd pages versus 900-some-odd pages, in 10-point type, albeit with beautiful, helpful serifs. Even before O’Rourke’s light-handed approach to Smith, the book had been undergoing a revival—a revival that extended to a product placement in the last episode of season three of the HBO series The Wire.
    Seems the late Russell (aka Stringer) Bell—drug dealer, graft bagman, arranger of hits in bars and behind bars and, worse, a real estate developer—had a well-worn leather-cover copy of The Wealth of Nations in his bookcase. Stringer Bell had been taking business courses at a community college, but he had certainly seen the effects of the visible hand of the state in his city, Baltimore.
    The O’Rourke edition of Smith is part of a series of contemporary, shortened versions of great books that are forbiddingly long for the modern reader who is not a specialist or a masochist. With a good illustrator like Carmine Infantino or George Euringer, this could even bring a return of Classics Illustrated, a series without which I might not have graduated from high school.

  13. For pure fun, I’ll suggest “Then We Set His Hair on Fire” by Phil Dusenberry (a reference to the Pepsi commercial which resulted in Michael Jackson’s locks being fried).

  14. In the section on Seth Godin, I’d add “All Marketers Are Liars” which came out before the word “storytelling” became the buzzword of content marketing that it is. Without storytelling, there is no content marketing Content marketing is the key to getting attention. Without peoples’ attention there is no marketing. By the way, the new Coca Cola website is a perfect example of great storytelling.

  15. This is a great list of inspiring books! Great timing before the Holiday season.
    I definitely love reading Seth Godin and I’m looking forward to reading some on your
    list Mitch and the ones mentioned in the comments. Cheers, Alison

  16. There is a lot to be said for some of the “new age” marketing books that include references to technology. In particular there is “Adserving Technology” by Gregory Cristal, one of the best i’ve read in recent months.

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