Sometimes, all it takes to become a savvy marketer is a library card.
Of course, books can’t teach you everything you need to know about marketing; the industry landscape evolves so rapidly that many books on the subject are doomed for obsolescence the moment they hit the shelves. But some marketing books have stood the test of time by offering enduring insights. Other, more recent, entries will get you up to speed on the biggest conversations happening today.
In short, the right reading list will give marketers — both current and aspiring — a crash course in the foundational concepts they need to move ahead. And if you’re wondering where to begin, try checking out some of the books below.
“Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy
The brash and bold David Ogilvy — founder of the renowned agency Ogilvy and Mather, and regarded by some as the “father of advertising” — wrote this primer in the mid-1980s. Some of the examples he gives may come across as dated (this was written when print ads and commercials were king, after all) but many of the principles Ogilvy explains to show why ads work are timeless.
“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini
In a series of lessons, each chock-full of examples, business psychology expert Robert Cialdini unpacks the psychological underpinnings of why people say “yes” to certain brands, products and services without giving their decisions much forethought. To make his point, he delves deep into concepts like social proof, authority and scarcity.
“Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout
While the brand positioning principles outlined in this book are well known and embraced by marketers today, that wasn’t the case at the time of its 1980 publication. The authors’ central argument is that brands that strive to be distinct from leading competitors — not superior to them — will find success bringing products to market.
“Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers” by Geoffrey Moore
When Crossing the Chasm was first published in 1991 — it’s been revised twice since — the dot-com boom had yet to form. Even so, it was a huge hit — and remains a perennial classic — among tech entrepreneurs and strategists who want to know how to bring their innovative products to market. It teaches the technology adoption lifecycle, a sociological model explaining how different psychographic groups adopt new tech products.
“Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success” by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown
Some of the buzziest startups in the world rely on “growth hacking,” a term co-author Sean Ellis coined that describes the data-driven tactics used by marketers to drive growth across the entire funnel. In this book, Ellis and co-author Morgan Brown (VP of growth at Shopify) walk readers through the AARRR framework commonly utilized by growth marketers, peppering in examples from their experiences with quickly amassing and scaling huge customer bases.
“The Content Code: Six Essential Strategies to Ignite Your Content, Your Marketing, and Your Business” by Mark Schaefer
If you’re in marketing, chances are you rely on content to help boost your search engine traffic and lead generation. Problem is, so does everybody else. Mark Schaefer argues that the way to truly break through the noisy, oversaturated web is to focus on the shareability and distribution of your content — not pump out more of it. This book explains how to do it.
“Product-Led SEO: The Why Behind Building Your Organic Growth Strategy” by Eli Schwartz
The most recently published book on this list, Product-Led SEO is not a field manual for people seeking short-term hacks or tricks to fool Google’s algorithm into giving their site a higher ranking. Rather, it examines how to build and communicate a sustainable SEO strategy that works — and wins — over the long haul.
“The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing” by Emmanuel Rosen
Emmanuel Rosen is considered by some to be the godfather of word-of-mouth marketing. He worked in Silicon Valley for many years as VP of marketing at Niles Software. His book, which became a bestseller after its publication in 2000, clearly explains how marketers can get people talking about their products with other people, effectively turning them into brand evangelists.
Brand Positioning and Messaging
“Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It” by April Dunford
Author April Dunford has two decades of marketing experience at tech companies, including an executive role at IBM, and her specialty is in brand positioning. In this book, she shares how brands can win at positioning and successfully connect with audiences by choosing the right market category for their products.
“Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable” by Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a prolific writer on the subject of marketing, and Purple Cow is widely considered to be one of his best books. In his signature conversational style, Godin summarizes and clarifies an important marketing principle — namely, that brands that aren’t remarkable are doomed to be invisible. So they better be remarkable.
“When Coffee and Kale Compete: Become Great at Making Products People Will Buy” by Alan Klement
You don’t sell Snickers by marketing the quality of its nougat; you sell Snickers by marketing how someone’s hunger will be satisfied after they eat it. That’s the Jobs to Be Done framework in action. When Coffee and Kale Compete uses lots of examples and illustrations to unpack this concept. It’s aimed at marketing and product professionals who want to better clarify their messaging and position their products.
“Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team” by Alina Wheeler
This book is an approachable, comprehensive overview of brand identity — and a handsome coffee table book to boot. It tackles how brands are created and defined, which extends way beyond considering logos and color and names (although those are important too). It’s also about how to clarify a brand’s purpose and essence.
“Junior: Writing Your Way Ahead in Advertising” by Thomas Kemeny
Author Thomas Kemeny is a freelance creative director who cut his teeth as a copywriter at Goodby Silverstein and Partners. In Junior, he shares everything he learned in the agency trenches about copywriting, storytelling, generating creative ideas and grabbing people’s attention. It’s a breezy, voicey read, and extremely practical — especially for marketers and early career copywriters.
Marketing Trends and Consumer Behavior
“How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know” by Byron Sharp
Marketing sciences professor Byron Sharp provides a mountain of research to back up his controversial claim that brand consideration is emotional, not rational — people don’t put much thought into the brands they reach for. Sharp suggests marketers spend more time making sure their brands are distinct — with simple, memorable and consistent brand assets — and less time worrying about differentiation.
“Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger
First question: Why do some products or ideas go viral? Second question: What can I do to create a product or idea that has a half-decent chance of going viral? Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger uses research and examples to answer these questions, which get at the heart of why people buy things and tell all their friends about them.
“Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy” by Kit Yarrow
Consumer research psychologist Kit Yarrow’s book is split into two parts. In the first, she outlines a number of major sociological shifts that have occurred over the past couple of decades, and how they have reshaped consumer desire and behavior. In the second, she unpacks the marketing strategies required to meet these new developments head on.
“The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” by Chris Anderson
Written by the former editor in chief of Wired, this book offers a clear view of the new consumer landscape the internet helped bring about; it’s one in which production and distribution have become so democratized that selling lots of niche products — not just a few blockbusters and bestsellers — becomes a worthy enterprise for retailers.
“The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk
In an age where consumers have endless options of places to shop, it’s businesses that put the customer first that will win in the end. Vaynerchuk makes a compelling case for why companies should be customer-first in their orientations and extend the courtesy and one-to-one attentiveness of small-town shopkeepers.
“Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight
Nike has been a globally recognized brand for more than three decades, and it all started with business school grad Phil Knight selling Japanese imported sneakers out of the trunk of his car. His autobiography is meant to be an inspiring read, as it takes a detailed look into Nike’s early years and shows what it takes to build an enduring brand from the ground up.
“This Is Not a T-Shirt: A Brand, a Culture, a Community — a Life in Streetwear” by Bobby Hundreds
Bobby Hundreds tells the inside story of how he built the iconic streetwear brand, The Hundreds. It’s not just a book for sneakerheads and streetwear enthusiasts though. The author shares the entrepreneurial ups and downs he faced along the way. As one Amazon reviewer said, “This book is great because it’s a blueprint on the necessity of brand philosophy and developing a sense of community for your brand.”