The best marketing books touch on multiple disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, and economics. But they offer more than broad academic principles. Along with breaking down cultural phenomena, they teach you how to use the channels of today to make an impact.
Many of these masters in marketing have podcasts or blogs where they offer nuggets of wisdom, but their books distill that material and expand on their subjects. You never know when you’ll find that gem that anchors a key concept or inspires a genius campaign.
The real answer to the question “What should a marketer read?” is everything. Successful marketing experts are voracious. They take in information and get excited about new innovations and smart content.
These business books have withstood the test of time and are a great starting point for anyone who wants to improve their marketing campaigns.
Tapping into Marketing Psychology
No list of the best marketing books would be complete without the following authors. These are marketing executives, successful business owners, and professionals with timeless advice. Their knowledge centers on the heart of every marketing campaign: the people who make up your potential customers.
Technologies and cultures change, but these experts teach you how to tap into psychology and customer behavior to promote just about anything.
1. This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See by Seth Godin
In the digital age, the number of voices, channels, and marketing possibilities exploded. Having access to these avenues has made it both easier and more difficult to be heard. Seth Godin isn’t just the loudest voice in the crowd, but the man who has shaped the conversation on this the most.
Godin has developed some of the key concepts of 21st-century business and marketing practice. He is the reason for words such as “tribe” and “linchpin” becoming commonplace. And, along with inspiring others to create newsletters and digital freebies, his concept of “permission marketing” has encouraged better marketing manners — no small feat.
With twenty bestsellers from which to choose, the hard part is deciding where to start. Or at least it was. This Is Marketing (2018) distills key concepts, such as how to build trust, how to position yourself and your customers, and what stories to tell. It’s one of the best marketing books for beginners and a great place to start your marketing library.
2. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
With a new edition published in 2021, Influence gets an update that helps the nearly-40-year-old bestseller maintain its high status. Robert Cialdini is a seminal expert and considered the “godfather of influence.” He is the absolute master in getting people to say yes without compromising any party's ethics.
In this edition, Cialdini adds a new principle of persuasion — unity — to the classic six:
- Social Proof
- Commitment and consistency
Whether you want to market a new product or convince someone to make lasting changes in their personal life, this book will teach you the secret. Cialdini backs up his claims with both meticulous scientific research and relatable, comprehensible anecdotes.
You may find yourself regularly referring to Cialdini’s language and insights. After all, he's the master of influence.
3. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Media saturation is nothing new. True, the media has changed, introducing new voices and channels of communication. But the fundamental phenomenon has been around for decades.
Al Ries and Jack Trout help you find a space for your brand in an overcrowded marketplace. Positioning teaches you how to stand out from the competition, whether you’re an industry leader or a new player.
You need not try to be better. What matters more is being necessary. Learn how to position the value that you offer and gain a competitive advantage in the market.
4. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
There’s a reason people call it “going viral.” Certain people, products, and ideas spread so rapidly that describing their trajectories requires us to default to the metaphor of disease.
Jonah Berger’s Contagious breaks down popularity, examining the person-to-person transmission of cultural crazes. It offers a practical guide to product design and marketing, but it’s also an engaging analysis of how and where people get their information, interests, and values.
Building Your Brand
While the books in the first category focus on your audience, the second is all about your brand. These are some of the best marketing books for entrepreneurs, but their wisdom equally applies to creatives.
How can you craft a memorable narrative and exceptional content? Read these books to find out.
5. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
Ann Handley is the freelance writer’s guru, but her advice in Everybody Writes springs from the insight that all of us are writers, regardless of our official job title.
You write constantly. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a traditional article or book. Maybe you make a tweet, a product review, or even an email. No matter the forum or channel, your communication shapes others’ perceptions of you and your company.
With this book, you can learn from the unchallenged master of content marketing. But this is one book that you might want to put further down your list. A new edition debuts in April 2022, so it would be best to wait for the most updated version of her content.
Until then, you can get your Ann Handley fix by subscribing to her newsletter or reading her blog. She tackles everything from sentence-level style issues to writer’s block to “How to Write for Instagram.” Regardless of your experience or focus, she’ll help you become a more effective writer and marketer.
6. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown
Sean Ellis developed the term "growth hacking" as a way of attaching marketing to data-driven results in Silicon Valley. With a focus on tech startups, he sought to bridge the gap between product development and product marketing.
His landmark successes with companies like Dropbox validate his approach. Hacking Growth is probably the most effective marketing book for people looking to build a marketing culture.
The heart of Ellis’ philosophy lies in constant experimentation. Even failures can work to your advantage — so long as you examine them with the proper mindset and can identify the right lesson to learn.
7. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller
Donald Miller recognizes an important truth: The world runs on stories. And, unlike fossil fuels, this resource is renewable and evergreen.
A good content marketer doesn't just aim to strike the right tone or hit the right keywords. It delivers the right narrative, which people want to invest in. Building a StoryBrand takes you through the story points you need to cover as you tell your tale.
The book will help you simplify your message and make it more powerful. It will restructure the way you connect with customers, leaving you with a new and more effective model.
8. Stories That Stick: How Storytelling Can Captivate Customers, Influence Audiences, and Transform Your Business by Kindra Hall
If Donald Miller provides a roadmap through one central narrative, Kindra Hall identifies the different stories you can tell — and can encourage others to tell about you.
Stories That Stick elaborates on the four major stories that businesses should tell:
- The Value Story
- The Founder Story
- The Purpose Story
- The Customer Story
These are stories you already have. You know your origin story, your corporate ethos, the value you provide your customers, and any number of stories about customers’ experiences with your brand.
Hall helps you discover these stories and tell them powerfully and memorably.
9. Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media by Brittany Hennessy
Not all marketing revolves around traditional businesses. Any list of best marketing books for building your brand needs a strong entry on personal brands and social media. Thanks to Brittany Hennessy, this one now does.
The ultimate influencer-whisperer, Hennessy has run departments for social media and relationships at Hearst Magazines Digital Media and Horizon Media. In Influencer, she breaks down how to build an audience, package your brand, pitch companies, and monetize your influence for business growth.
Using Today’s Tools and Channels
Once you master the art of communication, you need to find the right platforms to carry your message and find your audience. Think about how you can craft a strategy that takes advantage of your strengths and involves digital essentials, like search engine optimization (SEO)?
These books can help you navigate the overwhelming number of digital options available to you. They break down various aspects of digital marketing for people without advanced degrees in computer science or statistics.
10. Digital Marketing Strategy: An Integrated Approach to Online Marketing by Simon Kingsnorth
Simon Kingsnorth’s Digital Marketing Strategy is a beginner-friendly textbook that covers all the major areas of online marketing. Kingsnorth covers ways to craft and implement a digital strategy that works for your business or organization.
The second half of the book examines major digital marketing areas, including:
- Paid search advertising
- Display advertising
- Social media
- Email marketing
- Lead generation
- Content marketing
- Website user experience
- Online customer service
- Data-driven decision-making
This book may not be for you if you want an exhaustive look at email marketing or Facebook. But, if you want to familiarize yourself with the digital marketing landscape in general, Digital Marketing Strategy is a strong choice.
11. How to Get to the Top of Google in 2021: The Plain English Guide to SEO by Tim Cameron-Kitchen
SEO is the science behind getting your website to the first page of Google results when users search for certain keywords or phrases. Understanding how to manipulate it can be daunting for people with little prior knowledge about the Google search algorithm. Tim Cameron-Kitchen demystifies this subject with How to Get to the Top of Google in 2021.
Cameron-Kitchen excels at delivering practical advice, rather than just theory. He doesn’t just tell you how Google’s algorithm works. He tells you what to do, and then backs it up with explanations and examples.
For people who find programming more difficult to grasp, this book gives them a concrete understanding of how to use SEO.
12. Social Media Marketing Workbook: How to Use Social Media for Business by Jason McDonald
According to Jason McDonald, social media is a party. As a marketer, you need to be the party-thrower.
The best thing about McDonald’s Social Media Marketing Workbook is its specificity. McDonald goes over each of the major social media platforms and content marketing strategies for using them. As of September 2021, he has even included a new chapter on TikTok.
This isn’t just a guide. It’s a workbook, with worksheets that you can fill to create and optimize your approach to marketing. People who buy the book also receive access to several online tools and resources.
It’s the perfect book for people who are social-media-phobic or digitally challenged. It will hold your hand as you enter the online community.
13. Digital Marketing Analytics: Making Sense of Consumer Data in a Digital World by Chuck Hemann and Ken Burbary
This book is for those who want to do more with their data. After all, we have passed through the Information Age and into the Data Age.
Digital Marketing Analytics will help you put that data to work. Don’t drown in the mass of information coming in. Figure out which numbers matter and which don’t. Then, you can use these insights to drive both future campaigns and real-time action to influence your loyal customers.
Reading Even Further
Today, successful companies all over the world have improved their marketing tactics thanks to these books. From building better relationships with customers to telling a more compelling story, the right book can drastically change your approach to marketing.
Don’t see what you need on this list of the best marketing books? Check out other offerings by these authors. Many of them have had long and prolific careers.
Or consider one of these books from other business leaders in the industry:
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
- The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
- Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- They Ask, You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer by Marcus Sheridan
- Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk
- Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee
- Fascinate, Revised and Updated: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist by Sally Hogshead