You got into business because you have a passion for your products. But selling those products requires a specific set of skills. While “If you build it, they will come” is a nice premise for a movie, it doesn’t always apply to product sales. For that, you need marketing.
From positioning to promotion to price, marketing helps you attract and engage customers. Fortunately, you can get quite an education on the dos and don’ts between the covers of a book.
28 of the best marketing books of all time
- Permission Marketing
- Crushing It!
- Top of Mind
- Epic Content Marketing
- Made to Stick
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Do Make Me Think, Revisited
- Tested Advertising Methods
- The Marketing Book
- Location Is (Still) Everything
- Unleash Possible
- Get Scrappy
- Creative Advertising
- Everybody Writes
- Inbound Content
- Blue Ocean Strategy
- This is Marketing
- The 1-Page Marketing Plan
- Building a StoryBrand
- Hacking Growth
- Social Media ROI
- Selling the Invisible
Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is one of the most highly recommended books on the topic of marketing, for good reason.
In it, he shares the psychology of what makes people act the way they do, which is valuable insight when it comes to persuading someone to make a purchase. While Cialdini’s book originally was released in 1984, it’s been revised and updated to address the changing marketplace.
💡 Takeaway: Social proof is a powerful method of persuasion. Leverage it by adding testimonials or social media links to your website.
2. Permission Marketing
Seth Godin is another icon in the marketing realm. He’s written many good books, and one of his best is Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers—a must-read for small-business owners.
Godin believes in offering value up front to build relationships with customers over time, an idea that’s especially relevant in an age of digital marketing, where businesses are competing for attention in an increasingly noisy marketplace.
💡Takeaway: Email marketing is a form of permission marketing. Honor and keep customers’ attention by sending value instead of overt ads.
If you’ve ever wondered how customers make buying decisions, Martin Lindstrom’s book Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy will help.
Lindstrom performed a three-year neuro-marketing study of 2,000 volunteers as they encountered ads, logos, commercials, brands, and products. He learned the importance of rituals, superstitions, religion, and the senses in branding and selling.
If marketers could uncover what is going on in our brains that makes us choose one brand over another—what information passes through our brain’s filter and what information doesn’t—well that would be the key to truly building brands of the future.
💡Takeaway: Everything from color to texture affects a buyer’s decision-making process. If you understand how the brain works, you can make better brand choices.
Too many businesses call themselves “the Uber” of this or “the Netflix” of that. Being different can feel risky, but standing out is how you capture attention. In Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, the Wharton School’s top-rated professor provides inspiration and advice for having new ideas and practices without risking it all.
💡Takeaway: Keep an idea journal to record any and all ideas for your business. Many of your ideas may not work, but you’ll also come up with gems that can help grow your business.
5. Crushing It!
Gary Vaynerchuk is a bit of a rock star in the entrepreneurial world, due to both his attitude and his personal story of transforming his family’s liquor store into a $60-million business.
His book Crushing It! helps entrepreneurs define their personal brands and use them to gain customers’ attention. It’s a practical guide for winning with social media marketing.
What worked for me won’t work for you, however, and vice versa. That’s why self-awareness is so vital—you have to be true to yourself at all times.
💡Takeaway: Social media platforms are different, and your marketing on each should fit the platform.
6. Top of Mind
When a customer needs the product you sell, your goal as a business owner is to be top of mind—but how? John Hall addresses this challenge in his classic book, Top of Mind. Combining branding techniques with business relationship building, Hall provides readers with the tools they need to stay top of mind with their customers and their business network.
💡Takeaway: Consumer needs and expectations have changed. Content that enriches lives has the potential to build lasting relationships.
7. Epic Content Marketing
Joe Pulizzi is an expert in the area of content marketing. He’s also the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, a great resource for brands that want information on connecting with customers through content.
Pulizzi’s book Epic Content Marketing takes you through the process of creating stories to inform and engage customers, whether you’re a thought leader, ecommerce brand, or writing for SEO.
Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves.
💡Takeaway: To have success with content marketing you must fulfill an unmet need, deliver consistent value, and stay true to your brand and voice.
8. Made to Stick
Ever wonder why some ideas are well received while others never take off?
Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath did, and they explore the shared characteristics of winning ideas in their book Made to Stick. With this book, you can learn to apply the principles of “ideas that stick” to your own marketing messages.
💡Takeaway: To stick, ideas need to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and used with stories that help them connect with customers.
Another classic marketing book is Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It addresses the importance of not just creating a message but also of creating a position. Business owners need to understand how their company’s strengths and weaknesses fit in the marketplace and in the eyes of their customer.
💡Takeaway: You can use several techniques to capture your audience, including choosing the best name, finding your competitive advantage, and analyzing market trends that affect your positioning.
10. How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age
More than 50 years after its original publication, Dale Carnegie’s classic book has been updated and reimagined for the modern marketplace.
How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age shows you how to apply time-tested principles to building relationships with customers, off- and online, including taking an interest in other people, listening, and connecting with core desires.
💡Takeaway: People want to feel important. Use your business to accomplish that and you’ll win friends and influence people.
11. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited
While Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug isn’t specifically about marketing, it will change the way you think about creating websites.
This updated version will help you understand the principles of intuitive navigation and information design, and includes a new chapter on mobile usability. Krug’s engaging read has plenty of illustrations, which is why it’s one of the best-loved and most recommended books on the subject.
💡Takeaway: Friction can affect the user experience—no matter the medium. Reducing friction can help you deliver a better experience for your customers.
12. Tested Advertising Methods
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples was published more than 20 years ago, but modern marketers still get value from it. The principles shared around writing engaging copy that sells can be applied to nearly every medium. This book will give you insights on timeless, successful advertising concepts.
The best headlines are those that appeal to the reader’s self-interest, that is, headlines based on reader benefits. They offer readers something they want—and can get from you.
💡Takeaway: Technology may change how we reach people, but great messaging and storytelling remain constant.
13. The Marketing Book
Want a step-by-step marketing plan? Look no further than Jason McDonald’s The Marketing Book. It serves as a practical guide for creating a plan using the “think/do/measure” method. Each chapter outlines a task, explaining how to think about it, how to do it, and how to measure the results.
[Marketing] is harder than it looks, and so this book breaks marketing down into five key activities: 1. Define what you sell, that they want. 2. Build your brand. 3. Make yourself easy-to-find. 4. Create compelling content. 5. Think and deploy; that is, promote your brand across digital and non-digital marketing channels.
💡Takeaway: When you create a marketing plan, it’s important to understand the process, implement the best method, and then measure the results. Success takes all three.
14. Location Is (Still) Everything
If you’re running ecommerce marketing programs, you might not think location matters. Wharton professor and marketing expert David R. Bell says that our physical world impacts how customers use the internet.
In his book, Location Is (Still) Everything, he shares research about how consumers’ nearby stores and neighborhoods affect their decision-making, and what online retailers need to do to succeed.
The way we use the virtual world of the Internet—for commerce and for information—is dictated to a large extent by the physical world that each of us resides in. This influence is pervasive, and sometimes counterintuitive, with implications for our lives in both worlds.
💡Takeaway: Suggest that customers have their orders shipped to their offices, then make sure your packaging advertises your brand. You’ll get more visibility at an office instead of a home.
15. Unleash Possible
If your business sells to other businesses (B2B), creating a marketing plan will require specific relationship-building techniques.
In her book, Unleash Possible, Samantha Stone shows you how to approach marketing with a partnership mentality, making changes in your organization to address a complex relationship with sales.
💡Takeaway: Emotion plays a role in connecting with people. You must merge data with creativity to attract buyers and lock in sales.
16. Get Scrappy
You don’t need a big budget to create an effective marketing strategy. Nick Westergaard’s book Get Scrappy will help you make the most of your marketing money.
You’ll learn how to create relevant and engaging content that sparks dialogues—and hopefully sales—with your community of customers, from implementing digital marketing to doing more with less.
Getting scrappy is getting smart. Putting strategy first and ensuring that you know what it is you’re trying to do in the first place. This not only leads to better marketing out of the gate, it also helps you measure what matters so that you can optimize your work for the long haul.
💡Takeaway: Having a reliable, repeatable system for marketing will help you grow your community and your sales.
17. Creative Advertising
Teaching through example, Creative Advertising by Mario Pricken showcases a mix of timeless and less recognizable advertising campaigns and breaks down the thinking behind them.
With more than 200 examples, you’ll get inspired by a wide range of advertising types, with each chapter highlighting different methods to help you create innovative and unforgettable ads.
💡Takeaway: Spend time analyzing and examining your products and ideas will freely flow.
18. Everybody Writes
Marketing often feels like it boils down to messaging and measurement, and you can’t create compelling messages without knowing how to write.
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley is your go-to guide for creating content that helps your business grow. You’ll learn how to communicate with customers effectively, so you can attract and retain them for the long run.
The best companies don’t just churn out regular blog posts with the heavy-handedness of an orphanage doling out gruel. Rather, they put the needs of their audience first; they regard the ability to create content as something of a privilege.
💡Takeaway: Writing matters more than ever. Content tells customers who you are and brings your business to life.
19. Inbound Content
Inbound Content is a modern look at effective content marketing from Justin Champion, HubSpot Academy’s content marketing guru.
It’s a great book to read before or while you plan your content strategy, and one that contains advice on customer journeys, content organization, and site structure that will set you up to win for the long term.
💡Takeaway: Having a website and social media is not enough; you have to create content that draws customers in.
20. Blue Ocean Strategy
Conventional marketing wisdom claims all businesses are forced to fight their way through competitive markets in order to be successful. Blue Ocean Strategyteaches that to achieve true marketing success you must create and seize untapped market spaces.
For example, look at Nintendo when it released the Wii. Other video game companies were focused on creating complicated games with incredible graphics geared toward serious gamers.
However, Nintendo decided to create simpler games that used unconventional gameplay by incorporating motion controls into games. This made Nintendo appealing to non-gamers/casual gamers and made Nintendo something the whole family could enjoy.
Value innovation is the cornerstone of blue ocean strategy. We call it value innovation because instead of focusing on beating the competition, you focus on making the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for buyers and your company, thereby opening up new and uncontested market space. Value innovation places equal emphasis on value.
💡Takeaway: Don’t waste your marketing efforts on fighting over demand—create it. If you create a market, competition becomes irrelevant, there’s plenty of room for growth, and that growth will be profitable and quick.
21. This is Marketing
This is Marketing is a New York Times bestseller and was listed as a #1 bestseller in The Wall Street Journal.
In his book, Seth Godin reexamines the purpose of marketing and how you can serve potential customers, instead of only focusing on hooking them. Godin breaks down traditional advertising and instead tells both beginners and marketing professionals that successful marketing is empathetic, not parasitic.
Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread.
💡Takeaway: The most powerful type of marketing comes from a place of empathy, generosity, and emotional honesty. The best type of marketers focus on solving people’s problems instead of just seeing people as numbers.
In Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger studies why some products spread like wildfire through word of mouth, while others don’t. He uses groundbreaking research and powerful case studies to outline six basic principles that drive things to go viral.
Berger shows how marketers can use this information for everything from startups and small businesses to political campaigns and multinational corporations.
So to get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency. Give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting their products and ideas along the way. There are three ways to do that: (1) find inner remarkability; (2) leverage game mechanics; and (3) make people feel like insiders.
💡Takeaway: Word of mouth is very effective in getting your products and content out there, but you need to evolve those concepts to be successful in online marketing.
23. The 1-Page Marketing Plan
The first line on the Amazon description of Allan Dib’s 1-Page Marketing Plan is “Warning: Do not read this book if you hate money.” That is the humorous and straightforward way Dib outlines how to make an effective marketing strategy.
In his book, he teaches new business people things like how to deal with competition, pricing strategies, and even how to get great marketing results on a shoestring budget.
Focusing on the cause (value) rather than the effect (making money) will lead to much greater long-term success.
💡Takeaway: To be successful, you need to have a reliable marketing plan in place, not run random marketing campaigns without any strategy.
24. Building a StoryBrand
Words are important, and the ones you choose to represent your brand and products can make or break you. In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller outlines his StoryBrand framework, designed to help marketers of all experience levels connect with their customers more deeply.
You’ll learn how to:
- Simplify and clarify your brand message
- Create effective messaging for your websites and social media
- Get potential customers to engage with your company and product
- Take advantage of the seven universal story points all humans respond to
💡Takeaway: How you talk about who you are, what you do, and the unique value you bring to your customers is everything.
Hooked is a practical guide that explains how you can build better products. Nir Eyal explains what he calls the Hook Model—the four step process that many companies use to create successful products.
Eyal uses years of research, consulting, and his own practical experiences to help you create products that can influence people’s behavior.
>Many innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.
💡Takeaway: To create habit-forming products, you must link your product and services to your customers’ daily routines and emotions.
26. Hacking Growth
How did small companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Pinterest become household names? In Hacking Growth, Sean Ellis explains the concept of growth hacking and how these small companies were able to go from being unknowns to international powerhouses.
Ellis outlines how you can increase your customer base and your market share, and how to create your own growth hacking strategy.
💡Takeaway: It probably won’t happen overnight, but there is a way to grow your business to any level you want.
27. Social Media ROI
Using social media marketing can sometimes feel like you need a crystal ball. Oliver Blanchard’s book, Social Media ROI,will give you practical solutions that will crack the mystery of social media marketing. It will teach you how to manage, integrate, and leverage your social media so you can take advantage of every penny you put into social media marketing.
💡Takeaway: Social media marketing doesn’t have to be a gamble. A proven process will help you get measurable and consistent results from your marketing efforts.
28. Selling the Invisible
In Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith gives you tips and advice on how you can successfully market yourself. He uses humor and jargon-free language to teach freelancers and creatives how to value their skills and how to present those “invisible qualities” that get people to hire you.
Building your brand doesn’t take millions. It takes imagination.
💡Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid of rejection. Strangely enough, those are both an important part of success.
Marketing your business is an owner’s most important job. These books will help you succeed by showing you the best ways to focus on your customers, stand out from the crowd, and build strong relationships. Apply their principles and your products may (almost) sell themselves. Looking for more books to read? Check out our list of best books for entrepreneurs.
Illustration by Rachel Tunstall