As I consult or speak, people often ask me for marketing or business book recommendations. While I sometimes review new business books on the blog, I didn’t have a list of the classics. I thought it would be nice to have a central repository that I could point to as the “essential marketing book shelf”. So here are some of my top picks in several business categories:
— The Essential Essentials —
There are only a few people in the world that I consider worthy of the title of marketing guru. So I could probably list the entire Seth Godin canon in this post. However, there are two of his books I consider fundamental reading.
I distinctly remember when I was honored to receive one of the 1st copies of Purple Cow. The milk carton that came in the mail freaked out the secretaries at the office I was working in at the time. The book was remarkable in that it practiced what it preached in the way it was distributed. When I do a marketing keynote, I lay out 3 essential elements of successful marketing for the audience. The ideas in Purple Cow parallel my first step which is “Great marketing begins with the product”.
The other essential Godin book is Permission Marketing. This book was written in 1999 and predates Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and YouTube channels, but the basic idea works for those items as well as the traditional marketing channels that Seth discusses in the book.
While he’s not a marketer, per se, the other prolific business author who has multiple books that could be on this list is Malcolm Gladwell. Much of creating successful marketing is understanding the way society and individuals think. Both Blink and The Tipping Point are important books to read to understand this better.
Ogilvy on Advertising is an old book. David Ogilvy is dead. But if everyone who created TV, radio, print, or online ads had a copy and referred to it, we wouldn’t see so much horrible advertising today. If you’re only going to read a few books on this list, make this one of them.
— Branding / Brand Strategy —
I’m a big proponent of the idea that strong brands are created by consumers, not marketers. But the majority of the time in order for that to happen, the marketer must have a solid brand strategy in place. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout is a must-read that helps you understand the importance of developing a strong thought-out brand strategy.
Closely related to Positioning (literally) is The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding which Al Ries wrote with his daughter Laura. It’s basically a more bite sized version of Positioning with plenty of real life examples.
If I’m recommending marketing and business books, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brand Zeitgeist. I wrote it because I wanted a comprehensive look at the branding and marketing basics that I want audiences to understand. Brand Zeitgeist reinforces basic marketing and branding principles and illustrates how businesses can use fundamental aspects of human nature to develop a brand strategy.
— Entrepreneurship / Career —
I have two tchotchkes, both given to me by wife, that have similar mantras. One has a quote from Thoreau that says, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” The other one has Dan Zadra’s simple quote of “Trust your crazy ideas.”
There are advantages to being different. I was first drawn to Chris Guillebeau because of his amazing travel quest, but related to that is his outlook on life which is outlined in The Art of Non-Conformity.
I spoke on a panel with Pamela Slim in 2010. In our chats both onstage and offstage, I found her message from Escape From Cubicle Nation was a needed one. Too many people are stuck in jobs they hate. Don’t be like that.
Another good resource for job seekers or would-be entrepreneurs is Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love
— Communication —
While it covers visual presentation in general, I feel it should be mandatory to pass a test on Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen before someone is allowed to create a slide in PowerPoint or Keynote.
(Bonus points if you also read Seth Godin’s Really Bad PowerPoint e-book.)
Up in the “branding” section of this post, the books will tell you repeatedly to avoid brand extension, but Jay Conrad Levinson has successfully milked his Guerrilla Marketing concept for all it’s worth. His numerous books which all revolve around the same ideas have good points. Much of it common sense stuff that you need to do. A copy of one of the guerrilla marketing books needs to be in every small business owner’s hands.
— Social Media —
At any given time, there are a lot of good books about social media marketing. Everyone wants the answers to social media presented as a neat package in a book. But the trouble with printed books about social media is that they’re outdated by the time they roll off the press or even onto your Kindle. You need a big picture overview of the fundamentals BEHIND social media that you can apply to any platform.
The book you need for this was written over 12 years ago before social media as we currently define it even existed. Most of the 95 theses in The Cluetrain Manifesto can be applied to your marketing strategy for any current social media platform. Don’t want to buy the book? Read it for free.
— Corporate Culture / Ethics —
I have to stop myself from using Zappos too much as an example of how great corporate culture and employee empowerment can contribute to a strong brand and a healthy bottom line. In Delivering Happiness, Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh, outlines the Zappos philosophy and how you can do it in your business.
Successful long term businesses have a strong moral code at their foundation. I have found that the KJV Bible provides a specific set of guidelines and principles that will work in every possible situation.
— The Usual Suspects —
Robert Waterman / Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence may be a little heavy for every application / user and parts of it are dated, but it is the definitive resource for how to manage a company.
Most essential business reading lists like this one will include Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. All these have valuable business insight, but I would challenge anyone to find someone who is not a MBA nerd who has actually read these books. Put them on your shelf, but read the Cliffs Notes version of all three.
— Virtual Bookshelf —
The books on your shelf are great for the big ideas that stay constant, but the tactics of marketing are changing every day. You need updates. Don’t get caught up in the ‘fad du jour’ mob mentality on Twitter, but do stay abreast of marketing trends by following marketers on Twitter. (I may do a follow-up post to this one of Twitter recommendations … posted on a Friday, of course.)
And there’s still a need for longer content than 140 characters so make it a habit to read competent marketing blogs and online versions of marketing publications. Look on the right sidebar of this page for my marketing blogroll. (link for rss readers)
And while not reading, you should be watching TED videos.
— Your books —
Initially, this post seemed like a great idea as a quick listing of essential business books. But it’s been one of the hardest I’ve written. I have had to leave out many books I enjoyed and found valuable, but would have made this list much too long.
So I’m turning it over to you. What essential book on the marketer’s bookshelf did I miss? Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments.
Disclosure: I wrote one of these books. Most links are Amazon affiliate links. A list of these books can be found on Amazon.