School doesn’t create great marketers.
The proper education – no matter where you get it – does.
There are two ways to go about it:
- Fumble around and do a lot of trial and error
- Stand on the shoulders of giants and cut your learning curve in half
This article is for those who choose the second route. I’ve compiled the best marketing books across a wide variety of disciplines.
These marketing books are about more than just marketing. They’re about consumer psychology, copywriting, advertising, and branding.
You don’t need to read everyone on this list. Choose a few from each category and apply what you learn.
Marketing books on psychology
Great marketing doesn’t start with tactics.
Those are the least important.
It starts with a deep understanding of human psychology.
These marketing books focus on human and consumer psychology. After reading them, you’ll have deep knowledge about how your prospects function as human beings and consumers.
With that information, you can make marketing campaigns that strike a nerve and compel people to take action.
1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
This is an oft mentioned book on psychology and for good reason. It peels back the covers and shows us that we’re not as rational as we’d like to believe.
There are 6 principles which are mentioned.
- Contrast – comparing one solution to another is incredibly effective
- Reciprocity (this is why people give away value through things like lead magnets before asking for the sale)
- Commitment and consistency – when someone commits initially, they want to appear consistent with their earlier decisions. That’s why micro commitments are so powerful in conversion optimization.
- Social proof – If others think you’re awesome then your prospect may form the same opinion
- Liking – If someone likes you they’re more willing to give you an opportunity to sell them something
- Authority – We seek out experts to solve our problems. Be the expert.
2. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The author proposes we have two systems at play in our heads.
System One makes automatic or snap decisions for us. It’s difficult to control or even detect. These are our biases developed from experiences in the past or skills we’ve acquired.
System Two is the slower, calculated, and methodical thinking we do. This is the conscious part of the mind that analyzes decisions before making them. This is where beliefs and justifications for our actions play out.
As a marketer, you have to appeal to both systems. System One allows people to make impulse decisions but System Two helps them justify it later. If you appeal to only one system then the sale won’t happen (or it’ll happen but there will be buyer’s remorse which may lead to a refund).
3. Contagious: The Way Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
This book deals with the way ideas are spread from person to person and has a few major pillars.
- Social currency – As they’re sharing it, it should make them look good.
- Triggers – Something makes it appear top of mind (Facebook notifications, lyrics from a song, etc.)
- Emotion – Before it can be shared, people need to feel something (any emotion will do).
- Public – Your prospects should see others using your product or performing the desired action
- Practical value – People should believe it’s useful for them to spread it
- Story – We’ve evolved to find the narrative in almost everything. Infuse your message with a story.
4. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Dan is a professor of psychology and economics so a lot of his work deals with the psychology of buying.
This book focuses on three major areas:
- Our love of comparing products and prices. You should give people a point of reference when presenting your offer.
- Free isn’t free. It’s a price point but one that’s hard to pass by. Offer something free (buy one get one free) so people are more likely to take action.
- People overvalue things they own and will put in more work to keep something than to gain something.
5. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
There’s a reason why regular users of apps like Facebook and Instagram spend so much time there. The creators have built them with dark patterns so we form habits and even take actions we don’t want to.
Anyways, this book is about the psychology that goes into product creation. It needs three things:
- It needs to get users to form habits around them
- The rewards should be variable
- Answer two questions (the answer should be yes)
- Does the product make life better for users?
- Would I use the product?
6. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die Chip and Dan Heath
Good ideas die because they’re presented poorly. I’m sure you can think of a few yourself. The world is a busy place so an idea needs to catch attention quickly or your prospects will keep moving.
The major elements are:
Are you seeing any patterns here?
7. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by chip and Dan Heath
This is another one by Chip and Dan. In The Power of Moments, they look at how certain experiences can remove us from our comfort zone and change us. It goes on to build out a strategy to apply that in business and life.
There are five central ideas:
- We remember three parts of an experience. The peak, the pits, and the transitions. Your job is to remove the pits and create peaks.
- A defining moment is one that’s memorable and meaningful. These are the peaks.
- Defining moments start with one or more of these elements: Elevation, insight, pride, or connection
- If there’s a struggle with transitions, create a defining moment that marks the new and the old
- Transitions are marked, milestones celebrated, and pits filled
8. Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom
This book is built on research conducted in the ever-evolving field of neuromarketing. It’s not an exact science but the conclusions drawn are useful.
- Product placements work better to influence buying behavior than ads
- Subliminal messages can work but people actively resist logos
- The most powerful brands in the world create rituals and follow the same pillars as religion (Apple, Nike, Oreo, Etc).
- Full sensory experiences, when you can create them, are one of the most powerful ways to elicit a response in your prospects
- Sex is overrated.
9. Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
This book focuses on the factors that affect a buying decision.
It deals mostly with retail but the lessons are applicable in multiple settings.
In short, small changes to the shopping experience (placements, prominence, presentation, etc.) can have a huge impact on your sales.
10. Consumerology: The Market Research Myth, The Truth About Consumers, and the Psychology of Shopping by Philip Graves
This book argues that market research is only a small part of the puzzle because human beings are irrational. Market research is rational.
Instead, Graves has a different approach to market research which will help you unlock insights based on the unconscious behaviors people perform when they want to buy.
11. The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More By Barry Schwartz
Schwartz talks about two types of consumers. The satisficers and the maximizers. Satisficers buy the first product they find which meets their needs. The maximizers perform exhaustive research before they make a purchase decision.
The book outlines the psychology behind the groups and how to position your products for each one. He also goes on to discuss the pitfalls of offering more choice to consumers.
Marketing books on copywriting
Copywriting, no matter how you feel about it, is an essential skill.
These books will help you up your game.
12. The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joe Sugarman
Sugarman was one of the great copywriters of his day and used his skills to make millions through direct response advertising.
This book is a classic copywriting guide that walks through the fundamentals of writing compelling copy. Many of his techniques have been applied to modern web copy.
If you’re completely new when it comes to copywriting then this book is essential reading. Even if you’re an old hand, it’ll deliver a few nuggets for you to digest.
13. The Gary Halbert Letters by Gary Halbert
Gary Halbert is another copywriting legend who built an empire, lost it, and rebuilt it with the written word.
His regular letters teach copywriting lessons from a different age like how to place an ad in newspapers and the proper way to buy lists. That notwithstanding, he also teaches fundamental copywriting techniques that’ll serve you well.
There’s a website aptly named The Gary Halbert Letter but the newsletters are out of order which can make it a difficult read. Shoot us an email and we’ll see if we can’t find a PDF file for you with all the letters in order.
14. Breakthrough Copywriting: How to Generate Quick Cash With the Written Word by David Garfinkel
Though the title of the book makes it seem like they’re selling a get rich quick scheme, it’s not.
Garfinkel is a tested copywriter who distills years of wisdom into Breakthrough Copywriting. It focuses on proven principles that most people will be able to copy and paste into their current marketing campaigns, letters, or website for quick results.
15. How to Write Seductive Web Copy: An Easy Guide to Picking up More Customers By Henneke Duistermaat
This is a modern book that looks at how to write content for the web – a discipline on its own.
It goes through six pillars that help you research and write copy that will sell your products, get people on your site, or take your desired action.
16. Copy Logic By Mike Masterson and Mike Palmer
The authors are responsible for building Agora into the multimillion-dollar financial advice powerhouse it is today. Needless to say, their techniques work.
The book focuses on a methodical approach to transforming subpar copy into the stuff that converts all the traffic you throw at it. It’s full of examples and templates you can use to speed up the copywriting process.
17. The Robert Collier Letter Book by Robert Collier
Collier wrote a lot of ads in the early 1900’s. He specialized in books because he felt that if you could sell books then you could sell anything.
The Robert Collier Letter Book is a “how I did it” kind of thing. Even though it was published almost 100 years ago, it’s still effective.
18. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Jay Abraham
This isn’t a 100% copywriting book but it does relate to marketing.
The first part of the book focuses on guarantees that are so compelling your customers and prospects have no choice but to try it out. These are guarantees that go above and beyond risk-free like the 110% guarantee that Tim Ferris offered or the one-year return policy from Zappos.
19. The Copywriters Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells By Bob Bly
As the name suggests, this is a handbook that should be readily available whenever you’re writing copy. There are five main points in the book:
- Copy must get attention, communicate, and persuade in order for it to be effective.
- Free is a powerful tool – use it wisely
- Most people will only read the headline and skip the rest of the copy. Spend most of your time here.
- Don’t’ over polish testimonials.
- Look at the product from the perspective of your customers and highlight features/benefits they’ll find useful
20. The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost your Sales by Dan Kennedy
Dan Kennedy is a successful copywriter and pretty funny to boot. The Ultimate Sales Letter focuses on removing the art from copywriting and boiling it down to a process.
- Figure out what your buyer wants
- Enter the conversation in your reader’s head where they are. Don’t try to start by changing the subject.
- Present features/benefits based on importance
- Acknowledge the drawbacks of your offer
- Remember, people are busy so get to the point
Marketing books on advertising
Advertising is where the money is made and lost.
It’s a multibillion-dollar industry for a reason.
A good ad can earn you your first million. A bad ad can lose you your next million.
The following books will help you create compelling ads that are ROI positive from the first day.
21. Breakthrough Advertising: How to Write Ads That Shatter Traditions And Sales by Eugene Schwartz
This is one of those classics that everyone should read at least once. Yes, everyone.
Schwartz focuses on a few key areas that’ll set your ads apart.
He touches on so many aspects of advertising and also bleeds over into copywriting.
A few lessons you’ll learn are:
- Stages of awareness
- How to develop a compelling headline
- Market research/analysis
- The maturity of your market (first mover or last mover)
It’s worth a read but is expensive. Look for the Ebook or check it out from your public library.
22. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
Ogilvy is considered by many to be the father of modern advertising. He help put Puerto Rico on the map as a tourist destination and grew his agency into a powerhouse.
This book distills a lot of the lessons he learned. Keep in mind that it was written in the Mad Men era. Things were different then.
23. Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
John Caples is another prolific copywriter that made quite a few ads in his day.
In his book, Tested Advertising Methods he doesn’t just give you a bunch of tactics. He admonishes you to test everything. In fact, he creates two categories of people.
- Those who test
- Those who don’t test
The ones who test win more often than not.
He touches on multiple subjects like headlines, appeals, testing, writing the lede, etc.
24. My Life in Advertising & Scientific Advertising Claude Hopkins
Do you know why it’s common to brush your teeth every day? It’s not because of the FDA or any public health push.
It’s because of Claud Hopkins work with Pepsodent. Over the course of a decade, the number of Americans who brushed their teeth daily increase by roughly 10x.
That’s effective advertising.
In his book, he tells his personal story as well as how to create a compelling ad. Both aspects are worth reading.
25. How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor Schwab
Do you know why How To Win Friends And Influence People was such a success? You can praise Victor Schwab for that. He’s the ad man responsible for getting it in front of the right people.
His book details the lessons he’s learned in the field.
He considers only four parts of the ad:
The promise and supporting information
The summary and call to action
26. A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
This isn’t about advertising but it’s all about advertising.
Let me explain.
Ads are effective when they’re relevant to the product but also have a novel element. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new under the sun.
What are you to do?
You create ideas from what’s been done before and combine them in a new way. That’s what this book is about.
27. Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan
I first read this book a few years ago and I loved how it was hilarious while distilling sage wisdom. Few books toe that line successfully.
Sullivan is an advertising veteran. In this book, he talks about different forms of advertising, his experiences, multiple mediums, and how to break into the ad business (if that’s your thing).
28. Cutting Edge advertising by Jim Aitchison
I like this book because it’s written from the perspective of the sharpest minds in the business. It takes successful ads and gets the people who created them to break them apart and reveal why and how they did what they did.
29. The Advertising Solution: Influence Prospects, Multiply Sales, and Promote your Brand by Craig Simpson
This book by Simpson distills information from many of the great copywriters of the age. It’s meant to be used as a reference guide when you’re creating ads or writing copy.
The emphasis is on testing and you’ll notice that each one of the people profiled had different techniques and philosophies.
Don’t copy them. Learn and improve on what you find.
Marketing books on marketing
I’ve focused on everything but pure marketing.
Now, it’s time to learn the business of marketing with a few hard-hitting books.
Some of them will be familiar and some may make you go what was he thinking. All of them are useful.
30. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate them at your own risk by Al Reis and Jack Trout
I’m not a fan of calling anything in marketing a law. With that being said, this book is a good primer.
A few lessons I appreciated were being first in peoples mind, creating a new category for yourself, and the opportunity costs of products.
31. How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp
Byron takes a contrarian view in his book. There’s a lot of information that says consumers want a relationship with a brand or that they want a deeper meaning. He disagrees.
While I don’t agree with everything he says, it’s worth a read to see what it’s like on the other side. After reading, you’ll be better equipped to form your own opinions on the matter.
32. Marketing in the Era of Accountability by Les Binet and Peter Field
This book takes 880 case studies of campaigns submitted to the IPA Effectiveness Awards and dissects them to find out what worked, what didn’t, and why.
It also has rare insights into ideas that are more detrimental than good when it comes to effective marketing.
33. All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin
The title is a bit misleading. Godin doesn’t make a case for how marketers lie. In fact, the consumers are the liars about their true motivations and beliefs.
He talks about stories and how they shape our lives as well as how to harness them for better marketing. The best product doesn’t win. The best story does.
34. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
What would you do if you were driving down the road and saw a bright purple cow? If you’re like most people you’d slow down, stare, and possibly stop to take a selfie.
It would definitely be a talking point at your next get together or over dinner. The concept of this book is simple – be remarkable and it’ll be much easier to sell.
35. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuck
Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the most vocal entrepreneurs alive. He made his fortune by being visible on social media.
Now, he’s one of its biggest champions.
In his book, he talks about how to tell your story on social media in an authentic way.
36. Trust Me, I’m Lying
This is one of the first books from Ryan Holiday and focuses on how influential blogs have become and the effect on society as a whole.
The author has a less than nice opinion of bloggers but the lessons he teaches are real. Blogs are businesses, they will publish your content if you pay them or if it turns heads, and it can get ugly fast so take note.
It’s an insightful read about how the internet currently works.
37. Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Reis and Jack Trout
There’s nothing new under the sun.
Facebook was just another social media platform and so was Snapchat. They’re both billion dollar companies.
What’s unique is the way products and services are positioned inside the customers head. Facebook marketing can be positioned as Facebook marketing for doctors. It’s the same service – trust me.
This book shows you how to win the positioning battle.
38. To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
The title of this book truly says it all. We’re always selling something whether that’s an idea to your family, a business to another company, or a pitch to a client.
Instead of looking at it like a burden or something to dread, embrace it for what it is. Use honesty and service to convince your prospects and customers.
There are a few nuggets in the book which makes it worth the read.
39. Everything I know by Paul Jarvis
I wouldn’t say this is a pure marketing book but the lessons can be applied to your efforts. Paul Jarvis talks about a lot of things in this book but there are two lessons that stand out:
- Find your values and align your life mission around that
- Share what you’re doing out in the open – welcome the feedback and take the criticism in stride
40. On Writing Well by Willam Zissner
Marketing includes writing. This is true whether you like it or not.
You can say you don’t like to write and struggle or you can bite the bullet and improve. I started out as a horrible writer.
While I can’t hold a candle to Stephen King just yet, I can compose prose that gets people to think and occasionally buy.
I’m content with that.
On Writing Well looks at how to write compelling nonfiction. It’s the kind of book you keep by your desk.
41. They Ask You Answer: A Revolutionary approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer by Marcus Sheridan
Inbound marketing is a new discipline when compared it to print or radio advertising.
The principle is simple: create content so people come to you instead of vice versa. Even though this seems simple on the surface, it can be much more difficult.
Marcus Sheridan is in a unique position to talk about it because he used inbound marketing to build a multimillion-dollar fiberglass pool business.
His approach is simple. Answer every question and teach every lesson. If you do it well you’ll get more customers.
I’ve gone through over 40 marketing books that deal with multiple aspects of the craft.
Even if you read everything on this list, you’ll still need to put it into practice. I suggest you take one or two books from each section and read it while applying the lessons you learn.
Rinse and repeat until you’re ready to write your own book or until you finish the list. Keep in mind that this list isn’t written in stone because marketing is always evolving. If you find something useful then, by all means, use it.
Let me know what you think of my list of the best marketing books in the comments and don’t forget to share.