I have a love-hate relationship with marketing books.
They represent the most prominent improvement source for my career and my number 1 item in the “time wasted” bucket.
The reality is that most marketers have the idea that writing a book will be a great social proof for their consulting career and will make them look cool and trustworthy, boosting their perceived authority.
Amazon converting the book publishing process into a self-service experience that only takes a few clicks has worsened things. Now we’re bogged with hundreds if not thousands of new marketing books being published every month, most of which are totally worthless.
In the best case, they’ll waste your time. In the worst case, they’ll set you on the path to failure with terrible advice.
What does a great marketing book look like?
There’s no easy way to quickly identify the best marketing books; there are those you should read and those you should skip altogether.
There’s also no single definition of a great marketing book; it really depends on your current skillset and where’s your company at in terms of growth, strategy, team size, and focus.
Let’s list some key indicators to look for in a book to understand if it’s a good fit for you.
Strategy vs. tactics
When it comes to books, I usually prefer to buy and read books focusing on marketing strategy rather than actionable guides on how to do something.
The rationale is simple, in the current online marketing landscape, tactics change too fast for a book to stay on top of the latest trends. By the time it’s published, most tactics could be outdated.
Blogs and communities are the places to get the latest tactics. Marketing books are better suited to provide you with high-level strategies. Some still have an expiration date attached to them, and some are evergreen.
You’ll notice some of the best marketing books I’m recommending here are even as old as 50 years old! However, They all focus on key marketing strategies rather than “How to use the Facebook Ads Manager.”
Who’s the book for? Often the author is pretty upfront about defining who’s the book is written for.
For example, Lost and Founder, not strictly a marketing book, but written by a great marketer and with some beneficial marketing insights inside, is a book I feel is the best fit for startups co-founders and marketing executives.
The Revenue Marketing book is another example that falls in this bucket. It’s a great book, but the best fit for it is a marketing executive who has the vision and power to implement drastic organizational changes.
Other books are written with marketers in mind that will have to implement the marketing strategy or part of it.
Stage and industry of the company
Marketing professionals can get excited easily. More than once, I’ve seen marketers in early-stage startups go off-road because they tried to follow pieces of advice from a book that was clearly meant for later-stage companies with a larger budget, fire-power, and team size.
Marketing books rarely focus on a specific company stage or industry.
It’s up to you to understand if a book is a good fit for you and the business you work for. Check the author’s bio. Have they always worked in large enterprises? Did he focus more on B2B or B2C in his career?
This is not a show stopper, and you’ll likely never find the perfect book describing marketing strategies for your growth stage and industry, but this doesn’t mean a book is not good or worth reading. It’s up to you to put what you’re reading in context and then prioritize only the parts that can have the most significant impact on your business.
Digital Marketing is full of opportunities. It’s your job as a marketing professional to understand what has the highest potential impact and prioritize it.
Well, the list here could be endless. You can start reading Amazon reviews… but they can be easily manipulated.
Other red flags can come from the author’s bio. I try to avoid books from authors that have no real-world track record. For a book to be good, usually, it needs to be written by someone who has first-hand experience with what he’s writing about. Otherwise, it’s usually a summary/medley of other marketing books and blog posts.
Of course, having a deep understanding of a topic doesn’t guarantee you’re able to expose it in a book clearly.
The best marketing books, in my view.
Sorry for the long intro. I know you’re here to get inspiration for the next book about digital marketing to read, not to read a guide on how to pick a book. Let’s get down to it!
The books in this section are all books I’ve read and can personally vouch for. Later on, you’ll find more suggestions from friends and industry experts.
Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World
“Lost & Founder” is not strictly a marketing book, but it’s written by a great marketer, Rand Fishkin, former CEO & Co-Founder of Moz, and now at the helm of SparkToro.
While the book is a very personal narration of Rand’s adventure as a Startup founder, it’s still filled with excellent marketing advice and covers the whole lifetime of Moz, so you’ll see how things can change as the business grows.
As an example, Rand tells his tales with what we call Growth hacking and how most of the time, it resulted in short-term gains that, however, had a negative impact in the long term. Something I’ve experienced first-hand too.
Overall if you are a marketer in the SaaS space, it’s a very insightful and entertaining book.
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I’ve read this book countless times and fell in love with it right away. It’s probably one of the books I’ve handed out as a gift the most.
Dan Ariely is not only one of the world’s top behavioral scientists, but he’s also a great teacher and communicator. His books are insightful, filled with real-world experiments and case studies, and highly entertaining.
“Predictably Irrational” is a book about how our brains work and why we make irrational decisions, especially while thinking we’re hyper-rational. Many of the book chapters focus on our buying behavior and are backed by Ariely’s research.
As an example, do you know the most essential emotion when buying something? It’s Fear. When we don’t buy something, it’s because of fear. That’s why the word “Free” is so powerful, and it removes fear.
Even if he never mentions marketing across the book, once you’ve finished reading it, you’ll have a considerable amount of ideas on how to fine-tune your marketing messages, improve your landing pages and commercial offer, hook users to your product better and faster.
Trust me. This is one of the best marketing books you’ll ever read.
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“Breakthrough Advertising” is considered by many a sort of Bible of copywriting. For a long time, it’s also been known as “The lost book.” It was impossible to find and used Amazon copies sold for crazy amounts like $400. And honestly, it was worth it.
Don’t worry, and you won’t have to hand out $400 to get ahold of this book. It’s now being republished by Brian Kurtz, even tho’ at $125, it’s still the most expensive book on this list.
Forget about CPC, CTR, Facebook Ads, Display advertising. This book was written by Gene Schwartz in 1966 when the only forms of advertising were direct mailing and newspaper ads.
Luckily, while advertising channels have changed in the last 60 years, customer behavior has not.
Also, note this is not strictly a book around advertising, and I’d say the main focus is helping you understand why people buy and crafting the perfect marketing message to make it happen.
All of Gene Schwartz’s ideas have survived wee in the digital age and are arguably even more impactful today than then.
One of my favorite quotes from this book is, “A Marketer’s goal is not to create old into new desires in potential customers. Creating new desires would be incredibly expensive and hard. Your job as a marketer or business owner is to understand people, discover the desires that already exist, and leverage them for your marketing strategy.”
This is an evergreen masterpiece to step up your marketing game.
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To give you an idea of how good this book is, here’s how much original used copies are selling for on Amazon:
22 Immutable Laws of Branding
Al Ries is a renowned author of classic marketing books. By checking Amazon reviews, you can quickly understand this is a controversial one, and people either love it or hate it.
I get it.
I’m a big supporter of branding, especially SaaS Marketing, and I think branding should be a critical part of every digital marketing strategy.
The biggest problem with this book is that it’s outdated. It goes way back to 2002, and many examples are used in the book to back some strategies that have ultimately gone very wrong over time. For example, Ries thought Amazon would fail to expand out of the book industry, and smartphones would never catch on and become popular.
Some bad examples may undermine the book’s quality to an average reader, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. There are always outliers and exceptions in business, this is one of them, and that doesn’t invalidate the general rules that apply to 99% of the world.
Overall this is an excellent book on branding for marketers and business professionals. It makes great points on how iconic brands are created and how the “laws” described apply to modern internet marketing.
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10x Marketing Formula
If you love inbound marketing and content marketing, you’re going to love the “10x Marketing formula” (Not to be confused with “10x” by Grant Cardone).
This book is from Garrett Moon, co-founder of Co-Schedule, and you can find a great intro to the approach proposed in the book reading this post.
The core idea is that your marketing success will unlikely depend on many small wins but will be driven more by 10x jumps that will significantly impact.
Given this incipit, the book focuses on how you can build, analyze and optimize a predictable marketing strategy based on bold moves that sometimes will fail, but when they don’t, will have an enormous impact on your business.
The book put a lot of emphasis on content marketing, one of my favorite approaches for scaling SaaS businesses. The author has battle-tested all the strategies presented on CoSchedule’s blog, and social media marketing is also covered quite often.
TL;DR: If you’re planning a digital marketing strategy for a SaaS Business, make sure you read this book, it often goes under the radar in “best marketing books” lists, but it’s totally worth it!
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“Hooked“ by Nir Eyal is a bestseller worldwide. It’s the Bible on how radically successful businesses build habit-forming products.
Yes, products, not marketing campaigns. This book is not strictly about Marketing and more about hooking users in your product, creating stickiness, increasing retention, and converting them into loyal customers.
It’s probably the best book in this space and if you’re working in product marketing is a must-read. As I’ve discussed when talking about revenue marketing, SaaS business leaders should break down silos and have all the teams work together.
The topics covered in this book are also strategic to approach a Product Led Growth (PLG) strategy.
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“Traffic Secrets” by marketing legend Russel Brunson is another book that is often not mentioned in book recommendations. In my opinion, it’s absolutely one of the best marketing books around, and it’s based on Russel’s first-hand experience scaling a digital business from $0 to $100m without raising any VC money.
The book is really up to date, and it’s been published in 2020 and does a great job covering both marketing strategies and tactics.
It explains step by step how ClickFunnel generates traffic, converts it into leads while already making money out of it, and then into new customers.
And it doesn’t stop here. A key part of this book is also how to maximize Lifetime Value with upsells and keep making more money from existing customers.
Everything starts with content and how it can be repurposed across multiple channels, from Youtube to Social Media, books, and so on.
The book itself is a lead magnet for ClickFunnel. I learned a lot by reading the book and analyzing how the book is promoted and used to promote the business.
Some of the tactics described are pretty unconventional in classic SaaS Marketing, but they’re certainly very effective. The only caveat you should keep in mind is that they are so effective for ClickFunnel because of Russel’s powerful personal brand.
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The 1-Page Marketing Plan: Get New Customers, Make More Money, And Stand Out From The Crowd
I read this book by Allan Dib 6 years ago during my AdEspresso time, and I remember I loved it.
It’s probably the first book everyone in SaaS or B2B Marketing should read as it provides an actionable guide to every step of the funnel required in an effective marketing plan.
The book is divided into three main blocks: Before, during, and after.
The Before phase covers critical activities you should do before going to market with a new business, defining your target market, crafting your message and story, and researching potential customers with advertising.
The During phase covers capturing, nurturing, and conversion to paying customers.
The After phase focuses on delivering a world-class customer experience to maximize lifetime value.
It’s a great high-level guide to planning your marketing efforts. This is also the book’s main problem, and it leaves it to you to come up with tactics to execute the plan. Another issue I found in this book is that it doesn’t cover the traffic acquisition phase too much and focuses more on lead generation.
It’s still a great book, well worth being listed as one of the best marketing books!
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“Hacking Growth” is likely the best book on Growth Hacking, written by two of the top names in the growth hacking world: Sean Ellis, who invented the term, and Morgan Brown, who worked with Sean and then became director of product at Facebook and now VP of growth of Shopify.
Clearly, they do what they preach.
The book is a pleasure to read, and it’s structured in two macro sections. The first one is a good intro to growth hacking and how to implement a good process in your company to make assumptions, quickly test, analyze and improve them before moving on to the next experiment.
In my opinion, this is exactly what most marketers need: a good process to iterate through a series of experiments and analyze their impact.
The second part of the book is more tactical and filled with case studies and real-world examples of how you can start adopting growth hacking to grow your company.
For sure, it deserves a spot on my best marketing books list!
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Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion
This bestseller and evergreen marketing book by Robert Cialdini is like the Bible when it comes to understanding why people say “yes” and leveraging it to grow your business.
Please don’t get fooled by the title, the book is not strictly about influencer marketing, and it’s actually very focused on the psychology that drives us to say yes. From this point of view, it’s pretty similar to predictably irrational.
Even though it was written in the 80s; it’s still a great read and actually still very relevant; Human behavior doesn’t change that fast!
I love this book because it’s filled with great examples, and they’re all incredibly actionable. In every chapter, you could find some gems to test right away on your homepage or landing pages.
There’s also a chapter on social proof. I love social proof, and I’ve experimented in Facebook Ads how powerful it is. And while it’s used by most companies nowadays, I think it’s very often used in an insufficient or ineffective way.
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Don’t Make Me Think
This classic from Steve Krug is an evergreen success and should be read by anyone in marketing dealing with the website’s design.
The concept is clear from the title: simplicity is the most important element of any website, no matter if you’re working on the homepage or a landing page.
Too many companies nowadays focus on creative designs rather than web usability. While it might be suitable for branding, it can kill your conversion rate.
The target audience is mainly composed of designers, and it teaches them how to counter-argue with the marketing team and business leaders asking for nonsense designs.
As a marketer, it’s a great idea to read it to better judge website designs and be more aligned with your design team.
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Joe Pulizzi is an authority in the field of content marketing, he was among the first to use the term back in 2001, and he’s the founder of Content Marketing Institute, one of the best blogs on the topic.
In “Content Inc,” he does a great job at helping small businesses understand how content marketing works, set realistic expectations, and plan great marketing campaigns.
Most people think about Content Marketing as something very blog-centric. I love this book because it focuses on how to create content that fits your expertise and your potential customer’s interests and needs; it doesn’t focus on a single distribution channel.
The second edition is actually very up-to-date. It was released in 2021 and featured a lot of social media marketing tips covering all the latest trends like TikTok and Snapchat.
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Product-Led Growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself
Product-Led Growth is the trend of the moment in online marketing, and it’s becoming marketers’ favorite buzzword replacing growth hacking.
Wes Bush, the author of the book, is one of the most well-known names in the space and his website, ProductLed, is an excellent source of education on the subject.
PLG’s approach is to basically use your product as a Marketing channel by onboarding as many users as possible in a Free or Trial plan and then optimizing the user experience to have high conversion rates, delight new customers, and incentivize them to refer more customers.
The book is filled with practical advice on picking your business model, optimizing your user experience, reducing churn, and so on. It’s really a great intro to get started with Product-led growth.
Of course, the book has a strong focus on the SaaS space. While it would be an interesting read, it’s probably not a must-read if you’re in the eCommerce space.
If you’ll like this book as much as I did, there’s also an excellent follow-up that focuses 100% on SaaS onboarding titled Product-led Onboarding.
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Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online
I was a bit split on if this book by Hubspot’s co-founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, should be included in the list of the best marketing books to read in 2022, but ultimately it was at the least worth mentioning.
The book is a bit outdated, and the target is beginners, not advanced marketers. On the flip side, this book impacted me deeply when I first read it as we were getting started with AdEspresso.
Hubspot is the company that made Inbound marketing and permission marketing mainstream and a serious alternative to interruption marketing based on outbound calls and traditional advertising.
My marketing approach has been modeled around what Hubspot was doing back then, and I’ll be forever grateful.
All in all, if you’re getting started with digital marketing and want SEO and content to be an essential element of your career, you should absolutely read this book.
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Best Marketing Books from my network
That’s a wrap for my list of best marketing books. I’ve read all of them, but I’m sure there are a lot of other gems I’ve not read yet. So I asked my fellow marketers on Linkedin for some extra recommendations you might want to check.
While I can’t personally vouch for these marketing books, I trust the friends who recommended them.
Blue Ocean Strategy
I actually read this book a long time ago, but it left an impact, and I remember it was pretty good. I’d say it’s more for entrepreneurs than for marketers, though.
The big idea behind this bestseller is to guide readers to find untapped opportunities in the market where competition is low, and you can really grow your business. These markets are called ‘blue oceans,’ and they represent a way more appealing opportunity than bloody red oceans of rivals fighting over a shrinking profit pool.
Digital Marketing For Dummies
I never thought I’d include a “For Dummies” book in a list of best marketing books. Even crazier, one that is actually 14 years old!
BUT… this book is written by marketing legend Ryan Deiss, someone I really look up to. The book is clearly for beginners but does a great job setting solid foundations for your marketing career.
All the most important strategies are covered with many success stories to learn from.
The Smart Marketing Book: The definitive guide to effective marketing strategies
A recent book by Dan White, published in 2021. It’s likely a book for beginners that provides a very clear and enjoyable introduction to most marketing strategies and channels.
Most comments I’ve seen on this book seem to hint it’s a pleasure to read but very light on most topics—a great place to start reading about marketing to zoom in with more specific books.
The Customer Centricity Playbook: Implement a Winning Strategy Driven by Customer Lifetime Value
It is not strictly a Marketing book but a title that can have a transformational effect on businesses and their marketing teams.
Customer-centric companies really put the customer at the center of all their efforts, from marketing to product, customer support, and success. The Customers are no longer an anonymous monolith but have become a known entity, and his success is the goal of the business.
Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
I’ve heard just too many praises for “Everybody Writes” not to include it in this list, and I’m going to read it for sure in 2022.
The book is very business and online marketing focused and will help you become a better copywriter to craft stellar content that will attract, convert and retain customers for your business.
In my personal opinion copywriting is a very underrated skill nowadays. Every startup is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get their website designed by a pro, but when it comes to the copy: “There’s no budget… the CEO or the intern will take care of it”.
This is totally wrong; I can assure you that the copy has a way bigger impact than the design in most cases.
Tip #1: Leverage Book summaries
I’ve been using Book summary apps quite often in the last period.
Is it worth it? Yes and no.
I think you should read the full book regarding the pillars included in this best marketing books list.
On the other side, many other books are interesting but too long or written in a very boring way but still deserve attention. I often skim through the summary for these books and then decide if they are worth reading fully or not.
I can get a good overview of the book’s key concepts in about 20% of the time. Other times I love the summary and want to read the original edition.
Tip #2: It’s all about learning, not reading
I’m a compulsive buyer. I have something like 70+ books in my kindle that I still have to go through.
When I started, I was using the number of books read in a year as my north star metric, going after all those tweets stressing out that successful people used to read hundreds of books per year. Trust me, when it comes to books, quality matters more than quantity.
With time I understood that while the more you can read, the better it is, the end goal is not reading but improving yourself, taking the time to think about what you’ve just learned, and putting it into practice.
You won’t get less stressed reading a book about meditation if you don’t follow up and start meditating and you won’t become a better marketer if you don’t experiment on the strategies or tactics you’ve just learned.
Author: Massimo, a jack of all trades, master of none, juggling between startups, marketing, and product. You might know me as the co-founder of AdEspresso and Breadcrumbs.