I began reading books when I was in my early twenties, thanks to my business school’s extensive library. Needless to say, if someone had asked me back then to create a list of the fifteen best marketing books, I would have crawled under my bed.
I enrolled at a business school that was well-known for its advertising programme but also offered a finance degree. I chose the latter but course-corrected after passing out.
In some respects, I owe my marketing career to business school since I would not have been exposed to the world of marketing and advertising had it not been for the business school.
At the time, I was more interested in fiction novels since they helped alleviate the cognitive load imposed by academic books and projects. From Chetan Bhagat to Abhijit Bhaduri, I read everything. However, as time went by, I gradually transitioned to non-fiction books.
Today, many of those books sit on my bookshelf, waiting to greet me as I enter my home. While some books served as a foundation, others provided me with nuggets of knowledge that I would not have discovered on my own.
When I suggest them as the marketing books you should read in your lifetime, I do it with a feeling of responsibility, as I am well aware of the impact that a single book may have on your life. Some of these books have an element of timeliness to them because what was said between the pages may still be relevant years or decades from now.
I will refrain from discussing books that are often required reading in business schools, such as those by Philip Kotler, David Aaker, and David Ogilvy. As Haruki Murakami puts it, “If you just read the literature that everyone else is reading, you can only think like everyone else.”
The more varied your reading is, the more it aids in the formation of ideas and intuition.
15 Best Marketing Books To Read in a Lifetime
To begin, let me state that what you may perceive to be a business or management book may really offer you more insight into marketing than a standard marketing book. While several of the books I’ve mentioned are unlikely to be recommended by most sites, I believe marketing ultimately combines psychology, design, and the understanding of many other disciplines.
As I previously said, the more varied your reading is, the more adept you are at connecting the dots. So without further ado, let’s began with a list of best marketing books you should read in a lifetime.
1. All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
Seth Godin’s book is premier on the importance of storytelling. The book talks about how authentic stories can help you set your product or service apart from the competition. The biggest insight I picked from the book is how your stories have to agree with the audience’s worldview.
Do you remember the old Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner? Today, when a television commercial or campaign fails, it is mainly due to the marketers’ failure to develop an agreeable or relatable narrative.
Seth’s book highlights the importance of first impressions and how discovery is important for storytelling. He elaborated on this concept in his book Purple Cow, which discusses how to create a great brand via distinctiveness.
Disclaimer: The book is repetitive in sections but has some excellent nuggets of knowledge if you manage to reach the end.
2. Stories at Work by Indranil Chakraborty
I’ve read a number of books on storytelling over the years, but what distinguishes Indranil Chakraborty’s approach is the Indian context. Indranil has worked for many Indian conglomerates for several years, and his ability to link stories to business context makes this book an engaging read.
The one idea that I took back from the book is the concept of anti-stories. They can be anything from half-truths, misinformation, or lies. He talks about it is difficult to fight anti-stories with facts. He also offers advice on how businesses can fight anti-stories by replacing them with new stories.
Indranil also conducts storytelling workshops that expand on some of the concepts he discusses in his book. In conclusion, Stories at Work is an excellent companion if you’re seeking to improve your storytelling abilities. This is perhaps one of the finest marketing books written by an Indian author during the last decade.
3. Hooked by Nir Eyal
You cannot discuss Hooked without mentioning Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology. Martin’s 2008 smash-hit book delves into the psychology of buying. He dispelled many misconceptions regarding how and why consumers purchase.
Nir’s book sort of expands on the idea by exploring habit-forming products and what goes into making them. He also explores some of the frameworks that some of the successful platforms have deployed to get us hooked. The practical insights offered in the book deep dive into some of the popular platforms, from the iPhone to Twitter.
4. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Simon’s original TED talk, ‘Start with Why,’ has had more than 28 million views. The book popularized the concept of purpose-driven or mission-driven brands in many ways. Simon discusses the golden circle, emphasizing once again how people no longer purchase what you do but why you do it.
While the book can get repetitious at times, the central concept has been fundamental in many ways as businesses increasingly concentrate on their mission or basic reason of being.
5. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
It seems improbable that Positioning is not on your business school’s suggested reading list. The book was released in 1980, and the contents of the book are still relevant today. The book presented the concept of positioning for the first time. The book’s main contents have been updated several times over the years until Jack Trout’s death in 2017.
The book’s main shortcoming is that, although it discusses positioning and why it is important, it does not offer a framework or mental model for approaching the positioning exercise.
Al and Jack’s second book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, published in 1983, is another excellent companion piece that expands on their first concept. Personally, I would suggest reading ‘Obviously Awesome’ by April Dunford as well if you’re looking for a framework to complete your positioning exercise.
6. The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Although The Art of Choosing is not a marketing book per se, it helped me in more ways than I can count. The book is mostly on how individuals make choices and the things that affect them, such as their history, upbringing, and so on. It’s an engrossing book for anybody interested in human psychology.
In certain respects, every subsequent book on the topic makes reference to it, notably Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.
7. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is an incredible storyteller, and I’ve read almost everything he’s written. Blink and Tipping Point are among his lesser-known classics. David and Goliath demonstrate how underdogs may defeat giants. Malcolm expands on the book’s premise by linking seemingly disparate ideas. If you work for a challenger brand, you will find his insights very valuable.
8. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Ph.D. Cialdini Robert B
Influence is probably the bestselling book on persuasion, has been translated into thirty languages, and has sold over three million copies. The book delves into the psychology of why individuals say “yes” – and how to put these insights into practice.
Dr. Robert Cialdini is a world-renowned authority on the subject of influence and persuasion. Robert’s book is the product of thirty-five years of rigorous, evidence-based research and a three-year study of what motivates individuals to alter their behavior.
9. Contagious by Jonah Berger
This book is ideal for anybody interested in understanding how to disseminate ideas, improve brand recognition, or expand their client base. Jonah Berger discusses the factors that contribute to the popularity of particular ideas, products, and stories.
He discusses the six mechanisms behind virality: social currency, triggers, emotion, practical value, public, and stories. If you’re into content creation or marketing, you might find many nuggets of information that are extremely valuable in this book.
10. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
This book is a practical guide for understanding web usability and user experience. As implied by the book’s title, Krug asserts that the first rule of usability is “don’t make me think.” This idea serves as the bedrock for all of the usability recommendations and concepts outlined in his book.
As marketing increasingly moves to digital channels, this book is sort of premier to understand how to build exceptional good user experiences.
11. Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis
Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown have been credited for creating the term ‘Growth Hacking.’ The book outlines a systematic approach for forming cross-functional teams that achieve outcomes via constant experimentation. Today, the book’s message has been diluted by the fact that so many companies see growth hacking as a fast fix or magical solution.
But the book, as originally outlined by the authors, is really about creating a framework that helps companies find growth wins faster and leave their competition in the dust.
12. One to One Future by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers
It’s surprising how rarely this book is discussed in B2B marketing discussions. In their book, Don Pepper and Martha Rogers developed the idea of one-to-one marketing. The book served as a significant role in the creation of Account-Based Marketing.
Almost three decades after the book’s publication, much of what was stated still remains relevant.
13. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
For a long period of time, only the most profitable products were marketable and popular. Then the internet arrived, precipitating the slow, steady collapse of “the hit.” Chris Anderson, the former editor of the tech magazine Wired, first introduced the idea of long-tail in one of his articles.
The book talks about how culture and commerce’s future lies in niche goods with a limited but specialized market. In a nutshell, the future lies in the demand curve’s long tail.
14. Mother Pious Lady by Santosh Desai
Mother Pious Lady is an anthology of writings about prevalent Indian attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors. Nearly a decade after the book was written, I still feel you can relate to much of what was said especially if you have grown in the 1990s. If you’ve read this book, you should also explore ‘We are Like That Only’ by Rama Bijapurkar, which is again a good premier to understand the Indian consumer. If I ever compile a list of the best marketing books from India, this one will undoubtedly make the cut.
15. Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith
If you’ve worked in B2B marketing or had to market services, you will find this book a refreshing read. Beckwith makes a critical point: selling services is fundamentally different from selling products. In comparison, services are invisible, and therefore do not serve as a continuous pleasant reminder to the client. Beckwith points out that many buyers of services are unaware of what they are purchasing since it has not yet been delivered.
The majority of service marketers suffer from what Beckwith refers to as the ‘Lake Wobegon effect.’ That is, they overestimate themselves and assume that their perspective is shared by the market. (This is named after Garrison Keillor’s fictitious Lake Wobegon, where “the women are strong, the men are handsome, and the children are all above average.”)
Overall, this is a great book, the language is simple, straightforward, and often irreverent, but each little piece contains a nugget of marketing truth.
Where to get started?
Don’t ask me; pick any marketing book and get started.
There are many marketing books I want to include on this list, but I’d like to highlight a couple in particular since they will help you understand marketing from an Indian context.
Probably the first one I read was Brand Positioning by Subroto Sengupta; he was the ex-CEO of Clarion Advertising and Professor of Marketing at IIM Calcutta. Oddly, the book receives so little attention in marketing circles, but I’ve always found it a fascinating read.
Then their is Darwin′s Brands by Anand Halve, 30 Second Thrillers by KV Sridhar, Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles by Ambi Parameswaran, and Piyush Pandey’s Pandeymonium. Perhaps a couple more that I can’t recall right now. However, let us hope you find this list of best marketing books useful and eventually create your own as you crisscross your way through some of these books.