10 Must-Read Books for Modern Marketers

The rumors are true: The best marketing consultants, when they aren’t actively working on deliverables for their clients, can be found with their noses stuck in a book (or basking in the glow of an iPad or the non-glow of a Kindle). The reason? Because marketing is complex and ever-changing, and because even the slightest complacency when it comes to understanding new trends (like mobile purchasing habits or loyalty standards among millennials) and new channels (Pinterest, Pandora, Spotify) can result in disaster.

I read a lot. I’m a bookworm. (Word nerd. Idea hoarder. Call me what you will.)

In the spirit of hoarding no more, I’m sharing a list of 10 books that I think every marketer should read. Some are new and at the bleeding edge of trends. Others have been around for a while and still have resonance that can’t be ignored. In all cases, I’m sure you’ll learn something that can inspire a change of attitude, a change of strategy, a change of tactical plans for your marketing, and certainly a change in the results you’re seeing. At the very least, having some fresh ideas for your next meeting with your boss or your board or your full marketing team is always a great way to spark discussion that can lead to powerful impact.

What I love about taking the time to benefit from the insights of other great marketing and business minds?
• Just one good idea picked up from a great author can save me time and headaches.

• The most brilliant experts inspire me to be even better for my clients.

• Opening a good book is like going back to graduate school, but without the homework and the student loans, and like going to a top-notch marketing conference, but without the swag bags and the cost of airfare.

• The insights of others inspire my own. Together, those insights result in actions that can achieve business goals (like building brand or increasing sales) or that can solve an acute business problem (like having a distinct segment of the market, say women 18-25, abandoning a client’s product or service in favor of a competitor’s offering).

Please take a moment to share in the comment section what YOU are reading. What books or blogs or white papers do you think are a must-see or must-read for marketers, and why?

Happy reading, my friends!

1. Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger

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Without doubt, the best business or marketing book I’ve read all year. There’s a reason I didn’t name my company “Silver Tree Advertising,” and it’s because advertising is just one piece of the myriad business and marketing communications decisions that a company must make in order for its product or service brands to succeed. That truth is why you need to read Berger’s book. As he demonstrates in his book, whether your company’s brands “catch on” and make money is not about luck or about expensive advertising; it’s about strategy and a formula that has been borne out by significant research. This book gives you a clear, easy-to-follow blueprint for creating offerings that will succeed. I suggest buying a copy for everyone on your marketing team – internally and at your agency too. You can’t afford to launch your next quarter’s plan without reading this.

2. Story Branding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story, by Jim Signorelli

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If you don’t truly understand your brand’s “story” and how the customer can and should be that story’s hero, you’ve got some work to do. I suggest starting by reading Signorelli’s book. What he calls “Story Branding” is what we call “Strategic Storytelling” here at Silver Tree, and it’s the most important thing we do. Each week, we’re entrusted with developing brand stories for university degree programs, healthcare services and pharma companies, retail outlets, and more. Reading Story Branding and Contagious back to back is, incidentally, a great idea, as Berger’s insights hinge on a formula that includes memorable stories.

3. Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone., by Mitch Joel

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When this book came out in 2009, it was at the bleeding edge of scholarship on content marketing and social media. If you’re an old pro, this book is a good refresher and worth a skim. If you and your company are still not blogging or otherwise providing meaningful content to the marketplace because you are operating under the assumption that it’s bad business to give away your ideas for free, you need to read this book. Now.

4. Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li

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Originally published in 2008, then expanded and revised in 2011, this research-based book from the big brains at Forrester Research gives you all the case studies and statistics you need to get a 21st century marketing plan – complete with edgy new social media campaigns – approved by the old-school leaders in your organization. What Bernoff and Li teach us, above all, is how to be nimble in a world that is constantly being transformed by new technologies and new ways to communicate. (My extra thanks to these book authors – I use their social technographics profiles in nearly every training course I conduct on the topic of social media. Don’t know the difference between a “critic,” a “collector” and a “creator?” Better read this book.)

5. The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing?, by Jeffrey W. Hayzlett with Jim Eber

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In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I’ve had a brain crush on Jeffrey Hayzlett since the first time I heard him speak at the BMA conference several years ago. Here’s a guy who helped Eastman Kodak, at a time it was losing millions (or was it billions?) because the world had changed and it still saw itself as a “film” company to understand that what Kodak really did (and still does) is help people capture and share memories. Hayzlett is a big thinker and a guy who gets things done. What I love about this book is that it’s a business book (not just a marketing book) written by a CMO with decades of experience. There’s no fluff – just hard truths and great advice about marketing, management, selling and customer service techniques that will help your company succeed. I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that if you love this book, you should pre-order his next publication, which comes out in September.

6. Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition, by Adam Hartung

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Hartung’s book, like his personal style (I know because we were colleagues at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management), is no-nonsense and clear. This book makes the hard case for why products and companies can’t live forever, and how to harness the ability to “shake things up” inside your own firm, rather than waiting for the marketplace to rattle you instead. If you own or lead an organization, competitive advantage through innovation should matter to you. A lot. Reading this book is a step in the right direction; it will teach you to create your own marketplace disruptions so you can thrive instead of just survive.

7. Location is [Still] Everything: The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One, by David R. Bell

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Recently, I heard a friend refer to her family as “location independent” as a way to label their lifestyle – one in which she, as a writer, and her husband, as an IT consultant, can essentially live anywhere and not have to quit their jobs and find new ones. The phrase struck me as interesting. In the world of marketing and selling, it can be easy to make the mistake of thinking that, for companies that sell their products and services online, there is no real influence of location or the “real world” on how people shop. And they’d be dead wrong. Bell’s book helps us understand a fundamental truth about selling and promoting online: “… if you and I live under different physical circumstances and in different physical environments, we will use the virtual world very differently – even if we are very similar people in terms of our ages, incomes education levels and so on. We’ll shop differently, search differently, and won’t be equally attractive to sellers.”

8. The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media, by Paul Gillin

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When Gillin’s book first came out in 2007, I had just taken on the daunting responsibility of marketing a part-time, professional MBA program in a Chicago market that had 37 MBA competitors. At the time, the media mix was mostly advertising – some of it very effective. We were making great strides with radio, billboard, print and direct mail, and had a meaningful story to tell. But the largest sources of new business for us – in terms of prospective MBA students as well as corporate training (non-degree) clients — was word of mouth among tightly connected peer networks. I read this book and promptly proposed a shift from traditional marketing to what Gillin calls “conversational marketing.” Like all the books on this Top 10 list that deal with social communities and technologies, some of this publication’s insights will already be common sense to you if you’re a pro. But regardless of your area of expertise and exposure, I have no doubt that reading this book will help you rethink how to harness the power of the people who really influence your brand (and yours sales). Media continues to transform and, in an age of online product reviews and CNN iReports, Joe Average now has the tools, platform and audience to impact your brand as much as (or more than) you do. What’s your strategy for managing that?

9. eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, by Ardath Albee

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A great guidebook for marketing and sales professionals alike, Albee’s book offers methods for creating relationships and content online that turn qualified leads into sales. Many professionals who promote and sell “complex” B2B or B2C products and services – things with huge price tags (like a million-dollar piece of construction equipment) or high-involvement commitments (like getting someone who is already a busy physician to apply for a PhD program because they’ve got nothing but “free time” to write a dissertation) – are left thinking that there’s nothing that can be done in the electronic (emarketing) space to influence such a sale. But, according to Albee, they are wrong. And in a world in which 46% of B2B decision makers are aged 18-34 (see my recent BMA15 blog for more on this), attracting and nurturing leads online, and sharing compelling and contagious content, is more critical than ever.

10. Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers, by Bridget Brennan

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I’m ending this list of “must-read books for modern marketers” with what I believe to be perhaps the most important book that any business owner, sales professional or marketing leader can ever read. Brennan, who consults for the world’s biggest brands, knows a thing or two about how to appeal to the woman consumer. What I love about her book is two-fold. She provides very clear tips and formulas for how to more effectively communicate with female consumers and decision makers. And she goes the extra step to show us the research to support the argument that nearly everything that is bought and sold in America today – even products one might consider to be 100% “male” – are inevitably purchased or not purchased based on what the female head of household knows and believes about the product. Take a fun, entertaining ride through Brennan’s book and walk away with stories you’ll share at cocktail parties and in board rooms alike, because they are memorable and the business results speak for themselves. If you think you have a female-focused strategy because your product comes in a shade of pink or because you have three women in your marketing department, you haven’t scratched the surface. Just read the book. You’ll thank me.

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