There are a lot of great marketing books out there, but there’s not enough time to read them all. And most suggested reading lists for marketers are all the same, so you’re not going to set yourself apart with the information you learn.

The best marketing books are a little outside the box, so they’ll give you an edge on the competition. They might not even seem like marketing books at first glance, but each one will help you master an important skill that is crucial to marketing.

The 5 Best Marketing Books

These books will help you:

  1. Develop more content ideas than ever before (which is an important part of lead generation)
  2. Write memorable copy that readers will feel compelled to finish and share
  3. Persuade and inspire your readers to take action

And if these marketing books aren’t enough, each recommendation includes links to free resources provided by the authors.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Guy Reading a Marketing Book

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”
― Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion


From the publisher:

Influence, the classic book on persuasion, explains the psychology of why people say “yes” — and how to apply these understandings. Dr. Robert Cialdini is the seminal expert in the rapidly expanding field of influence and persuasion. His thirty-five years of rigorous, evidence-based research along with a three-year program of study on what moves people to change behavior has resulted in this highly acclaimed book.”

In Influence, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University Dr. Robert Cialdini introduces his Six Principles of Influence. Throughout the course of his research, Cialdini found that human beings often use evolutionary crutches to simplify decision making.

Applying certain principles can cause people to slip into autopilot, complying with a request without even thinking about it.

Oftentimes, relying on these principles contributes to a civilized society. But if they’re misused by someone with an ulterior motive, they can lead to the manipulation of unsuspecting marks.

Cialdini wrote the book to help people avoid falling prey to unscrupulous persuaders, but these principles can also be used honestly by marketers (in fact, his latest book explains how to use persuasion in business).

Key Takeaway for Marketers

If you want to strengthen your persuasive skills, look no further than the Six Principles of Influence.

Even if you haven’t read Influence, you’ve probably figured some of these out on your own. Once you read them, they all seem like common sense. You’ll probably even remember a time or two when you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated by someone using one (or more) of these principles against you.

Cialdini’s books cover each of the principles in depth (including findings from his research in the field), but these are the nuts and bolts:

  1. Reciprocity. If you do something for me, I’m likely to feel like I need to return the favor.
  2. Consistency and Commitment. If I make a commitment or identify a certain way, I’m going to be more likely to act in line with that commitment or identity.
  3. Social Proof. When we see other people doing something, we are more likely to be willing to do it ourselves.
  4. Liking. If we like someone, we’re more likely to do what they want.
  5. Authority. People are more likely to comply with your requests if they believe it is backed by an authority or expert.
  6. Scarcity. When something is (or we think it is) scarce or rare, we perceive it as being more valuable than we would otherwise.

Read more about how to apply these principles to your marketing efforts here.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Girl Reading a Marketing Book

“For individuals’ behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds.”
― Chip & Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard


From the publisher:

“In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.”

Here, the Heath Brothers provide a framework for generating action. The book uses stories and research to explain how to affect change in the world. The lessons in Switch will teach you how to write copy that drives action.

The Heath Brothers explain concepts that will help you internally (e.g., getting buy-in from your team for a new idea) and externally (e.g., getting people who sign up for a demo of your product to actual use it and see the value).

Key Takeaway for Marketers

The most important thing to remember (in fact, the whole book is built on the concept) is the metaphor of the Rider and the Elephant. The Rider is your rational self, the Elephant is your emotional self, and the Path is made up of the circumstances surrounding the behavior you’re trying to change.

This is the Switch Framework:

  • Direct the Rider. Don’t leave your reader guessing. Tell them exactly what they need to do to get the benefits your describing. Use clear calls-to-action and make sure your website is easily navigable.
  • Motivate the Elephant. Use persuasive, emotional language to speak to your reader’s rider. It’s not enough that they think it’s a good idea. They have to want it.
  • Shape the Path. Make it easy for your readers to take the desired action (e.g., don’t put too many questions on a lead form)

Read the first chapter and download free resources here.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Person Reading a Marketing Book

“[W]e will show you how a little focused effort can make almost any idea stickier, and a sticky idea is an idea that is more likely to make a difference. All you need to do is understand the six principles of powerful ideas.”
― Chip & Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die


From the publisher:

“Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the Heath brothers reveal the anatomy of ideas that ‘stick’ and explain sure-fire methods for making ideas stickier, such as violating schemas, using the Velcro Theory of Memory, and creating ‘curiosity gaps.'”

If you want to create more powerful content, Made to Stick is the book for you. In it, the Heath Brothers cover six principles that make content “sticky”.

The book builds on the concept of “stickiness” Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in The Tipping Point. Unlike Gladwell’s book, which is more of a descriptive work, Made to Stick is a how-to book. When you have finished reading it, you will know how to write content that will keep people reading and stick with them afterwards.

Key Takeaway for Marketers

If you need to up your copywriting game fast, pick up a copy of Made to Stick and commit the following principles to memory:

  • Simple. Prioritize the information you need to get across to the reader. To create a truly sticky piece of content, deliver the core of your message with nothing extra to distract the reader.
  • Unexpected. Get the readers attention with something unexpected. Keep their attention with “curiosity gaps” that you don’t fill in until the end of your content.
  • Concrete. Use language that engages the reader’s five senses. Made to Stick calls it the “Velcro Theory of Memory”, recommending that you “try to hook into multiple types of memory.”
  • Credible. Establish credibility through the use of specific details, statistics, and authorities.
  • Emotional. Use emotional language to appeal to the reader’s identity or self-interest.
  • Stories. Stories provide motivation and direction. When we read stories, we visualize ourselves taking the actions in the story. If they’re told well, they provide the inspiration to encourage people to act.

Read the first chapter and download free resources here.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Reading a Marketing Book on the Roof

“Why do some products, ideas, and behaviors succeed when others fail?”
― Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On


From the publisher:

“In Contagious, Berger reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission. Discover how six basic principles drive all sorts of things to become contagious, from consumer products and policy initiatives to workplace rumors and YouTube videos. Learn how a luxury steakhouse found popularity through the lowly cheesesteak, why anti-drug commercials might have actually increased drug use, and why more than 200 million consumers shared a video about one of the most seemingly boring products there is: a blender.”

Every marketer is looking to get maximum exposure for their content, and “going viral” is the Holy Grail of content marketing. Contagious is Wharton Business School Professor Jonah Berger’s guide to aid content marketers in their quest for the Grail.

He distills the current research on word of mouth, social influence, and consumer behavior into six principles that will greatly increase your content’s reach.

Your content doesn’t have to check all of these boxes, but each one increases your odds of creating a truly contagious piece of content.

Key Takeaway for Marketers

Berger covers these six principles that you can use to ensure maximum reach for your content:

  • Social Currency. Everyone wants to be seen a certain way. Write content that will allow your readers to bolster their public persona by sharing it.
  • Triggers. Create content that includes triggers for your product that they will think about when they’re in a position to buy it.
  • Emotion. If your copy evokes high arousal emotions like excitement or fear, your readers will be more likely to share it.
  • Public. Whenever possible, ensure that consumption of your product is a public act (e.g., a Starbucks cup or a J. Crew bag lets everyone know where you bought your coffee or clothes).
  • Practical Value. Don’t just write to hawk a product. Offer real value that your readers can use. That’s the sort of content people share.
  • Stories. Berger recommends that you use stories as Trojan Horses for your messages. But be sure the message is an indispensable part of the story or it will get left out in subsequent tellings.

Download free resources from the author here.

Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content

Bear Reading a Marketing Book

“An A-strategy is only an A-strategy if you’ll execute on it.”
― Mark Levy, Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content


From the publisher:

“Levy shares six freewriting secrets designed to knock out your editor and let your genius run free. He also includes fifteen problem-solving and creativity-stimulating principles you can use if you need more firepower — seven of which are new to this edition — and stories of problems he and others have solved through freewriting.”

Accidental Genius describes an impressive ideation technique called freewriting. Freewriting is one of the most powerful tools I have ever used (and I created this free tool to make it easier). It’s basically the written version of thinking out loud.

Author Mark Levy describes how you can use freewriting to solve problems and generate ideas. When you try it, you will find that you can develop content topics and finish rough drafts much faster than ever before.

Out of all these marketing books, this is probably my favorite. It’s helped me with more than just marketing.

Key Takeaway for Marketers

See the benefits for yourself. Whether you need to write some copy for a squeeze page, come up with a new Facebook advertising campaign, or determine how to position your product in a competitive market, freewriting can help.

Set a timer for twenty minutes and start writing (or typing) out your thoughts about your problem. Don’t stop typing, don’t edit yourself, don’t worry about fixing typos, and- again (this is the most important part- don’t stop typing. If you run out of things to type, just type whatever is in your head, or even “um”, or just repeat the last word you typed over and over again until something else comes to you).

See what you’ve got at the end of twenty minutes. It won’t all be golden (in fact 95% of it may be garbage), but you ought to find a few nuggets of wisdom in there that will start you on your way.

Read more on freewriting here or read “Why I Never Have Writer’s Block”. And don’t forget to check out my free freewriting tool!

What Are Your Favorite Marketing Books?

Do you know of any other marketing books that aren’t as widely known? Email me at [email protected] and let me know the marketing books that have helped you the most (that you won’t find on your average list of great marketing books).

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