I often get asked about inspiring marketing reads. Whether you’re trying to fall in love with marketing as a career or revitalize your business strategy, the right book can steer you in unforeseen, exciting directions. As a writer myself, I’ve come to understand just how close authors get to the content they are sharing, and how deeply they search within themselves and their experiences to present advice that truly connects with readers’ needs. So when I see a title that provokes thought, proposes something different, and invites us to take action, I am usually the first to recommend it to everyone I know.
Being an entrepreneur is no easy feat, and we can fall prey to burnout and lack of motivation if we stop feeding our creativity. Here’s my shortlist of marketing books that will help you navigate the entrepreneurial journey, whether you’re building a personal or business brand. You will notice that some of these titles are not traditionally classified as marketing books, but I am recommending them because they speak about principles that will directly impact how you define, position, and market your business.
I first read this book in a literature course in college. Therefore, our discussion back then wasn’t really about the soundness of Gladwell’s business advice, but his mastery with words. The Tipping Point showcases the idea that all popular products have crossed a point where their rate of adoption boomed: this moment is what the author calls the tipping point. Gladwell uses vivid examples and walks us through different stories where several little moments led to a tipping point of no return: the most radical ideas would suddenly become accepted, and even expected.
If you’re familiar with the Business Model Canvas, you’ve interacted with the single most important template explained and developed in this book. While the canvas itself was based on Alexander Osterwalder’s PhD thesis in 2004, it is this book that popularized the tool among entrepreneurs all around the world. Business Model Generation explains what each of the template’s building blocks means, how these components interact with each other, and how they ultimately impact the bottom line. Osterwalder and Pigneur use examples to illustrate what he calls “patterns”, which are just types of businesses that can be represented using relatively similar canvases.
Seth Godin has built an interdisciplinary career that constantly crosses the borders between marketing, business, psychology, and personal development — that is, if you believe those borders actually exist. If you’re like Godin, you’ll pull from different fields to shape a remarkable career: a single path that takes risky twists and turns to result in a Purple Cow no one could possibly miss. Here’s just a gem of the many you’ll get while reading this book:
“If you’re remarkable, it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. Nobody gets unanimous praise–ever. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.”
PS: Make sure you also check out Seth’s Blog.
Ann Handley is one of my favorite marketing thought leaders. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a marketing training company with more than 600,000 subscribers. Handley has built a career around business education, and this book focuses on practical advice to improve our writing skills. When it comes down to it, great marketing depends on great storytelling. Stories have the power to breathe life into any kind of promotional effort, regardless of the channel. Grab this book if you’re feeling like your inner content creator could use a pep talk.
Now, this is one of the books that make me fall in love with business all over again. I was just a high school senior when I chose this fascinating career path: the journey of building and managing human ventures. With time, I made business the center of my undergraduate degree and continued to explore it, in combination with design, at the graduate level (M.A. in Design Management). However passionate about the field, I continuously heard criticism coming from different sources: groups that stigmatized business owners as greedy individuals, people that resented the corporate world, friends that perceived profit as a selfish goal in the midst of so much need. I heard it all. To a point, I agreed with it all: ambition can derail if we’re not led by a positive value system. And that’s exactly what this book is about.
Written by the founders of Whole Foods, Conscious Capitalism rescues some of the heroic spirit in human beings’ desire to build ventures. Using examples from their company as well as others like Panera and UPS, the authors propose a new approach to business in which cooperation, humanity, and purpose take center stage. A definite must-read if you’ve ever questioned the motivations behind your entrepreneurial drive.
I shared this book earlier this year when LinkedIn asked me about my #1 most recommended read for marketers in 2018. There’s simply nothing like a classic: a comprehensive, all-in marketing bible of sorts that gives you the framework to specialize in whatever seemed most interesting from a wide array of topics. I love books that show you the big picture and excite you enough about a given topic that you feel compelled to dive deeper on your own.
I still stand by my comment about Hawkins and Mothersbaugh’s Consumer Behavior textbook: “While I’ve read many impactful business books in my career, none has steered my perspective on marketing like Hawkins & Mothersbaugh’s Consumer Behavior textbook. We tend to go for short reads to understand emerging ideas in our field, but there is nothing like a comprehensive overview of the place where marketing and psychology intersect: consumer behavior. This book is loaded with great examples and visuals to welcome anyone to the fascinating world that is our mind when it interacts with advertising stimuli, environmental influences, and the personality traits that define us.”
This is a highly recommended read if you are struggling to find your areas of strength and weakness. The book discusses the psychology principles in action every time an entrepreneur sets out to build a venture. If that sounds like you, Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder is a much-needed review of the factors that help certain individuals start, sustain, and grow successful companies. There are many psychological tests to figure out different aspects of your personality, but this book includes a particular questionnaire that delves deep into your entrepreneurial traits and potential. Take the online quiz and you’ll have an actionable set of insights to improve your habits as an entrepreneur.
I will admit this is a partly nostalgic choice. The Disney Way was the very first book that triggered my fascination for the marketing field. I was around 14 or 15 when I borrowed this book from my high school principal; needless to say, she never got it back (sorry? ?). The idea that Disney, a brand that had essentially shaped my childhood, had a particular way of building brands drew me in immediately. This title presents sound business advice from the perspective of a company that has built one of the greatest entertainment empires of all time. Grab it if the Walt Disney Company inspires you in any way —you won’t regret it.
This book changed my life in more than a few ways. When I first read it, the entrepreneur in me was immediately inspired by this leaner, more data-driven approach to business-building. Eric Ries got us all thinking about ideas like testing, validation, Minimum Viable Products, pivots, building, measuring, and learning. This title transformed the entrepreneurial mindset for the better. I was a startup consultant at the time, and slowly started incorporating those principles to brand development — which was the process I helped these founders complete. After implementing and refining those leaner branding tactics with dozens of startup teams, I knew that the Lean Series was lacking a comprehensive guide for entrepreneurs around the world who wanted to do the same. Lean Branding was born.
The subheading fits this book like a glove: “The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything”. Guy Kawasaki, a renowned venture capitalist and marketing expert, published this book to shed light on the entire process of getting your venture up and running. He covers a wide range of topics, from the “art of launching” to the “art of fundraising” and even the “art of building a team”. Kawasaki shares the kind of advice that would take you years to learn on your own.
Have any marketing or marketing-related books piqued your interest lately? I’d love to take a look. Share your must-reads in the comments section below.