9 “Not” Marketing Books That Will Make You A Smart Marketer Today! (And a Bonus Marketing Book As Well)

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Marketing Books

Recently, someone asked me this question on Quora about marketing books.

While their question was about digital marketing, it got me thinking.

My career has revolved around marketing (digital advertising platform, to be precise) and there have been several books that have helped me learn more about how to be better at my work.

Some of these books have actually done more than just teach me marketing, they have helped me develop my holistic point of view on marketing. These books have helped me look at marketing as an integral concept of life, a part of my everyday connections with my clients, colleagues & has hopefully improved the lives of those around me.

It took me a while to actually write this answer, because I wanted to do a good job at explaining to them why I chose these books over others. Believe me, I have several others that may have made the list, BUT these books have impacted my life and career personally, and hence the list.  However, the reasons I quoted in my quora answer were:

  1. My library of books is large so I will have to consider all books from a marketing standpoint;
  2. I wanted to introspect and answer the question with some (turned out to be very broad) explanation of my context of marketing.; and
  3. (This is the important one) Based on this explanation, I wanted them to be able to build their unique set of books that they could refer to, if they were in to marketing or were considering a career in marketing.

So, let’s see if this makes any sense to my readers.  As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Art & Science of Marketing that they don’t teach you in Marketing Books

In my mind, marketing is three parts art and one part science.  The scientific part taught in most marketing books comes easy, as there are formulas, patterns, principals & theories.

For example, the most popular (and sometimes twisted, for good reason) theory is the 4 P’s of marketing. This theory while being discussed as “marketing mix” since the early 1940’s was in existence in the minds of the marketing practitioners, it was formally put to paper in 1960.

Since then, it has been the fundamental principal for all businesses whether small or large, geographically diverse, for profit/non-profit or any other classification you could think of.

MOAB – Mother of All (Marketing) Books

No one teaches them better than the guru of all marketing – Philip Kotler.

He has been my idol from as far back as I can remember – when I secretly photocopied one of his books in my office as I couldn’t afford to buy one 😉

If you had to pick up one, just one book to cover it all, you would go with Marketing Management – Paperback Edition 2015 that Dr Kotler co-authored with Kevin Keller. Here, that’s the bonus “marketing book” right there.

This book will cover all of your other universally accepted scientific principals of marketing to achieve, maintain and grow your markets. This book will teach you everything you need to learn about various (and important) concepts, such as Market Research, Target Market Identification, deciding on product pricing, positioning, branding, competitive analysis, strategic & tactical planning, budgeting, distribution, advertising, analyzing & optimizing, etc.

(I may have missed on a few steps, but these are some of the most important ones that will essentially be part of any marketing plan)

“Not” Marketing Books

Now, coming back to the part where I wrote about the ratio between art & science of marketing.

I learnt late in my career (and the hard way) that everyone has access to the books about the science and therefore, can fill in the spreadsheets, develop tests, optimize and create product-market fit.

What one needs to excel in Marketing is something that’s more intrinsic, something that goes beyond the scientist, something that helps a marketer achieve results higher by an order of magnitude.

It is this part, that led me to my excessive obsession with reading and learning about marketing, and without any further explanation, let me lay it out for you

The following books for me, fall into the category where I read (and refer) to them again and again.

For me they will never be finished like a fiction novel would, and these would stay on top of my bookshelf at all times.

Let’s get the bonus first – the 1st book on my list is titled as a marketing books and is the only book written with a clear audience (marketing professional) in mind. All other books that follow weren’t written from a marketing perspective but have significant lessons to learn for each marketer.

Here goes the list!

Crossing the Chasm 

While this book in theory is based on a practical scientific part of marketing, Mr. Moore brings you to an understanding somewhere along the middle of the book that goes beyond filling in the blanks on a spreadsheet, and understanding the mental models of each of the 5 markets in absolute detail, and with great clarity.

Originally published in 1991 and currently in its 3rd edition (Published in 2014), this is book is designed to help businesses make transition from early adopters to main stream customers (early majority – specifically).In its latest revision, Mr Moore has included examples specific to the marketing communication channels as we know them today (Internet didn’t exist in 1991 when this book was first published).

This books not only remains relevant 15 years after it was originally published, but can safely be called one of the leading high tech marketing books of our times.  Here’s a quick 13-minute video from Strata 2014 where you can hear Mr. Moore speak on how the high-tech markets develop and how to bring disruptive innovations to the market.

Start with Why

You want to build market-share, you start with why! Why should a customer buy from you vs your competitors? It goes beyond the 4 Ps and into the mind of your customer and explains why customers behave the way they do when they talk/buy about/from a company. It is also one of my favorite books about branding.

For those of you who didn’t know (though I’m sure there aren’t many) Simon is the host of the most watched ever Ted Talk in the history of the conference.  It has been viewed over 31 million times as of this writing, and here’s a video of the talk for you.  It was given in Sep 2009 and is titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action

After this talk, Simon has gone on to write a few more books and has delivered some interesting ted talks. He is one of my favorite writers & thinkers of modern times.


Another classic – Nir Eyal is relatively young but has achieved cult status (in my mind) with his insights into the minds of users. This book isn’t really listed as a marketing book but more as a product design & industrial engineering book, but believe me – I finished it in 2 days and then read it again and again every time I can’t think of anything else on my mind.

This book is one that teaches you about the intersection of psychology, technology and business.  Here is one of his presentations where he talks about his thought process and the touches upon the subjects of the book further.

Alibaba – The house that Jack Ma built

Strange title to include in a list of marketing books, right? To include this book as a recommended reading for Marketing. No, not really. This book chronicles the journey of Jack Ma – all the way from his humble start to the powerhouse that Alibaba has become today. It covers topics from developing a variety of B2B as well as B2C markets, building product market fit in the face of all adversity and creating market segments that didn’t otherwise exist.

The book talks about creation of the entrepreneur community (equivalent of the Silicon Valley in the United States) in remote Chinese province, where Jack Ma first started his website design business (and his language translation services prior to that) followed by creation of a market place large enough to service the world’s largest country in terms of population (and now GDP)

The video below is the talk that Duncan Clark gave at Google in April 2016

Think Like a Freak

The third book in the “freakonomics” trilogy is a classic, in my mind, to problem solving. As marketers, we are constantly challenged with problems of a varied nature, and this book opens up your mind to sort of an idea that just didn’t exist (or you didn’t think was possible)

While this book is aimed at individuals to help them retrain their brain, it has been a twice in a month read for me this year. It has evolved my thinking to the point of being able to look at my clients’ problems and change my paradigm by 180° to look at it in an entirely different light.

Of course, the funny, captivating and unconventional storytelling format of the authors makes this book all the more fun.  I always keep books from these author duo under my Marketing Books section.

Stephen Dubner speaks at Wharton in this video, titled Retrain Your Brain and explains the history behind how this book came about being.

The power of Habit

While this book explains to you how you can improve yourself and form habits over time, I’ve learnt a lot from this book to understand how to get in the minds of my target customers and have them form a habit of using my product/service that essentially follows the same 3 step approach that is described in this book – Behavior – Stimulus – Reward – Very powerful statement in marketing, if you ask me!

If you take notice, there are two books by the same author that find a place in my list of top marketing books. I’m a big fan of Charles Duhigg.  While he is not a conventional marketer by any standards, he is a pulitzer prize winning author and a reporter with the New York times.  His team has done impressive journalism work on the 2008 financial crisis and the Apple-induced iEconomy in 2003

Charles gave this TedX talk in 2013 where he combined facts from research, events and experience to explain by human behaviors are compelled by habit.


Another marketing masterpiece, absolutely brilliant in its execution of a very useful but tough idea to explain – The psychology of persuasion – I can’t say enough good words about this book – There is a reason it’s on Amazon best seller’s list for Consumer Behavior

This book begins with explaining the six universal principles of persuasion and goes on with detailed application of those principles. Most marketing books will just stop there, but not this one.  It actually takes one step further and also tells you how to defend yourself against these very same principles if you’re being persuaded by someone else! I think that’s smart thinking!

With over 1400 customer reviews on Amazon, this book definitely is going to become a classic material for marketing schools for years to come.

Here is a video that has raked in 8+  million views with the explanation of this book and is only 11 minutes.  If you do decide to pursue marketing as a career path, you MUST absolutely read and internalize the learning from this book.


Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37-Signals, makers of several software tools, such as Basecamp and 99Designs. Jason and his team have always promoted the values of boot strapping, lean work and the fault that lies in the traditional method of planning.

This book was not intended to be written as one of marketing books, but it does does open up your mind to notions that can be simplified and used to break paradigms in face of challenges marketers face every day.

It questions our deep rooted beliefs in how some things are ingrained in our “business persona” and how to question every one of those beliefs to come out on top. I believe that in order to do a good job at Marketing, you have to look at things differently, do things differently and execute your campaigns in a unique manner,

This book helps you see that. This book picks up very traditional business notions such as the requirement of staff, paperwork, office, meetings, plans, processes – According to Jason, they are all excuses. It may seem like I’m going on a “self help / motivational” rant here – believe me I’m not, because this book has opened my perspective on how I look at a clients’ campaign. What if we do not have a copy writer, what if the designer will take 3 days to get this done – You can get a set of 39 banner PSDs for $8 on themeforest, break your paradigms, get shit done!

Jason speaks at CreativeMornings HQ channel on YouTube, sometime in 2012.

The Copywriter’s Handbook

I’ve referred to this book time and again in my pursuit of writing better copy to optimize my google adwords performance.  However, this book is extremely useful for headlines, sales letters, print-ads, e-mail subject lines and in writing general readable ad-copy that prompts action and teaches where most marketing books fail.

For the price, it’s a fairly lengthy read (400+ pages) but it is filled with extremely valuable insights into the method and success principles of copy writing. David Ogivly of Ogilvy has recommended this book and I quote “I don’t know a single copywriter whose work would not be improved by reading this book”

I couldn’t find any videos where Bob spoke about this book in detail, but I’ve sent him an email asking for an interview.  Will update this space when I hear more from him.

Data Analytics

No discussion about marketing is complete without discussing the elephant in the room – Big Data & its impact on marketing. Today, CMOs & CTOs are merging into one role, as every marketing initiative in the world of tomorrow is going to be fueled with some form of data oriented thinking. This book isn’t about marketing at all, but it opens up your mind to the possibilities of data science and how to think analytically to re-frame your problems and find solutions hidden in data.

Since there are hundreds of data science books available on the subject of Marketing books, I am not including a video he

There, that’s my top 10 books on Marketing that I recommend everyone to read, if you wants to scale greater heights in marketing.

There are several other books that I couldn’t include – titles like Don’t make me think, Daring Greatly, 80/20 Sales and Marketing, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, Smarter Faster Better etc. and you’re welcome to browse them to further refine your thinking on the edges after you’ve mastered the core.

Can I ask you for a quick favor?

Can you please answer these questions in the comments for the benefits of other readers on this blog?

  1. Which important marketing books did I miss?
  2. Do you have any of your favorite books that you would like to recommend?

And last, but not the least, if you liked this list, share this list of marketing books with your friends and family.

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