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15 Classic & Influential Marketing Books

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It seems like every week I’m in a conversation with a writer, a designer, or a small business owner about what books to read to get up to speed on Marketing. That is a tall order for sure. There are far too many topics to do justice to the entirety of Marketing. However, having a grasp of the fundamentals across the core disciplines is all that most people need to shape their understanding, to direct their efforts, and to help them make better decisions within their own discipline.

In the interest of not wanting to answer this question over and over again, I offer this outline. Here are 15 classic and influential books I’ve read on internet sales and marketing over the past 15 years. I have organized these books into what I believe to be a logical sequence. These books address a comprehensive view of the basics. I can assure you that I needed to read 10 times this many books in order to find these 15 gems, so no complaining.

Your total cost to purchase these 15 books is about $500, and I wager it will take you 50+ hours to read them. This is the equivalent of an hour a week of reading for a year, or 10 days worth of TV time for the average person. At $100 / hr for each hour of reading, plus the cost of books, this constitutes a $5,500 investment in training. However, I invite you to consider the impact this learning will have on your business or professional career over the next decade or more.

Here it goes…

  1. Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs
    by Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah
    This is my current favourite introductory overview of the whole process of internet marketing. I must have recommended this book 20 times this year, and I have colleagues who are on their third reading of it. Read our full review
  2. The New Rules of Marketing and PR
    by David Meerman Scott
    This is my second favourite introduction, that is focused more on the current paradigm shifts occurring in public relations and marketing.
  3. Scientific Advertising
    by Claude C. Hopkins
    Written in 1923, this is a groundbreaking work that is still relevant and contrary thinking today. The book highlights the need for measurement in marketing. It is also available as a free PDF download online if you poke around a bit.
  4. Crossing The Chasm
    by Geoffrey Moore
    I recommend this book because it drives home the point about what marketing really has to do for businesses that do not sell commodities. This book highlights the problems I spend my life trying to solve.
  5. Duct Tape Marketing
    by John Jantsch
    For similar reasons, I recommend this book to writers, designers, and small business people because it highlights our job as marketers more clearly and pragmatically than Moore’s book. It focuses on sales lead generation and bridges between traditional and internet marketing. Read our full review
  6. SPIN Selling 
    by Neil Rakham
    SPIN Selling is my all time favourite sales book. It doesn’t seem to matter how effective the marketing is, the sales leads ultimately end-up in the hands of a person who needs to make a sale. SPIN selling is another paradigm-busting book that is still relevant after over 22 years. Read our full review
  7. Made To Stick
    by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
    Likely the most challenging aspect of marketing is figuring out how to make our ideas relevant, impactful, and sticky. This book will challenge your thinking as it invites you to take your communication from boring to extraordinary. It offers principles to follow and loads of examples to consider.
  8. Net Words
    by Nick Usborne

    This is one of the first books to contrast writing for the web from writing in general. It is simple, relevant, and challenging. This is an excellent place to start looking at your writing differently.
  9. Web Copy That Sells
    by Maria Veloso
    This book will challenge you to go beyond writing for the web, into writing to make a sale. It is the most comprehensive book I have found on the subject. What I like about this book is the emphasis it places on measurement.
  10. Don’t Make Me Think
    by Steve Krug
    This book on web design and usability is aptly named and what is more impressive is that the book follows its own advice. I challenge you to find a more accessible and better-designed book anywhere. It will also challenge you to think about websites differently.
  11. Save The Pixel
    by Ben Hunt
    Now in its second edition, I was pleased to recently upgrade my first edition. This book is also focused on usability. It provides dozens of before and after examples of original and improved web designs. It also breaks the whole design process down into key principles to follow.
  12. The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization
    by Enge, Spencer, Fishkin, and Stricchiola
    You don’t need to become an SEO expert, but you do need to understand how it works. This is true for writers in particular, but also designers, coders, and business owners. This is a hefty book and you need to spend some time wading through it to grasp how your decisions can make or break your website from an organic search perspective.
  13. Landing Page Optimization
    by Tim Ash
    Where the rubber meets the road is with landing page conversion effectiveness. How do you take an average run-of-the-mill landing page and transform it into a high performance selling machine, is the topic of discussion? This is one of the first books on the subject worth reading.
  14. Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
    by Brian Clifton
    If you are not already familiar with Google Analytics and its capabilities to increase your marketing effectiveness, then you need to read this book. It takes you beyond the basics available from weblogs into what is possible with Google Analytics.
  15. Always Be Testing
    by Eisenburg, Quarto-von Tivadar
    Split testing and multi-variant analysis of a landing page’s performance may be an advanced topic, but why would you bother to read all these books if you are going to stop short of the finishing line? This is the ultimate goal, where you have your marketing system up and running and you get to focus on squeezing every ounce of performance out of it. This book will give you a glimpse into where you and the rest of the competition are headed.

There You Have It

These are some key books to help shape your thinking about marketing. I sincerely hope this list saves you some time, streamlines your learning process, and has a positive impact on your business and career.

If you have any questions about these books or if you would like to recommend better alternatives, please comment on this post or contact me to share your ideas.

If you’re not up for reading 15 full length books, we’ve developed a series of Free Marketing eBooks to get you started and on the right track as a small business owner. Please have a look.

About the Author

John Watson is the president of Accrue Performance Marketing and the author of Mastering Marketing, the Being Profitable Program, several ebooks and an avid blogger. He serves as a sales and marketing coach and fractional Chief Marketing Officer for companies that cannot yet justify a full-time CMO. He's focused on helping startups and growth-focused companies develop powerful brands, customer-centric websites, sales leads and complete commercialization programs.

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