10 Best Marketing Books of All Time

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Marketing has gotten way too complicated and overwhelming.  You look around you and you see competitors or experts rocking their marketing and you want to do the same, but where do you start? If you’re looking to find some answers in marketing books, it is a great place to start. From digital marketing to social media, content marketing and even best practices, the right marketing book will help to answer these and other questions.

Here is a list of the best marketing books that will help you understand marketing in its simplest terms and get you focused in the right direction.

1. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

by Al Reis and Jack Trout

The authors provide valuable insights into the need to sharpen your message by identifying the best medium that will better impact your messaging. They also say that by focusing on the prospect you are selling to, and not the product you are selling you will fare better while prospecting.

For them positioning is an organized system for finding a window in the mind. It’s based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances. They argue the power of an organization comes from the power of its products in minds of customers.

If you don’t have time to get a degree in marketing, but you want to understand how marketing works and how you can implement effective marketing in your business, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind is the book to read. Originally published in 1981, authors Reis and Trout were pioneers in simplifying marketing for business owners. This is the most trusted book to help you differentiate yourself and your business. 

2. Duct Tape Marketing Revised and Updated: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide

by John Jantsch

This is one of the best books on marketing incorporating insights gained from over twenty years of working, in the field, with real-life small businesses. The book offers a top-down format to help you first find your vision and then zoom in on what you need to realize it. The author advises you to embrace the Marketing Hourglass. This entails expanding the marketing funnel to turn new customers into advocates and referral partners.

It tells you your marketing efforts is a continuous process and you will need to live by the marketing calendar. This will require you to create monthly projects and themes, weekly action steps, and daily marketing appointments. If you’re looking for a book to help you explore marketing for your small business then this book should be in your reading list.

Wishing you could sit down with a “friend” who knows you and your business, understands your struggles and then helps you create marketing that consistently feeds your business new customers? Duct Tape Marketing is a practical marketing guide for any small business. Author John Jantsch has worked with thousands of businesses like yours and personally walked them through this process. Follow the book, step-by-step and craft a solid marketing strategy and plan that generates new customers for your business. 

3. Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant

by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

Considered among the best marketing books, Blue Ocean Strategy offers a new perspective on strategy. It tells us the business universe consists of two distinct kinds of space, which we can think of as red and blue oceans. Red oceans represent all the industries in existence today—the known market space. Here industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are well understood. Companies try to outperform their rivals in order to grab a greater share of existing demand.

Conversely, blue oceans represent all the industries not in existence today—aptly called the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is enough opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. Blue Ocean Strategy offers good ideas in practice and cases from public and private industries. It is based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries by the authors.

Are your customers constantly complaining about price? Have you lost a new business to a lower-priced competitor? Blue Ocean Strategy provides a process and a structure that allows you to identify the ingrained assumptions in your industry or market and create a completely new structure that positions you as the innovator.

4. Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business

by Jay Conrad Levinson

Guerrilla Marketing is the quintessential entrepreneur’s marketing bible and among the must-read and best books in marketing. Since its first publication in 1983, Jay Levinson has revolutionized marketing strategies for the small-business owner with his take-no-prisoners approach to finding clients. The book is based on hundreds of ideas and experiences that work.

Levinson’s philosophy has given birth to a new way of learning about market share and how to gain it. In it, the book offers strategies for marketing on the Internet; tips for using new technology such as podcasting and automated marketing; strategies for targeting prospects and cultivating repeat and referral business; best practices and management lessons for the twenty-first century. Guerrilla Marketing is the quintessential entrepreneur’s marketing bible.

Perhaps the original low-cost marketing book. Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business helps you realize that marketing doesn’t start with advertising, rather, it starts with focusing on how you help your customer succeed. Happy customers become loyal customers and this reduces your cost for marketing. A brilliant combination of academic explanation and practical advice.

5. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

by Chip and Dan Heath

This book will transform the way you communicate by highlighting success stories with a fast-paced tour, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny anecdotes. It shows how we make people care about our ideas by applying the human scale principle. Using insightful stories, from urban legends, such as the ‘Kidney Heist’; the story of Southwest Airlines as the ‘the low price airline’; to inspirational, personal stories such as that of Floyd Lee, a passionate mess hall manager. Each chapter includes a section entitled “Clinic”, in which the principles of the chapter are applied to a specific case study or idea to demonstrate the principle’s application.

The primary goal of great marketing is to stand out and be known for something without spending a ton of money.  With that in mind, it makes sense to find out what makes stories and messages stick in the minds of customers such as applying the human scale principle, using the Velcro Theory of Memory, and creating curiosity gaps. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die explains the anatomy of how ideas stick and the ways to make ideas catch on.

6. Contagious: Why Things Catch On

by Jonah Berger

In his book, Berger tells us the key to making things really popular happens long before it’s discussed at the water cooler or “liked” online. He says it starts with the message. Drawing on his groundbreaking research, he explains there are six key steps that make products or ideas contagious. He uses the acronym ‘STEPPS’: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories to explain his idea. These he says will help any product or idea spread like wildfire. Berger’s findings will help you craft products and messages that people will share.

Getting your name out there is the name of the marketing game.  And if you can get people talking about your business without spending a lot of money — even better.  But what gets people talking and keeps people talking? Jonah Berger shares dozens of examples and introduces the science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission in Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Read our review of Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

7. Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses

by Joe Pulizzi

This is considered one of the best digital marketing books and advises us to focus first on serving the needs of an audience, trusting that the selling part would come later if we keep them engaged enough. The premise Pulizzi proposes is simple. The internet doesn’t need content what it needs is great content.

Pulizzi offers six radical steps in the business-building process. These include the sweet spot; content tilting; building the base; harvesting audience; diversification; and monetization. What this means is that you will first need to identify the connection that binds your competency and your personal passion. Determine how you pivot your sweet spot to find a place where there is little or no competitions. Establish your primary channel for disseminating content, this could be social media, blog or YouTube. Use SEO and other tactics to convert one-time visitors into long-term subscribers. Grow your business by investing in omnichannel delivery systems and then charge money for your products and services.

Wouldn’t it be great if your ideal customers just found you? That’s the idea behind inbound marketing. And content is the engine that drives inbound marketing. But how do you begin using content marketing to deliver your marketing message to your customers? Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses shares a simple process that will help you focus your content marketing strategies where you’ll get the best results. 

Read our review of Content Inc.

8. Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown

This book argues successful businesses don’t simply happen overnight. Instead, there are carefully implemented methodologies behind companies’ meteoritical rise. That methodology according to the authors is called ‘Growth Hacking’ which has been the source of growth of companies such as Walmart and Microsoft. Growth Hacking entails cross-functional teams and rapid-tempo testing and repetitions that focus on customers. This process involves attaining them, retaining them, engaging them, and motivating them to come back and buy more of your services and products.

If you’ve heard the term “Growth Hacking” and wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing, this is the book that will explain everything. Author Sean Ellis coined the term Growth Hacking while working in the tech sector of Silicon Valley. In short, growth hacking involves a fluid combination of technical, creative and marketing skills and using small, simple ideas and actions to drive insane growth. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success walks you through the process of creating and executing your own custom-made growth hacking strategy. 

Read our review of Hacking Growth

9. POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything

by Sam Horn

Horn advises that we look to Purposeful, Original and Pithy (POP) to create one-of-a-kind ideas, products, and messages that pop through the noise, off the shelf, and into consumers’ imaginations. The book is filled with valuable gems in chapter after chapter of unique ways to develop selling titles or product names. Horn tells us that there is so much more than just having a good product for it to sell.

This book will help you get started on how to flesh out your marketing message. If you don’t consider yourself creative, this book will give you valuable insights and exercises into copywriting, positioning, talking, and titles. If you consider marketing your challenge then this book is what you’re looking for, it will give you a step by step how to get there.

The most visible part of marketing is branding; creating a name, description and visual message that connects and spreads without a lot of investment in advertising. Author, Sam Horn shares insanely simple exercises, tools, tips and strategies that will inspire you and your team to create names, tag lines and marketing messages that connect with potential customers in POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything

10. The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business

by Clayton M. Christensen

The author argues the best-performing companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership—or worse, disappear altogether. By focusing on disruptive technology, Christensen shows us why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. Whether in electronics or retailing, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know when to abandon traditional business practices. Using the lessons of successes and failures from leading companies, this book presents a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.

A modern classic, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business introduces the powerful “Jobs-to-be-done” product development model. Harvard Business School Professor and author, Christensen, shares the pivotal moment when he and his team uncover the “why” behind any customer purchase. While the focus of the book is larger businesses, the power of the “Jobs-to-be-done” process will help businesses of any size understand what motivates their customers and create new products to do the job customers want to be done.

Additional Marketing Resources

Marketing is an ever-evolving practice and more so now because of digital technology. The best books about marketing will give you a heads up, but you need to keep up with the latest developments and innovations. The Marketing page on Small Business Trends has sections on Sales, Social Media, Retail Trends, Local Marketing as well as Marketing Tips to keep you up to date. And each section has hundreds of articles you can use to take your marketing efforts to the next level.

Marketing Strategy

One key way to identifying your marketing strategy is through a lot of research. But beyond that, you have to know how to implement this information to deliver the biggest bang for your ad dollars. Whether it is social media or traditional advertising or improving your landing page, you can find the resources on SBT.

Marketing Tips

If you are doing your marketing on your own, you can use as many tips as you can to help you succeed. From real estate marketing to local digital or contractor marketing, the tips on SBT identify key industry insights to help you reach your audience more effectively.

In Conclusion

Years ago there were a few channels for marketing, TV, radio, print, billboards and a few others. However, today there are many ways in which you can reach potential customers. Choosing the right one to get your customers to say yes is easier said than done. Reading the best marketing books will help you, but the key is to identify all of the channels that are available to you in traditional and digital marketing.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."