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10 Most Influential Marketing Books Ever Written

Jorge Sette By Jorge Sette Published on December 3, 2015

Most people seem to think that marketing is something done by a restricted group of people in a specific department of a big company, whose job consists mainly of yelling silly slogans at prospective clients, hoping they will stick, and perhaps make the customer stop on his tracks to buy something they don't really need.

Marketing as a strategy, however, is something much deeper, scientific and even artistic. It's sad that many companies and professionals fail to understand this.

Marketing is needed to attract, grow and maintain a strong client base. Nevertheless, let's keep in mind that marketing has undergone a radical change in the last decade. Digital marketing completely changed the landscape. I would say that it leveled the playing field for small companies and autonomous professionals, allowing both to compete worldwide with bigger corporations for an audience on the Internet. Since I have worked in marketing for most of my professional life, and really love the subject, I thought I could use this post to make a humble contribution, sharing with a list of the 10 most influential marketing books ever written.

1. Marketing Management, by Philip Kotler.

This is considered the bible of the field. If you take any marketing course, you will surely be referred to it. It covers the basics, and it's an essential tool for anyone interested in the subject. It will dedicate specific chapters to each of the four traditional Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion and place), analyze consumer markets and buyer behavior, will give you tips on how to deal with the competition, discuss segmentation, etc. It is a lot of information, and some readers will complain that the topics are not exploited in depth. The text will, however, give you a general, if a bit superficial, overview of marketing as a whole.

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2. Positioning, the Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. 

One of the most seminal books in the area. It explains the fundamental concept of differentiation. How to plant your brand in the clients' mind, making them see it in a specific and unique way. As a marketer, you need to look for a space that has not been occupied yet and fill it. It is necessary to make your brand mean something special to your target audience. This book will tell you how to work on your strengths and pick a suitable, convincing positioning and a segment to explore.

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3. Permission Marketing, by Seth Godin.

This book will forever change your views on how to promote your product. If you are a fan of Mad Men, the popular TV show featuring these clever guys from Madison Avenue, you will understand that the way they conducted a marketing campaign back in the 1960s would have very little chance to succeed today. For at least 40 years or so, from the era depicted in the show, marketing was all about interrupting people to make them listen to your call (ads broadcast through TV and radio, billboards, flashy ads in magazines...) With today's noise, when clients are bombarded with thousands of promo messages every minute, it would be impossible to break through the clutter with traditional marketing. Ideally, customers will now come looking for you instead, if you apply the strategy suggested in the book. You will still interrupt them once, probably (maybe by luring them with a display ad on the website they're browsing), but, then, the conversation will need to continue with their permission (or opt-in), and most certainly they will be the ones in charge.

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4. The New Rules of Marketing & PR, by David Meerman Scott. 

This book summarizes in a very simple and direct way all the contemporary trends in marketing. It will show you the spectrum of tactics you can use to reach your client in this digital age: how to keep the conversation going with your target audience; how to position yourself a "thought leader" (expert) in your industry, through blogging, podcasting, video-blogging and social media interaction; it also covers tactics on search engine marketing.  D. M. Scott explains the useful concept of buying personas, which is a method of breaking down the different segments of your market to create a clear personality for each one, so you can have a more relevant conversation with the customer, through the messages you send out and the feedback you get in response.

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5. Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, by Brian Clifton.

One of the most remarkable changes in marketing is the shift towards more accountability expected from practitioners. Metrics is the key word in today's marketing. If you don't measure and demonstrate objectively that you can improve the ROI (return on investment) of your campaigns, you won't keep your job for very long. Not every company has changed yet, though, and some still seem to value marketers who are famed only for their creativity, even if they do not show proven results for their interesting ideas. I firmly believe their days are numbered. Clifton's book will teach you in a very thorough way how to operate and benefit from Google Analytics, one of the most widely used metrics services available on the Web. The book offers invaluable insights on how to crunch the numbers, get insights from them and improve your gains.

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6. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. 

Since the visionary man depicted in this biography is one of the most inspiring business people ever for a huge number of fans, I must admit to being partial including this book on the list, as it's not really a marketing book but a book about an extremely effective and successful marketer. The main lesson here is the product is the marketing. In the words of Seth Godin, who also preached this approach, you need a purple cow- a very special and original product - to win in the today’s ultracompetitive market place. All promotional tactics will feel gimmicky and deceitful if you can't deliver the iPhone or iPad of your industry. Another lesson is the importance design has acquired in the making of any product in recent years. It goes without saying that function has not lost any of its importance, but if not integrated seamlessly with extraordinary design, your product will be in trouble.

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7. Purple Cow, by Seth Godin

In this controversial book, marketing guru Seth Godin advocates that, while the manipulation of the many Ps (price, promotion, place, etc) of previous marketing theories is not working as well as it did before, marketers need to focus on the only important P that counts today: the Purple Cow. This would be a product inherently remarkable, capable of sweeping the customers off their feet. Think iPad, iPhone or Google, for example. Godin claims that the new marketing is less about promotion than about having an unforgettable and desirable product that practically self-markets. People think black and white cows are boring and common; they hardly notice them. As for a purple cow, imagine the impact this would cause! So products and services need to be just like that kind of cow to stand out in today’s crowded and highly competitive market place.

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8. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Companies waste time and money fighting for market share in shark-infested, bloody waters, where dozens of competitors swim for their life. Using this brilliant metaphor, the authors of this groundbreaking book advise marketers and business people to find new opportunists, by navigating unexplored blue oceans, where they can be pioneers and set the paradigms. Based on a study of 150 strategic plans (covering more than 100 years and 30 kinds of industries), the authors offer marketers tools and a framework to follow the paths of companies such as Curves, Starbucks, Cirque du Soleil and Southwest Airlines, which opened whole new markets and conquered new sparkling blue oceans for their products and services.

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9. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

Although not specifically a marketing text, Malcolm Gladwell’s book focuses on the theory that “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do”, a concept that can be easily applied to business contexts. He defines three types of people or agencies which are necessary for the dissemination of, for example, ideas: the connectors (those who have the social skill of bringing people together); the mavens (people who know a lot about certain things and like to tell others about them); and, finally, the salesmen, who are good at persuading others. When these types work together and the number of converts reach a critical mass point, the idea promoted becomes a snowball and gathers momentum, getting bigger as it rolls downhill. Also, in The Tipping Point, Gladwell discusses the concept of stickiness, which is the potential for something to become popular, and therefore a powerful tool for marketers.

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10. The Long Tail: how endless choice is creating unlimited demand, by Chris Anderson

Distributors of cultural products, such as music, TV shows, films and books, are waking up to the fact that the era of the blockbuster is over. In this revolutionary text, Anderson analyzes an old concept that has made a comeback with a vengeance, due to the unlimited shelf-space offered by online stores: the niche. Businesses and their marketers which cater for the refined taste of a minority will probably do better in a world of unlimited demand of choice. Customers are tired of dumbed-down mass products; if they find a provider for their more sophisticated taste, they will certainly reward it with loyalty and high profits. Go for it.

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This bring us to the end of our post. Remember that new ideas, tactics, apps and a great variety of tools are being created every moment in the marketing landscape.  Therefore, to keep up with this dynamic environment, besides reading the basic and seminal books of the field, you are advised to sign up and follow a number of blogs on the subject. It can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but, eventually, you will learn to filter the information and focus on blogs in the field that best work for you. I strongly recommend, for example, Occam's Razor by metrics evangelist Avinash Kaushik and the Hubspot Blog on inbound marketing. Good luck.

Jorge Sette.


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Jorge Sette is Bookwitty's Regional Ambassador for South America. He represents the company, writing relevant content for the region, recruiting contributors, contacting partners and ... Show More