Here are the nine books and one writer and speaker I’d recommend to people who work in marketing. I usually prefer the condensed thinking of tweets and articles, but these books stand out for me as I look back on what’s changed how I think. They are a mix of the famous, the bold, the profound, and the tactical.
Many business books feature one wonderful, simple idea and then are filled with padding to make the spine thick enough to warrant a book price. Many marketing books are too inside-baseball or too ignorant of the context of the wider world.
This list offers a nice overview of the changing world in which we do our roles and some specific knowledge that can help marketers thrive.
1. The Meaning of the 21st Century by James Martin
In this 2006 book, James takes a stab at projecting the ideas and themes of the day into the future. Eleven years later, we’d naturally expect him to be wrong. It’s what he was totally right about and what he was wrong about that is most interesting.
Of course, predictions made today are often based on more data and evidence, so they are more likely to be correct. But to see his thought process, to see how we can be right and wrong, and to see some of the issues of that moment that still exist today, makes it a fascinating read.
This book gives a broad context to much of what we think about or avoid thinking about today — most pressingly the rise of polarization of wealth and views, control, climate, and more.
2. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
Alain is such a wonderful thinker, a joiner of the dots in new and different ways, and a provider of a high altitude glance on the things in life that are too awkward for us to think about or realize that I had to include one of his books on this list. (He does incredible videos on his YouTube channel, too).
Status Anxiety is perfect for marketers, as it reflects a new way to think about why we really buy things, why we behave the way we do, and what totally strange beings we are.
3. One Plus One Equals Three: A Masterclass in Creative Thinking by Dave Trott
Dave is simply a creative genius, and he tells it like it is. It’s wonderful to see someone make the complex simple, make readers feel inspired, and make what is daunting to many become approachable.
One Plus One Equals Three is a very positive and empowering read. It’s funny, too.
4. How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know by Byron Sharp
Yes, I know, everyone has read this. It’s like the bible for marketers. But trust me — read it again.
There is so much nonsense in marketing. We endlessly try to do fancy new things because we can. It’s nice to get back to what hasn’t changed, what is timelessly proven, and what is the very basics of good marketing.
5. The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
Before behavioral economics was trendy, this easy-to-read, light but profound book got me thinking about the world of business and marketing in a totally different way. It bridges the world of economics, anecdotes, marketing, business, and humor.
As an industry, we need to think more about people and how to better serve them, and this book frames the discussion wonderfully.
6. Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age by Tom Peters
Long before we got bored of the word “disruption,” before people questioned why Kodak didn’t see the future coming, or before we realized the chaos that Uber causes, Peters wrote this seminal under-appreciated work.
This book, which focuses on how the business climate has changed, is a passionate wake-up call for the business world. Like other’s here, it’s old, and, because of this, seems more rooted in the longer-term elements of change, not the fast-changing, gimmicky nature of many business books today.
7. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly
There is probably no better, clearer, more provocative and bold book on the themes that will shape tomorrow.
This is a positive book that gives guidance on where business, industry, or life is heading — what to invent, where to work, in what to invest, how to better do our jobs, and how to change for the future.
8. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
We like to think that everything in advertising has changed. It hasn’t.
People are people, ideas are everything, and insights are rare and special. We need to engross ourselves not only in what is new, but also in what is old. This book is a relevant today as it was 30 years ago.
9. Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Marketers often think we are removed from the dirtiness of what happens at the point of purchase. We’d rather think about ideas or brand values or esoteric smart things.
This book gets us thinking about the oddness of people, how weird we all are, and how only by understanding this can we really do our jobs properly. I know brick-and-mortar companies are facing hard times, but the lessons here about human phycology are fascinating and enduring.
Bonus: Rory Sutherland
Rory, who is the Executive Creative Director of OgilvyOne, hasn’t written a proper book, which is a shame because he’s a remarkable writer, incredible thinker, and simply funny as hell.
Well, it’s not that bad — he’s great in article form or speaking at TED events. So here’s my final sign-off: Google him and read or watch anything that’s ever been penned or performed by the guy. It’s all marvelous.