7 Essential Marketing Books for Business Leaders

By Steve Gilman

Essential books for marketing leaders - featured image

Great marketing is informed by many disciplinesart, theater, psychology, sales, design, sociologyand I could list plenty more. Here is a ‘must read list’ of some of the best cross-discipline marketing books that our Gravity team and I reference again and again.

You’ll find books in this list on subjects that range from Psychology to Sociology, and from Public Relations to Positioning. They are all essential reads that address the core challenges of marketing: getting people to hear your message and take action or change behavior…no simple task.

1. Influence

Influence, by Robert B. Cialdini Influence, the classic book on persuasion, explains the psychology of why people say “yes”—and how to apply these understandings. Dr. Robert Cialdini is the seminal expert in the rapidly expanding field of influence and persuasion. His thirty-five years of rigorous, evidence-based research, along with a three-year program of study on what moves people to change behavior, has resulted in this highly-acclaimed book.” 

However, this book comes with a warning: be careful using the ideas Dr. Cialdini provides. It’s important to know how to persuade, but there are ethical lines that should not be crossed (more on this in a later post). So, fellow marketers, please do no harm with this one.

2. Positioning

Positioning by Al Ries“The first book to deal with the problems of communicating to a skeptical, media-blitzed public, Positioning describes a revolutionary approach to creating a ‘position’ in a prospective customer’s mind—one that reflects a company’s own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors.”

This is the classic book on positioning, which is a crucial building block of branding. If you’re going to read one book about positioning, this would be it. It’s accurate, thoughtful, and well-written.

3. Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age

Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich“Most PR books tell you how to “spin” your message. People are sick of that! Spin Sucks will teach you how to communicate honestly, responsibly, openly, and authentically…and truly earn the trust of your customers, stakeholders, investors, and communities.

Top PR thought leader and blogger Gini Dietrich runs the number one PR blog in the world, spinsucks.com, where she shares cutting-edge tips and tools for effective, ethical communications.”

A PR friend of mine turned me onto the Spin Sucks blog, and I like it because of their unique point of viewI agree, spin does suck. The bottom line is, it’s the wrong thing to do. And moreover, it doesn’t work as well as authentic messaging.

4. Made to Stick

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath“Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)—the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas—and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.”

There is no better book on messaging out there. Made to stick is one of my favorite books on how to reach others with messages that work.

This is the most consistently-referred to book at Gravity. It’s our favorite model for how to reach people with convincing messagesit’s an easy read, and a simple framework, but challenging in practice. This book will inspire you to use simpler, emotional messages, and to convey them in ways that get people to actually listen.

5. The Experience Economy

The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore“We are on the threshold, say authors Pine and Gilmore, of the Experience Economy, a new economic era in which all businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers. The Experience Economy offers a creative, highly original, and yet eminently practical strategy for companies to script and stage the experiences that will transform the value of what they produce.”

Everything a company does is part of their brand, and this book is a great reminder that every touch point, from a simple greeting to the colors of your lobby, is a theatrical and emotional experience for your customer that should not be wasted. A great way for people without theater backgrounds to really understand this concept.

I had a hard time choosing just one book that applies the tenants of theater to business, but this is the classic on the subject. 

6. Switch

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath“In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.”

Another great book from Dan and Chip Heath, it includes powerful examples of audience-centric messaging that creates real action.

Switch is a fascinating book about how to get people to make changes. Several of the powerful success stories are from outside the marketing world, but are so brilliant you’ll wish you thought of them for your last campaign. This book inspires me to be a better marketer and to market things that matter.

7. Hooked: How Leaders Connect with Storytelling

Hooked by Dolan and Naidu“Dry facts and data fade from memory over time, but an engaging story is difficult to forget. In Hooked, communication and business storytelling experts Gabrielle Dolan and Yamini Naidu use real-world examples and proven, effective techniques to teach the skill of great business storytelling. They explain what good storytelling is, why business leaders need to learn it, how to create effective stories, and how to practice for perfection.”

Hooked is a motivating read on a subject that has gotten very popular lately. There are so many books on storytelling, but this one is a great place to start and you’ll find examples and techniques you can use in a management environment right away.

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