Sales & Marketing

Marketing books every business needs to read

15 min read

13 December 2018

Real Business has rounded up the best marketing books for SME owners to get stuck into.

For many growing businesses, marketing in one way or another will be a top priority – but how do you decide on a strategy? Where do you even begin?

The internet is always a good place to find the basics, but some of the best wisdom comes from books. Experts have jotted down years of research, quoted clients and unveiled the biggest successes and failures in marketing history.

So if you’re looking for advice from the likes of advertising legend David Oglivy, then have a scroll through the books below – selected for the various areas of marketing they touch upon.

This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See

Author: Seth Godin

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £11.33, £9.99

What makes it a good read for small business? The book is all about the adage, “know your customers”. Godin helps readers identify the right customer audience and build upon opportunities to lure them in. It speaks about crafting a narrative that resounds with people, by using marketing to solve their problems.

The lesson? Don’t just select who you want as a customer. The results may surprise you. Instead, give those you naturally attract a reason to stay.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile. The thing you sell is simply a road to achieve those emotions, and we let everyone down when we focus on the tactics, not the outcomes.”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Author: Robert B Cialdini Ph.D.

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £8.76, £7.99

What makes it a good read for small business? Cialdini leans heavily on the art of psychology, unveiling six principles that every persuader needs to know. A skill that is necessary for marketing. Because the point of marketing is to have people say “yes” to your product – a difficult endeavour in today’s competitive landscape.

He unveils a three-year “program of study” on what moves people to change behaviour.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “Very often in making a decision about someone or something, we don’t use all the relevant available information. We use, instead, only a single, highly representative piece of the total.

“And an isolated piece of information can lead us to clearly stupid mistakes – mistakes that, when exploited by clever others, leave us looking silly or worse.”

Building a StoryBrand

Author: Donald Miller

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £10.99, £1.99

What makes it a good read for small business? Building a StoryBrand is a study in human response. What makes a customer purchase a product or service? The way you talk, your very brand and the message it puts across every day, be it through social media or updates on a website, is what people buy in.

If you can simplify your ethos and values in an easily digestible and relatable manner, your marketing has already half begun. The point is to help you become a master story teller.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “We all know how mind-numbing it is to spend precious money on a new effort that gets no results. But what if the product wasn’t the problem? What if the problem was the way we talked about the product? Because words sell things. And if we haven’t clarified our message, customers won’t listen.”

Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too

Author: Gary Vaynerchuk

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £13.87, £3.99

What makes it a good read for small business? Crushing It! briefly sums up a previous book of his – the 2009-published Crush It – before expanding on the changes that have happened since then. More importantly, he zooms in on the importance of social media.

Vaynerchuk dissects the various platforms and offers lessons from the experiences of influencers and entrepreneurs on how to become the hottest company on each.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “I’m watching you out there, and it’s shocking to me how many entrepreneurs trap themselves into boxes of their own making, even though they have more power than they did before.

“Let’s say you’re killing it on Twitter. What are you going to do the day you realise you’re tired of Twitter? What do you do the day it disappears?”

Be More Pirate: Or How to Take On the World and Win

Author: Sam Conniff Allende

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £6.76, £7.49

What makes it a good read for small business? Allende interestingly draws parallels between the tactics and teaching of pirates to marketing. He likens Henry Morgan and Blackbeard to Elon Musk and Banksy, suggesting didn’t just challenge the status-quo, they changed “everyfu••ingthing”.

More important is the message that you need to sometimes break the rules to stand out from the crowd and get what you want. Don’t let business life just pass you by.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “Before we go any further, we need to walk a few myths off the plank. You’re thinking to yourself  ‘hang on, didn’t pirates revel in theft and murder?’ The short answer is ‘no, not everyone’, though there were a few psychos.

“No, this about the Golden Age of Piracy, when these ‘rock stars’ set the world alight with rebelliousness and a commitment to ideals of justice and equality.”

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

Author: Seth Godin

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £13.49, £12.82

What makes it a good read for small business? The Purple Cow is dedicated to encouraging boldfaced words and gutsy assertions – that you can’t just be the same template industry standard company. Traditional approaches, Godin says, are obsolete – the old checklist of pricing, promotion, publicity is no longer enough.

There’s no point in wasting time, money and energy into a marketing strategy that will have you sit on par with everyone else.

As the book suggests: “The Golden Age of advertising is over. It’s time to add a new P – the Purple Cow.”

Quote from the book/ what to expect: Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring. A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while).”

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Author: Nir Eyal

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £9.21, £6.99

What makes it a good read for small business? Why do some products capture our attention while others flop? What makes us engage with certain things out of sheer habit? Is there an underlying pattern to how we get hooked ?These are some of the questions the book hopes to answer.

Hooked is based on Eyal’s own years of research, consulting and practical experience. It gives practical advice on how to foster brand addiction.

After all, there’s no point in bringing on the marketing charm if the product fails to bring in happy – and reoccurring – customers. If you want them to stick around, this book’s for you.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “For many products, forming habits is imperative for survival. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are learning to master novel tactics to stay relevant in users’ minds. Today, amassing millions of users is no longer good enough.”

Ogilvy on Advertising

Author: David Ogilvy

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £10.35, £7.19

What makes it a good read for small business? David Oglivy knew his stuff. There’s a reason he was known as one of the advertising kings of the 20th century – and here his marketing techniques and thoughts are put down onto paper.

This is a chance to learn from the best.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.

“When Aeschines spoke, they said ‘How well he speaks’. But when Demosthenes spoke, they said ‘Let us march against Philip’.”

Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age

Author: Jonah Berger

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £13.49, £12.82

What makes it a good read for small business? Visual forms of marketing aren’t always the best tactic. Word-of-mouth, the book suggests, generates more than two times the sales of paid advertising and is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions.

It unveils how face-to-face conversations, emails, online product reviews and opinions we get from others have a strong impact on our own behaviour.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: “While it’s easy to find examples of social contagion, it’s much harder to actually get something to catch on. Even with all the money poured into marketing and advertising, few products become popular.

“But what causes some to succeed? When something comes along that offers better functionality, people tend to switch to it.”

How to Style Your Brand: Everything You Need to Know to Create a Distinctive Brand Identity

Author: Fiona Humberstone

Paperback price: £13.29

What makes it a good read for small business? Humberstone delves into marketing trade secrets, from using colour to create an emotive connection; how to use pattern and illustrations to add character and personality and how to carefully select typefaces that add a distinctive and intentional edge to your designs.

The intention is to get you reacquainted with your vision, making it perfect read for those still looking for their brand’s personality.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: The right brand identity has the power to attract, engage and compel people to do business with you. But for many entrepreneurs, creating an effective brand can be a challenge.

“Whether you’re a startup on a lemonade budget, or a seasoned entrepreneur planning on working with a professional, an understanding of the process is essential.”

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Authors: Al Ries, Jack Trout

Paperback and Kindle prices respectively: £10.85, £10.31

What makes it a good read for small business? Ries and Trout lay bare the biggest successes and failures in advertising history.  They explain, for one, how to avoid letting a second product ride on the coattails of an established one.

While this in itself makes for an interesting read, it allows highlights how to become an industry leader so that the very name of your company lures in the many when a marketing campaign starts.

Quote from the book/ what to expect: Once a mind is made up, it’s almost impossible to change it. Certainly not with a weak force like advertising. ‘The average person will sit still when being told something which he or she knows nothing about.

“But the average person also cannot tolerate being told he or she is wrong. Mind-changing is the road to advertising disaster.”