August 30, 2021 - By Hawke Media

The 15 Best Marketing Books of All Time

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It’s hardly groundbreaking to say that digital marketing never stops evolving — and at Hawke Media, we’re dedicated to constantly upleveling our knowledge of both the foundations and new best practices of marketing, sales, and ecommerce. How do we do that? We read. A lot. 

So we launched a poll and picked out the go-to books that give us the creative spark, the strategic insight or just the confidence as marketers to keep pushing the boundaries. Whether you’re a veteran or a student of marketing, a start-up or an evolving brand, these are the 15 best marketing books to reach for when you’re looking for inspiration. 

Marketing Starter Pack: The Classics

If you majored in marketing, these were on your reading list, but you’ll also spot them being devoured on the subway or in the airport lounge. And while some of them pre-date the digital era, they pinpoint the eternal truths that we as marketers now hold to be self-evident.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Whenever we’re getting too confident as marketers with our creative or strategy, we can bring ourselves back to reality with “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” It’s a reminder of the irrational, complex challenge we have to overcome: the human mind. Kahneman’s work on System 1 (instinctive) and System 2 (considered) thinking, and the importance of context and biases, is essential in understanding how our attention is won. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie 

It’s still the go-to instruction manual for sales, marketing and self-improvement, and one of the most influential books in American history. So what can a book first published in 1936 teach us about TikTok tutorials or Amazon market share? It’s simple (that’s the appeal). “How to Win Friends…” establishes the template for conversion, whether it’s communicating a single idea or going viral. 

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini 

Whereas Cialdini’s better-known “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” taught us about the importance of scarcity, urgency and social proof, we’re picking “Pre-Suasion” as our strategic handbook. Like “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” the book elaborates the subconscious, primitive instincts marketers must accommodate to prime their audience for action. 

Digital Marketing for Dummies by Ryan Deiss and Russ Henneberry

Even after growing more than 3,000 brands since 2014, we’re never too proud to reach for “Digital Marketing for Dummies,” simply because it’s the most extensive, clear and well-organized reference for all things digital. A copy belongs in every business. 

Inspiration for Thinking Differently

As Bill Bernbach said, “Creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.” It’s why the brand with the biggest budget doesn’t necessarily grab the spotlight, and why many a safe, sensible campaign goes unnoticed. These great reads throw a fresh perspective on taming the funnel. 

Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott

One of the most influential copywriters and creative directors from the pre-digital era, Dave Trott delivers a series of thought-provoking, bite-size studies, one line at a time, drawing on classical philosophy, military history and popular culture. First in “Predatory Thinking” and most recently in “The Power of Ignorance,” Trott accessibly, entertainingly and relentlessly champions those who were brave enough to zig when others zagged. 

Misbehaving by Richard H. Thaler

Few people could have predicted that behavioral economics would one day become sexy, except perhaps behavioral economists. We recommend starting with “Misbehaving” for a primer on the mystery of decision making (or what we thought was our decision making), but you could just as easily start with Thaler’s “Nudge” or the hugely entertaining “Alchemy” by Rory Sutherland. These aren’t just valuable marketing books: they go a long way toward explaining the minute interactions that allow 8 billion people to share the same planet. 

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell 

Arguably responsible for establishing the “easily digestible anecdote + insight” format as the template for countless books that followed, Malcolm Gladwell continues to make sociology and psychology accessible. First published in 2000, “The Tipping Point” went viral before viral did, challenging our assumptions and forcing us to reevaluate our innate biases. Want to grab someone’s attention on social media in milliseconds? Take as much time as you need to finish “The Tipping Point” first. 

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

As tempting as it is to talk of turning customers into brand evangelists or leading consumers seamlessly through the funnel, nothing begins without a contextual, emotional trigger. Now updated for the digital age, “Why We Buy” digs deeper than the Four Ps of marketing and attempts to explore the mystery of consumer culture. 

Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

Think of it as the perfect companion to the post-truth era: “Trust Me, I’m Lying” is reassuringly disturbing if you’re a committed student of human behavior. Humorous and candid, it explores the ever-shifting frontier between manipulation and marketing. “What’s the difference?” cynics might argue. The answer is more complicated than you might expect. 

The New Era of Thought Leadership 

This last selection of go-to marketing books recognizes the fact that in the digital age, we’re all marketers to some extent, whether the currency is likes, views or e-commerce sales. Whether that’s something to fear or embrace is up for debate, but it would be unwise to ignore it. 

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

An entry on the list from the remarkable Seth Godin is almost obligatory, but we’ve picked an alternative to the better-known “Permission Marketing.” In “Purple Cow,” Godin walks you through the new marketing landscape, in which it takes something truly out of the ordinary just to get noticed. That doesn’t have to mean resorting to gimmicks or pivoting wildly from your core brand purpose, however. It does, on the other hand, mean rejecting what’s safe, conventional and tried and tested. Scared? You shouldn’t be. 

Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown

One for our business owners or start-up visionaries, “Hacking Growth” outlines the philosophy, strategy and road map behind building a successful business fast. Skip the superfluous steps that drain your budget and head straight to the techniques and mindset that turbocharge your dream. 

Aesthetic Intelligence: How to Boost It and Use It in Business and Beyond by Pauline Brown

Discover the AI you didn’t know about but which could be just as important to your future business. In “Aesthetic Intelligence,” former LVMH chair Pauline Brown makes sense of branding, voice and aesthetics. And it’s not just for fashion or luxury retail. If we’re serious about creating meaningful experiences, we have to know what they look like. 

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

With today’s tech gurus and business leaders elevated to household names, what does it take to be a great leader? Popular TED Talk speaker Simon Sinek provides the answer in “Start with Why,” in which he picks out the common, recurring habits and traits in game-changing leaders. Get inspired, then try it yourself. 

The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

Another one for the leadership-academy reading list, “The First 90 Days” should be on the wish list for anyone with serious ambitions for senior leadership, professional growth or just a new challenge. As a long-time executive coach, Watkins offers sound advice on making your first impression, leaving your mark and defining your legacy. 

ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Treat yourself to some sound entrepreneurship advice from the people who brought you Basecamp. As you might expect, “ReWork” is about getting the job done smarter, leaner and without taking over the other aspects of your life completely. It’s a great resource for anyone considering a start-up, with some useful tips on the tools you need to succeed. 

Coming Soon to a Bedside Table Near You…

The Hawke Method by Erik Huberman

Spoiler alert! “The Hawke Method” will land in February 2022 with our own CEO and founder’s insights into what it took to make more than 3,000 brands soar, as well as establish Hawke Media as one of the fastest-growing marketing agencies globally. Ultimately, it comes down to just three principles. But you’re not expecting us to share those here and now, are you?

We missed your favorite, didn’t we? Sorry. We started with more than 30. Our apologies too to the disciples of Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss, Grant Cardone and any of the other visionaries we also love but couldn’t fit into our final 15. Want to skip the book report and start chatting strategy? Book your free consultation today and tell us your story.