The 5 books every marketer should read

Much of what I believe about marketing and what I think makes it great has come from books I’ve read. Lately I’ve found myself passing this list around when asked for recommendations on what other marketers should read, so I’m posting it here for posterity. Spoiler alert: none of these books are about marketing specifically.

Marketing is a conversation

The Cluetrain Manifesto is the one book I ask everyone on my team to read. The thing is, once you see markets as conversations and understand the substance required of your work to participate, you’re less likely to fall back on lowest common denominator tactics and jargon-laden copy. You’re also going to be more honest about the role of marketing given that the conversation doesn’t begin or end with you.

From the book:

“We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?”

Marketing is storytellling

To be a marketer is to be a writer. Full stop. Bird By Bird features some of the best guidance on writing I’ve come across — well beyond the standard tips you read about copy, voice, and tone.

From the book:

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act — truth is always subversive.”

This is how I push myself and the folks on my team to write.

Marketing is hospitality

Whether you’re creating campaigns, events, or content, the real task is how you make people feel. Need an example? How many words on your website do I have to read to understand what your product does? Hospitality as a way of marketing is making what you do clear and concise because you value my time. As technology and data push more marketers to only see people as cogs in their machine, Setting the Table is an important reminder that what matters most is the way you treat people.

From the book:

“In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

Marketing is pushing the edge

On the one hand, KLF: Chaos, Magic, Music, Money is a book about a British band who burned a million pounds, which is an amazing story. It’s also about what we believe as humans and how we view knowledge in terms of truth and utility. The work we do as marketers bumps up against these systems of belief, and we’re often trying to shape or expand what people hold to be true. Plus every marketer should know about Discordianism and Détournement. Trust me on this one.

From the book:

“Models are by definition smaller and simpler facsimiles of whatever it is they are trying to describe. The models are not ‘true’, but they do vary in usefulness depending on how accurate they are in different cultures and circumstances. Once this is recognised, we no longer attach our sense of personal identity to the models we use, and we lose our sense of resistance to swapping between different models when necessary.”

Marketing is moving faster

In a world where things are moving fast and multiple teams are coordinating on complex efforts, finding ways to establish shared orientation around a goal is key. John Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War takes a look at how Boyd developed the OODA Loop — his decision making framework, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. If you’re not yet convinced that process is a competitive advantage for marketing (and many other things), this book will change your mind.

From the book:

“Thinking about operating at a quicker tempo — not just moving faster — than the adversary was a new concept in waging war. Generating a rapidly changing environment — that is, engaging in activity that is quick it is disorienting and appears uncertain or ambiguous to the enemy — inhibits the adversary’s ability to adapt and causes confusion and disorder that, in turn, causes an adversary to overreact or underreact. Boyd closed the briefing by saying the message is that whoever can handle the quickest rate of change is the one who survives.”