The Best Marketing Books: 19 Books You Need to Read in 2021

by Josh Barney
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The Best Marketing Books!

There are few things more satisfying than the slow turn of your book’s final page. The knowledge is in the bank, the ideas are in full flow and you’re ready and motivated to implement. 

But what next? 

If you’re anything like me, within a fortnight of setting down your last marketing book – you’re ready and raring to go with the next. 

It’s all about those extra %’s that reading gives us. Not just in the knowledge, vocabulary and brain engagement, but in the tying together of ideas between different reads. 

From one book to the next, we can draw great marketing and entrepreneurial minds together – collaborating Ogilvy’s ideas on advertising with Cialdini’s take on social psychology in sales and marketing (for example).

It’s in these sweet spots that we find our eureka moments. 

In this guide, I’ll share the best marketing books for anybody starting up, running, marketing or preparing to build their business empire.

Learning is earning – so let’s get into it…

Read This First!

best marketing books

I may have missed or forgotten something – if you have any marketing book recommendations please comment at the bottom of this post

I will update this post over time, so make suggestions – they won’t go unnoticed and may be added to the list.  

And please be aware that this list has been made for marketers and entrepreneurs of every level.

These best marketing books are not entered in any particular order. 

Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins

scientific advertising claude hopkins marketing book

Ideal For: Advertisers and marketers who want to get back to basics.

If we’re going to start anywhere, it feels right that it’s with this book. 

Scientific Advertising is the oldest entry into our best marketing books list. And despite it being written in 1923, it’s a bible for anybody serious about advertising. 

Hopkins walks readers through a host of advertising tips, tricks and fundamental techniques that are as relevant today as when they were written. He includes examples, images and psychological reasoning for everything he claims.

“The man who wins out and survives does so only because of superior science and strategy.”

Claude Hopkins

Although this book was written long before the digital age, there is so much advertising goodness in it, that it simply cannot be missed.

Scientific Advertising is a quick-read (my version comes in at just 120 pages), is to-the-point and a great place to brush up on the fundamentals of advertising. 

Check out the chapters about Headlines, Testing, Distribution, Specificity and how to tell stories in advertising. You won’t believe that it was written 100 years ago.

Purple Cow, Seth Godin

purple cow seth godin marketing book

Best For: Entrepreneurs or marketers in search of inspiration

Seth Godin books are always filled with value-rich content and more often than not, they’re fun to read.

Purple Cow is one of his older books, but it’s also one of my favourites by him, so it had to make it into this best marketing books list.

In Purple Cow, Godin explains how to make your business remarkable. Some of the ideas might be a tiny bit dated, but the principles are solid and could definitely change your opinion on how to build a stand-out brand.

“In your career, even more than for a brand, being safe is risky. The path to lifetime job security is to be remarkable.”

Seth Godin

Godin explains the why, what and how of being remarkable, including case-studies, quotes, questions and as always, his unmistakable passionate writing style.

If you’re worried that your business, marketing or branding is becoming same-same, read this marketing book. You’ll have a headful of ideas when you’re through.

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries

lean startup eric ries marketing books

Best For: Entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Of all the marketing books in this list, The Lean Startup probably has the most actionable takeaways for entrepreneurs and start-ups, but it comes at a cost. 

I took a lot from this book, but it was heavy, slow to read and not very enjoyable – in some aspects, it reminded me of the books I was forced to study in education. 

However, this book makes complete business sense and you’ll find yourself learning or agreeing with the author on a regular basis, as it explains how and why start-ups need to angle towards a faster, leaner model.

“When in doubt, simplify.”

Eric Ries

You might find yourself re-reading certain sections that haven’t gone in as the author ties the principles of science and business together, but it’ll be worth it in the long haul. 

If you’re an avid reader, you probably won’t be a massive fan of this one, but you’ll come away a smarter and better prepared entrepreneur in the long-run – and that’s what marketing books are all about, right? 

10x Rule, Grant Cardone 

the 10x rule grant cardone best marketing books

Best For: Entrepreneurs, salespeople or marketers seeking motivation and growth.

If you’re in the world of business, sales, marketing or are serious about digital and you haven’t heard of Grant Cardone, you must’ve been under a big ol’ rock.

This book isn’t pure-marketing techniques, but it’s filled with motivational stories and is the perfect follow-on book to something that’s heavy on principles and ideas. Tie Cardone’s messages in with some industry-specific or marketing gold, and you’ll be onto something.

I love Cardone’s nitty-gritty, failure-isn’t-an-option ethic, and how he goes about conveying the messages of his 10x Rule.

“All the excuses in the world won’t change one simple fact: that fear is a sign to do whatever it is you fear—and do it quickly.”

Grant Cardone

Within this book you’ll find loads of motivational content, the difference between failure and success and exercises in every chapter.

As Cardone says in his book, he’s trying to be everywhere (omnipresence) and he’s taken another step in that direction with this mention in our best marketing books list.

If your life is stuck in a rut or you’re fed up of earning an average salary, read this book to light the fuse.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini

influence robert cialdini

Best For: Business owners, marketers and salespeople.

This list is compiled in no particular order, but if it was, this would be somewhere near (if at) the very top. Marketers, business owners and budding entrepreneurs should have read this already.

Cialdini is a social-psychologist who combines his work, studies and knowledge of the human mind into marketing, and the results are amazing.

“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”

Robert B. Cialdini

Influence explains why people say ‘yes’ and shows readers how they can ‘influence’ others to make a decision in their favour. 

This must read marketing book is broken into the major players of influence, including social proof, authority and scarcity, to name just a few…

If you haven’t read this yet, make it your next book! And if you want to learn more about marketing psychology, check out my recent blog, Social Proof in Marketing.

Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely

predictably irrational dan ariely

Best For: Experienced digital marketers who want to refine their art. 

Predictably Irrational is a book about decision-making written by Economic Behaviourist, Dan Ariely.

This entry into our best marketing books list challenges the commonly held belief that all classic economic theories are based on, rationality.

The book is an entertaining read, and directs its audience to principles that can easily be transferred into marketing. 

“Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification, my friends, is procrastination.”

Dan Ariely

Ariely raises several interesting arguments about human nature and the principles of consumerism, offering education, entertainment and enlightenment. Including an awesome section about the power of free that will help anybody generating leads or build a presence online.

Its short, punchy, easy-to-read style makes it a real winner. 

If you haven’t already, try this book and you’ll be through it in no time with some valuable new info at your disposal.

Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy 

ogilvy on advertising best marketing books

Best For: Anybody in advertising or marketing. 

Time magazine called David Ogilvy “the most sought after wizard in the business”…and after reading this book, you can see why.

Ogilvy on Advertising is an absorbing and insightful read, allowing us access to opinions, strategies and advertising techniques that will stand the test of time. 

Black text on white background (the reverse doesn’t work), the importance of hiring people who are better than you, and if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative enough – are just a few of my most memorable takeaways from this marketing book. 

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

David Ogilvy

If you work (or hope to get a career) in advertising, this is a must. Business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs will find nugget after nugget of priceless information.

David Ogilvy’s style is highly informative, as he shares more take-aways than I can fit into this tiny review space.

Almost everyone I know in the industry has read this book, if you haven’t, it’s time you caught up.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, Gary Vaynerchuck

jab jab jab right hook gary vaynerchuck

Best For: Brands seeking more from social media marketing.

If we were giving out awards for the best title, this would probably take the top prize, but this book is worth so much more than that.

Vaynerchuk’s no nonsense personality is transmitted through every word in this book. He pulls no punches, instead telling us how to throw them ourselves (on social media).

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”

Gary Vaynerchuk

The examples and insights in this book are massively relevant to any business with a social media account (that should mean all of you!). Vaynerchuk explains how to get the most from each social media platform, and his strategies are imperative to anybody serious about raising their profile.

The book digs deep into what type of posts work, and more importantly what doesn’t, giving readers loads of takeaways.

If you’re looking for quality content, and want more from social media, give this one a shot.

Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne

blue ocean strategy marketing books

Best For: Businesses operating in competitive markets

Is strategy your thing? Prepare to be challenged by this essential business and marketing book.

Blue Ocean Strategy is a guide to finding uncontested market spaces.

The collaborative authors pool their knowledge and case studies to support the theory that businesses are better off escaping the bloody red oceans that their competitors are fighting over, by moving into a ‘blue ocean’.

This book is a thought-provoker. It may not be relevant to every business owner out there, but it will challenge your ideas and give you plenty to consider in your next strategy session.

“The planning process doesn’t produce strategy”

W. Chan Kim

In principle, it explains how you can beat your competition by not competing with them directly. And let’s face it, wouldn’t you rather find an untapped blue ocean for freedom of growth and prosperity, than the bloody red ocean you’re warring in now?

If you’re the driving force behind your business, the knowledge inside Blue Ocean Strategy is worth adding to your armoury. 

Dotcom Secrets, Russel Brunson

dotcom secrets russell brunson

Best For: Digital Marketers, ecommerce brands and information product retailers. 

The thing that I love most about this marketing book is that it’s an example of the lessons that it teaches.

Early on in Dotcom Secrets, Brunson explains how he uses free or low-cost products as bait, before offering prospects and customers products in an ascending order of value. This is known as a ‘value ladder’. 

This book is the perfect example of a value ladder product – and it’s why some might see this as a controversial entry onto our best marketing books list. 

“One of the fundamental rules of marketing is that “a confused mind always says no.”

Russell Brunson

As a founder and marketer, I find great value in analysing the strategies and tactics of other brands online – whether they’re trying to sell to me or not. Dotcom Secrets is a brilliant insight into a strategy that has worked wonders for Brunson and his company. 

On top of all that, this book pulls together a heap of complex ideas and delivers it in an easy, told-like-a-friend kind of way.

Before reading this, know that it was created as part of a larger marketing strategy and use that knowledge to your advantage. 

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

war of art steven pressfield

Best For: Entrepreneurs in creative industries and creators. 

This entry isn’t necessarily a ‘marketing book’, in fact, you could argue that it has nothing to do with business, but it still has some stand out qualities that gain it entry to our best books list. 

The main ideas behind this book are to help the reader break through and win their inner creative battles. It features no real sense of order or story, and doesn’t feel linear at all. Many of the chapters are less than 1 page long, and some of its contents may read like hot air, but even so, it’s an eye-opening, interesting and inspirational book in the right hands. 

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Steven PressfieLD

This book has made this list because marketing isn’t a paint by numbers profession and many of the people in the space create on a daily basis. Many marketers are writers, designers and creators – and this book will fit nicely in their hands. 

The War of Art will be a powerful foil to anybody who struggles to express their creativity, as it introduces and shares Pressfield’s take on something he calls ‘resistance’.

If you’re stuck in a creative rut, this easy-to-read book can be picked up and enjoyed any time. 

Growth Hacker Marketing, Ryan Holiday

growth hacker marketing ryan holiday

Best For: Start-ups with limited resources. 

This book is an awesome source of valuable marketing information for start-ups with limited budgets.

Holiday explains how to market with a budget of zero, teaching something that most aren’t brave enough to try.

The book is a short read and a large section at the start is written in justification of the book itself, but it still makes it into our best marketing books list because it’s great for those new to digital and marketing. 

“The old way—where product development and marketing were two distinct and separate processes—has been replaced.”

Ryan Holiday

If you’re already established or you know about ‘growth hacking’, this book probably isn’t the thing for you, but if you aren’t, check out this short, well-written book. You’ll be through it in no time. 

If you’re searching for your first 1-1000 customers, read this marketing book with an open mind. It’s a great introduction for beginners. 

Zero to One, Peter Thiel 

zero to one peter thiel

Best For: Founders and leaders who want to do things differently. 

If you’re chasing originality, this book might just be the inspiration you’re searching for. 

Zero to One seems to float somewhere between business/marketing genius and philosophical idealism. The main premise of the book can be summed up in just one of its sentences, ‘Every moment in business happens only once.’

Thiel argues that the next Bill Gates will not create a computer system and the next Zuckerberg will not create a new Facebook. His argument is that to get from 0 to 1 (i.e. make progress) we need to be brave enough to come up with our own ideas, not replicate those of others. 

“The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”

Peter Thiel

This book is heavy in places, but it’s undeniably thought-provoking and inspirational in the right hands – and that’s why it makes our best marketing books list. 

I love the idea about start-ups acting like cults (to their staff and early adopters) and the idea of aiming to dominate a niche market, before growing. 

If you’re in the early stages of your journey, or you’re seeking a fresh direction, this is a great source of information. 

The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz

the hard thing about hard things ben horowitz

Best For: Budding entrepreneurs and CEOs who want to know what it takes.

This is a book that was written by a CEO for CEOs. 

Many of the other marketing books focus on one particular aspect of growth or strategy – but none are quite as focussed on the running of a business as this one. 

This book will be brilliant for aspirational entrepreneurs and CEOs, who want to know what it’s really like to make business defining decisions every day, and it’s equally great for those in founder/leadership roles to relate to and learn from.

“Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.”

Ben Horowitz

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a fun read that shares the journey of Horowitz’s company and the tough decisions he made along the way. 

My favourite takeaway from this one was the idea about hiring for strength, instead for lack of weakness.

If you’re in a decision making role, you’ll love this one. 

The $100 Startup, Chris Guillebeau

the $100 startup chris guillebeau

Best For: A fun read for anybody involved in a start-up

If you’re looking for a marketing book with tons of strategy and tactics, this probably isn’t the one for you – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. 

I really enjoyed reading this book – it was fun, interesting and light, making it the perfect follow-up book to a heavy-hitter.

The focus of the book is 50(ish) entrepreneurs who have all grown their own businesses to £50k+ with less than $1000 initial startup investment. 

“As you begin to think like an entrepreneur, you’ll notice that business ideas can come from anywhere.”

Chris Guillebeau

The case-studies are interesting and fun to go over, but be warned – it’s unlikely that you’ll find your next million dollar idea from them. This book makes our best marketing book list because it provides a welcome break from the process-focussed strategic guides. 

Be inspired by the entrepreneurs who have turned their passions into profitable businesses, and learn a few valuable lessons along the way. 

Alchemy, Rory Sutherland

alchemy rory sutherland

Best For: Advertisers and marketers seeking a new perspective. 

Alchemy is an interesting read that I would recommend to anybody involved in problem solving or thought leadership positions within advertising and marketing.

It’s full to the brim with stories and case-studies from recognisable brands and often challenges commonly held beliefs and ideas that are taken for granted. For example, why is Red Bull so popular when it tastes bad, is expensive and comes in a smaller than average can? 

“We don’t value things; we value their meaning. What they are is determined by the laws of physics, but what they mean is determined by the laws of psychology.”

Rory Sutherland

There are some parts of this book that I think every modern digital marketer needs to read – my favourite being the section about how brands add magic to their processes and products. 

Alchemy is arguably slightly longer than it needs to be, but I strongly recommend it for the sections that hit home hardest.

Find a new perspective and some inspiration for your next project by reading this one. 

Hooked, Nir Eyal

hooked nir eyal best marketing books

Best For: Product developers and founders. 

After all the marketing, leadership and business strategy books in this list, it was necessary for something about product creation and development, and Hooked is the book I’ve picked to fill the void. 

Other than being interesting, well-structured and written, the 4 principles of this book make an educational read for anybody building out their own digital products. 

“To change behavior, products must ensure the user feels in control. People must want to use the service, not feel they have to.”

Nir Eyal

As Eyal explains, the easiest way to hook people into your products is to drive frequent engagement early in your relationship with them. Principles like this might sound fairly self-explanatory, but within Hooked they have been put together in a way that helps the reader understand their place in product and brand development. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

how to win friends and influence people dale carnegie

Best For: Networking, social media managers, marketers and introverts.

It’s not often that you can call a book’s content ‘timeless’, but that’s the best word to describe ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ For as long as we communicate with one another, this book will provide massive value.

This book canters into our best marketing books list, and wouldn’t be out of place in many other categories of best books. 

Dale Carnegie’s classic title was published in 1936 and has since sold more than 15 million copies – and has been thanked by many super successful individuals. 

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie

The book guides readers through six ways to make themselves more likeable, twelve ways to influence people over to their way of thinking and nine ways to change people without causing resentment. 

These three segments might sound ‘airry’ – I was skeptical before reading this book – but they’re anything but. 

If you’re working in a team, are ambitious about climbing the career ladder or work in a social environment, this book will do wonders for you. I’d also recommend this book to social media managers, as many of the skills can be transferred to these networks. 

Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller

building a storybrand donald miller marketing books

Best For: Copywriters, branding and marketing.

Admittedly, I haven’t read many books about branding and business messaging, but this one certainly sits at the top. 

Like many of our other marketing books, Building a StoryBrand is filled with valuable takeaways – my most memorable is about the customer being the hero of the journey, and the business being the guide. This small shift in perspective has made a difference to my performance – especially when writing Facebook copy. 

Before reading this book, be aware that the author plugs his website (a few too many times) and that some parts read a little sales-pitch-y, but take them with a pinch of salt. They are surrounded by really valuable content that will help any business. 

“In every line of copy we write, we’re either serving the customer’s story or descending into confusion; we’re either making music or making noise.”

Donald Miller

Stories sell, and with the clarity of ideas, tools and instruction inside this book, you can create an amazing story that sells your brand. 

If your messages are confused and you’re lost when it comes to branding, read this marketing book to refresh the way you think (and talk) about yourself and your business, and improve your sales messaging. 

Bonus: A Technique For Producing Ideas, James Webb Young

a technique for producing ideas james webb young

Best For: Ideas and inspiration

This entry counts as a bonus because it’s too short to justify a place on a best marketing books list. 

At just 48 pages, this tiny booklet doesn’t offer as many insights or knowledge as the others. However, it can be read in a day and make a big difference to the way you create.

“In learning any art the important things to learn are, first, Principles, and second, Method. This is true of the art of producing ideas.”

James Webb Young

When I heard about this book, I was skeptical – a book that explains how to come up with great ideas? And it’s only 48 pages? 

It might sound far fetched, but trust me, after you’ve read this, you’ll understand why I couldn’t leave it off this list. 

If you want to come up with a greater quality and quantity of ideas, read this booklet – you won’t regret it. 

Are These The Best Marketing Books?

This is not the end.

Our list is compiled of the best marketing books that I can remember reading.

If you have any reading suggestions, put them in the comments section (below). I will read every marketing book recommendation personally, and if I think it’s great (and I’ve already read the title you’re suggesting) I’ll happily add it to the list (and give you credit!).

If not, I’ll add it to my reading list and put it onto our list retrospectively. 

In the meantime, how many of these books have you read? And what’s your favourite? 

Comment below, subscribe below that (for content like this sent directly to your inbox!) and follow us on Twitter!

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer and best selling author. He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links (above) so he can get back to writing as himself.

24 Responses

  1. Hi Josh,

    Great list of books. I have read 8/20 of them including the bonus and agree with almost all of them. I’ll read Alchemy next, I’ve heard good things about it elsewhere too.
    I would recommend adding Think and Grow Rich to this list because it has really helped me in my career.

  2. Some very good books here. My favourite is How to Win Friends and Influence People. I thought your book was great too.

    My recommendation is Made to Stick.

  3. I’ve been waiting for this. Looking forward to getting into some of these. I’ve never heard of Scientific Advertising so I think I will start there.
    Thank you.

  4. Love this Josh. You’ve listed most of the books on one of my bookshelves. My only recommendation would be to add Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Hes a great author and its my favourite by him.
    Blink is about split second decisions and how we make and influence them.
    If you liked Alchemy and Influence you’ll like it too.

  5. Never disappointed when I visit this blog. I like your suggestions Josh, but would say that All Marketers Are Liars is my favourite by Seth Godin. Other than that, spot on.

  6. Love the list. I’d recommend adding “The Context Marketing Revolution” by Mathew Sweezey. I just finished reading and felt like I got a lot out of the book.

    And, maybe not direct marketing, but I think it’s a great skill set for any marketer – negotiation (which can be applied in many aspects of marketing). Read “Never Split the Difference” by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz.

    1. Hi Lindsey,

      Thank you for your recommendations.

      I’ve heard about ‘Never Split the Difference’ and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now. I’ll also check out ‘The Context Marketing Revolution’ as soon as I can.

      My reading list is growing by the day.

  7. This list is really great. I now have at least 10 new books I need to add to the shelf!

    I’d recommend a couple of lesser known, but good books for growth and entrepreneurs. And yes, a bit of a shameless plug.

    Zero To Podcast, Start Your Podcast Now by Holly Shannon
    Time Off by Max Frenzel and John Fitch

    1. Hi Holly,

      Good luck with the 10 new books. It doesn’t sound like an overnight job.

      Great suggestions – I will check them out. I haven’t included any specific books about podcasts, so thank you for that!

  8. Hey Josh, great list for sure. I have read 14 of them and other commenters have added some other great books to add in the future. While my recent book, Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World will probably not reach the popularity of any of these books, I think the premise from my book (it became a Bestseller on Amazon back in March ’20) about how brands need to build experiences to stand out and garner attention in our extremely cluttered marketing world, is paramount to every brand. Gaining emotional connections with your audience can only happen through positive brand experiences. Since you are an avid reader of business books, I’d love for you to check it out. Send me an email and I’ll send a copy to you. Thanks, Steve

  9. There are definitely some great reads in here, thanks for the recs!

    My recommendations are Obviously Awesome by April Dunford and You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt. OA is a practical, easy-to-read product positioning guide that anyone who sells products (either 1:1 in sales or broadly in marketing) would find helpful. You May Also Like digs into the research behind how we make decisions in an age when we have unlimited choice. Full disclosure: I shamelessly plug Tom Vanderbilt any chance I get. HUGE fan.

    +I second the rec of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I’d also add Talking to Strangers to the Gladwell list. It’s a great read about empathy and how much meaning is derived from our world view–and how much is lost when that view isn’t shared.

    1. Wow, thanks for these recommendations Kelsey!

      As you’re the second person in the comments to recommend Blink, it’ll have to be my next book!

      I will also add the other two to my reading list – hopefully I can get around to them before the next update on this page.

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