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Top 10 Marketing Books of All Time

Essential books for entrepreneurs who really want to understand how and why their customers buy.
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In previous posts, I've identified the best motivational books of all time and the best sales books of all time. Today, I've selected 10 books about marketing that I believe should be in every business library.

Some of these books explain how technology has changed the strategy and tactics of marketing, while others are timeless observations about human nature and group behavior.  Enjoy!

 

 

10. Crossing the Chasm

By identifying the differences between "innovators" and "laggards" and everything in between, Geoffrey Moore creates a roadmap for how new markets develop.  While his book focuses on high tech, the lessons that he draws and the example he gives are applicable to every industry and business situation.

 Best quote: "'Why me?' cries out the unsuccessful entrepreneur.  Or rather 'Why not me?' 'Why not us?' chorus his equally unsuccessful investors. 'Look at our product. Is it not as good--nay, better-than the product that beat us out?'... In fact, feature for feature, the less successful product is often arguably superior."

9. The Life of PT Barnum

You may think that "personal branding" is all the rage, but the true expert of self promotion was the great PT Barnum, who managed to enhance, build, change and strengthen his public image over half a century, forcing the world to take him on his own terms.  Fascinating stuff.

Best quote: "I have been a farmer's boy and a merchant, a clerk and a manager, a showman and a bank-president. I have been in jails and in palaces; have known poverty and abundance; have travelled over a large portion of two Continents; have encountered all varieties of men, have seen every phase of human character."

8. Selling the Invisible

The most significant economic transformation of the past 50 years has been the change, in the United States and Europe, from a manufacturing economy to a service-based one.  According to author Harry Beckwith, the key to making the transition successfully is your unseen ability to build strong relationships with the people with whom you work.

Best quote: "The new marketing is more than a way of doing; it is a way of thinking.  It begins with an understanding of the distinctive characteristics of services--their invisibility and intangibility--and of the unique nature of service prospects and users--their fear, their limited time, their sometimes illogical ways of making decision, and their most important drives and needs."

7. Influence

As useful to salespeople as it is to marketers, Bob Cialdini's book is all about how people say "Yes!" and what you can do bring them to that point.  In a series of intensely practical observations, Cialdini reveals how your actions and words can profoundly effect the desires and needs of your customers, colleagues and even your competitors.  Essential stuff.

Best quote: "There is a group of people who know very well where the weapons of automatic influence lie and employ them regularly and expertly to get what they want.  They go from social encounter to social encounter requestin others to comply with their wishes; their frequency of success is dazzling."

6. Positioning

As true today as it was when published 20 years ago, this classic by Al Ries and Jack Trout lays out the basics of finding where your product fits in larger picture of what other people want and what other companies are doing.  Some of the case studies are showing a little age, but this remains a seminal, essential text.

Best quote: "Positioning is now what you do to a product.  Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect."

5. Buy-ology

By injecting neuroscience into the art of marketing, Martin Lindstrom explains how everything we think and do is influenced by mental forces of which we are only vaguely aware (if at all). More importantly, Lindstrom shows how these impulses might be scientifically measured and then used to hone marketing campaigns.  Scary, maybe, but sci-fi no longer.

Best quote: "If marketers could uncover what is going on in our brains that makes us choose one brand over another--what information passes through our brain's filter and what information doesn't--well, that would be key to truly building brands of the future.

4. Permission Marketing

For decades marketing pundits thought about marketing in terms of cramming your brand messages down people's throats. Seth Godin turned this concept upside down by pointing people have so many choices today that they're going to pick and choose what messages they want to hear.

Best quote: "Marketers want to get their messages in front of you.  They must get their messages in front of you, just to survive.  The only problem is--do you really want more marketing messages?

3. Guerilla Marketing

Thirty years ago, Jay Conrad Levinson took marketing out of the world of Mad Men and huge corporations into the hands of entrepreneurs and small businesses. The book explains why it's no longer necessary to spend a great deal of money to gain visibility, as long as you're willing to get creative.  Amazingly, the book got it "spot on" way before anybody was talking about "going viral."

Best quote: "Guerilla marketing requires you to comprehend every facet of marketing, experiment with many of them, winnow out the losers, double up on the winners, and then use the marketing tactics that prove themselves to you in the battleground of real life."

2. The Long Tail

While the 20th century was dominated by hit products, the 21st century will be dominated by niche products, according to Chris Anderson's groundbreaking explanation of web-based purchasing habits.  As useful as this book is, you can get the gist of it from his original article in Wired.

Best quote: "As demand shifts towards the niches, the economics of providing them improve further, and so on, creating a positive feedback loop that will transform entire industries-and the culture-for decades to come."

1. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Ultimately, marketing means understanding groups of people and how they think. While technology has changed over the decades, people haven't, so it shouldn't be all THAT surprising that in 1841, Charles Mackay captured the essence of bonehead group-think.  Read this, and you'll never be surprised by events like the Great Recession or the popularity of the Kardashians.

Best quote: "We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first."

Readers: Did I miss any? Leave a comment if you've got a different favorite.

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Last updated: Jun 25, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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