Content marketing has arguably been with us since before the beginning of recorded history, and certainly since the advent of mass-distributed publishing. In fact, entrepreneurs have almost always used publications that contain free and useful information as a means to market their products. Poor Richard’s Almanac is widely thought of as the first credible and best historical example of content marketing: a booklet of weather predictions that Benjamin Franklin began printing for farmers in 1732 to promote his own printing business—a practice in promotion that almanacs continue to this day.
It’s only in the last five-to-ten years that the method of information marketing has grown so popular that it constituted 93 percent of modern business-to-business (B2B) marketing strategies in 2014, and 88 percent of B2B marketing strategies in 2016. Compare those figures with Google Trends’ search interest in the term “content marketing” from 2004-present, and we see that interest in the term has grown 88 percent in popularity, up from 10 percent in January 2004 to 98 percent in October 2016, i.e. now. This growth period includes sustained linear and at times explosive growth from January 2011 and on through to its present peak, meaning that the search term “content marketing” has currently reached a new zenith in search interest.
This is the online marketing world where we find ourselves today, a world where “Content is King“, and it is why contemporary marketers can’t afford to ignore the importance of content creation, underestimate the power of new media publishing, or fail to develop a dependable content marketing strategy for their businesses. It’s also why we’ve ranked and assembled the ten best books that appear on content marketing’s continually growing bookshelf, so that readers can discover for themselves the best ideas from the best minds out there, who think about content marketing for a living.
To compile this ranking, we sifted through over 400 books that were shelved under “content marketing” on the popular reader review site, Goodreads. We then handpicked the 350 most accessible, and scored them according to the average number of stars that readers have given them; the total number of ratings each book has received; and the relevance of their author to developing an understanding of the discipline. Only the highest rated, most rated, and most authorially relevant books rose to the top of our list. See if you recognize some of the titles. If you’ve been one among many self-taught content marketers who’ve Googled “content marketing” and contributed to its rising popularity over the past 12 years, we bet you’ll recognize at least one title, perhaps even several that you’ve read yourself.
1. #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media & Self-Awareness by Gary Vaynerchuk
#AskGaryVee is the fourth best-selling business book written by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal -bestselling author and serial entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk. Known by fans and followers as Gary Vee, the businessman based this most recent title on his YouTube series of the same name. In that series, Vaynerchuk answers questions that he receives on Twitter via the hashtag @garyvee, which may explain the the book’s hyper-specific and explanatory subtitle: 437 Questions and Answers on the Current State of Entrepreneurship, Business Management, Monetization, Media, Platforms, Content, Influencer Marketing, Investor Leadership, Legacy, Parenting, Family Business, Crushing, Storytelling, Thanking, Jabbing, Right-Hooking, Hustling, & the New York Jets. If it won’t fit on Twitter, it should be a book, and so a book it became. Published in March 2016, #AskGaryVee is more than just another content marketing screed. It’s a quick-and-dirty romp through Vee’s free-associating and fast-paced mindspace, a mindspace that sits atop a body and soul brimming with wit, business acumen, and oftentimes therapeutic advice. Although Vaynerchuk never spends much time dwelling on a single topic, preferring byte-sized quips to in-depth musings, his compassion for new entrepreneurs of content marketing shines through with exactly the kind of wisdom that young startups need to hear: “If you religiously follow just the few core business philosophies that mean the most to you, and spend all your time there, everything else will naturally fall into place.” It’s thought leadership like this that makes #AskGaryVee a must-read for everybody new and old to content marketing, and especially anybody who wants to startup a new business.
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2. Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, eBooks, Webinars, (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley C.C. Chapman
Content Rules is the authoritative beginner’s guide to all things content, especially writing it. Dual-authored by U.S. content marketing experts, keynote speakers, and editorial consultants, Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, Content Rules became a viral sensation upon its May 2012 release, when a spike in interest prompted the book to be published in over 18 languages. In creating this availability, Handley and Chapman started a worldwide discussion about the importance of developing a unique and authoritative voice for good online writing, especially in the midst of a global, online marketplace—a space where it’s easy to lose one’s voice in the din of personal and material promotion. As a testament to the content marketer’s method of operating on the principle of attraction rather than promotion, the book condenses the art of online writing into its most attractive form: Simple. Readable. Prose. Indeed it teaches the prose it preaches, instructing us, “Despite what you learned in school, you can start sentences with and, but, so, and because.” Editorial advice like this may seem obvious to those who’ve been writing online for some time (remember, the books was written for newcomers); yet it is tempered with more general advice that captures the zeitgeist of the sharing economy. Instead of aggressively promoting stuff, they advise us, “Tell your audience how your stuff helps people by telling them about those people, not by talking about your stuff.” With ethically attractive advice like this, Handley and Chapman understand that in order for good content to do well, authors should tell us true stories that demonstrate themselves and their business doing good for others. A fine example of why content is king, Content Rules is required reading for anyone interested online writing, the sharing economy, and where the twain meet.
3. Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break Through the Clutter, and Win More Customers By Marketing Lessby Joe Pulizzi
Epic Content Marketing is a business book written by the award-winning content entrepreneur, Joe Pulizzi, a top thought leader at the head of the content marketing movement. Pulizzi draws on his own personal and professional experience, having been acquainted with the term “content marketing” since 2001, in order to convey how it is possible to find and persuade an audience to engage with a business—without having to explicitly ask them to—all by creating epic content. To build his case, Pulizzi dives deep into case studies of some of history’s first examples of information marketing, as well as some more contemporary examples that demonstrate the staying power that comes with producing the right content at the right time. These examples include, but are not limited to, John Deere’s 1897 magazine The Furrow, LEGO’s branded storylines from the 1990s, and Coca-Cola’s long-term plan to fund content through the year 2020. Pulizzi’s urgent explanation for the importance of developing a content strategy that both convinces but converts are perhaps his greatest contribution to the conversation on content marketing. Indeed, his simple definition for good content itself is worth quoting: “Good content marketing makes a person stop, read, think, and behave differently.” Published in 2013, Epic Content Marketing superseded many similar books released around this peak time in content marketing’s recent history, because it is so accessible to marketing newcomers, specifically those who want concrete advice on creating authentic content that works, not just for producing leads, but for generating conversions.
4. Content Machine: Use Content Marketing to Build a 7-Figure Business with Zero Advertising by Dan Norris and Neil Patel
Content Machine is a business book written by two content marketing experts, thought leaders, and award-winning entrepreneurs, Dan Norris and Neil Patel. Published in 2015, it is one of the first and most recent content marketing books to provide downloads and frameworks for its audience to actively engage with and apply to their marketing practice. With this level of interactivity, Patel and Norris draw on both of their experiences as highly successful business leaders to reach those who are probably already working as content entrepreneurs. Content Machine is intended to appeal to content creators across the spectrum, from blogger to Chief Content Officer, and the authors work to ensure they cover every aspect of the content marketing process, from idea generation, to writing guidelines, to hiring and scaling a content team. Although targeted primarily at young entrepreneurs, the book’s advice on reaching the ideal reader, audience, and customer might also remind even the most seasoned marketing managers why they must use so many channels to build a new audience. “Your ideal customers will hear about you over a long period of time, through multiple sources, and that is how trust is built.” It’s this degree of creative currency and audience awareness that makes Content Machine an instant classic, one that will likely aid content entrepreneurs for years to come, as its general wisdom on audience building, the content process, and monetization demands our full, undivided attention.
5. The Content Code: Six Essential Strategies to Ignite Your Content, Your Marketing, and Your Business by Mark Schaefer
The Content Code is the fifth business book written by a career marketer, professor, strategist, keynote speaker, and corporate trainer, Mark W. Schaefer. Published in 2014, Schaefer’s book focuses on how to look beyond the wall of information that bombards us everyday and into the minds of the individual audience members who share the content we create. As the culmination of Schaefer’s 30 years’ experience as a practicing thought leader, The Content Code is a pioneering work that entertains the social psychology behind the question of why do we share what we do? Of course longtime entrepreneurs, marketing managers, and all learners interested in reaching a better understanding of how content affects audience engagement will find the book riveting. Schaefer wrote it with them in mind. But its six practical and essential strategies for igniting content that is already great will be most attractive for new business owners and startup content marketers. Indeed Schaefer writes that “Creating great content is not the finish line. It’s the starting line.” His implication is that publishing great content is not the end-all, be-all of online business, and that producing it merely earns us a seat at the table. The real work begins after great content goes up but sharing is down, and the question remains: “Why aren’t people engaging?” Inasmuch as this message relies not just on the power of great content marketing, but on the power of tapping into great social movements, The Content Code is a timeless book for content marketers to crack open, again, and again, and again.
6. The Marketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, Seo, Content, Advertising, and Web Firms by Paul Roetzer
The Marketing Agency Blueprint is a business book written by Paul Roetzer, Founder and CEO of the successful marketing agency PR 20/20. An expert on the notion of marketing as both art and science, Roetzer wrote the handbook for new entrepreneurs to navigate the changing landscape of modern marketing. Having started his agency in 2005 before the content boom, he regards this recent change as a transition from the traditionally competitive and service-based terrain where output reigned, to an increasingly collaborative and information-based terrain where outcomes rule. Drawing on his own rich experience starting up a hybrid, tech-savvy marketing agency, Roetzer provides content entrepreneurs with ten rules or takeaways to guide them through the early, middle, and late stages of building a new agency. These ten takeaways instruct us how to generate more qualified leads, create diverse and recurring revenue streams, develop efficient management systems, and deliver great results for clients to win their loyalty. Although mileage may vary depending on how far along readers are in building their own marketing business, all of Roetzer’s advice goes towards teaching us his big idea: we must be willing to adapt and change our marketing strategies, not only to survive, but to thrive in a creative environment that demands innovation everyday. This big idea is ripe for content marketers to pick, especially since factors like adaptability and innovation often determine how disruptive one’s content (and ultimately business) can be. All this makes The Marketing Agency Blueprint a perfect work of content, both for new marketing artists who are searching for a creative foundation, as well as old marketing scientists who are interested in a personal account of how the marketplace for marketing agencies has changed over the years.
7. Advertising and Promotion: And Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective by George E. Belch and Michael A. Belch
Advertising and Promotion is a marketing textbook in its 10th edition that is co-written by two brothers and professors of marketing at San Diego State University, George and Michael Belch. Originally published in 1997, Advertising and Promotion provides a comprehensive view of the marketing industry, with its latest editions (2014 being the newest) devoted more explicitly to the discipline of Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC. This interdisciplinary approach marries the fields of marketing and communications, and in so doing, broadens our attention span to take in more than just the traditional mediums of promotion such as television and newspaper. With their ever-growing perspective, Belch and Belch recognize that newer media channels such as those found on the Internet, and specifically social media, have become as important to implementing a 21st century marketing strategy as TV and news were to the previous century’s marketing strategies. The professors’ biggest takeaway, however, is not that any set of media channels is better or more advanced than the rest, but that with an integrated marketing strategy, the most important goal of all becomes conveying a unified message to the consumer across all appropriate channels. This careful and balanced perspective is the key contribution of Belch and Belch’s classic text, an historic work on the art of marketing that is sure to benefit marketers of all stripes for years to come.
8. Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing by Lee Odden
Optimize is a business book written by CEO and Co-Founder of TopRank Marketing, Lee Odden. Published in 2012 to much applause, Optimize has been praised as “a manifesto,” “a guide,” and “wisdom” that you can “hold in your hands.” It explains the importance of search engine optimization, as well as how businessmen and businesswomen can use the power of gripping content across all channels with an integrated marketing strategy that replicate one of the most time-tested, successful, and personal methods of advertising ever used: word-of-mouth. With his casual, sincere, and authorial voice, Odden draws on 14 years of experience as an entrepreneur at the helm of a successful marketing agency in order to provide insight into the content business. Concerning this business, Odden writes “Content isn’t King, It’s the Kingdom,” or in other words, it’s not the ruler of all, but the rule. Odden’s perspective on the relationship that blogs should have to their subjects is particularly pithy, as it offers up the principle that “A blog is only as interesting as the interest shown in others,” a saying which could be said to encapsulate content marketing’s driving idea that the purpose of great content should be less about doing well for ourselves than about doing good for others. In these respects, Odden’s book captures the spirit of the age in subtle turns of phrase that in many instances go beyond its “how-to” scope. Indeed as a foundational work on the practice of integrated marketing communications and search engine optimization, Optimize popularized key content marketing concepts before content marketing reached the peak in popularity in enjoys today, and inasmuch, it deserves our nod as an exemplary work of content marketing literature.
9. Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi
Managing Content Marketing is a business book dual-authored by content entrepreneurs and marketing experts, Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi. Published in 2011 at the start of the content boom, Managing Content Marketing is the book that helped both authors wax on their ascent to content marketing stardom, particularly because it was one of the first works to offer concrete advice on how to manage a content schedule for an established business. Based on each author’s own personal and professional experience with such businesses (many of which they established themselves), the book instructs us how to make a case for implementing content marketing strategies in the C-suite, choose the correct channels for our brands, write consistent stories with our brand’s voice, and establish workflows both with our clients and for our fellow employees. Although published before Snapchat and mobile skyrocketed to peak importance or blog and YouTube subscriptions became somewhat passé, Managing Content Marketing is significant for cutting through the noise and delivering one of the first practical and experience-based books on the artforms of content marketing management. We can hear the authors’ exuberance for this humanistic enterprise when they say “Content marketing is about celebrating what makes your business unique. It is, inherently, about making the business more social and more human.” This appeal to the social aspect of content management is what makes Managing Content Marketing a true classic, perhaps slightly outmoded, but a great guide that can still offer solid advice to new content managers about the ultimate goals of their profession.
10. Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher – How to Use Content to Market Online and in Social Media by Rebecca Lieb
Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher is business book written by strategic adviser, research analyst, and digital marketing expert, Rebecca Lieb. Published in 2011 when popular interest in content marketing was surging, the book offers a detailed series of reasons for why brands should be thinking like media publishers. Drawing on her extensive experience as a media analyst who produced one of the largest bodies of research ever published on the role of content in media to this day, Lieb takes us through the process of researching and developing the most effective content strategies for our brands. She describes the planning process, the writing process, the posting process, and the monitoring process for figuring out exactly what works for each individual audience and then explains what it takes to generate the most actionable content, tailored to their needs. Content marketers will likely find Lieb’s advice to be a goldmine of information, especially as it pertains to larger brand concerns, such as customer and media relations, or even cutting the big cost of aggressive and ineffective advertising campaigns. And because much of its detailed advice is distilled through the lens of someone who understands that she is aiming at a moving target,Content Marketing manages to remain relevant to this day. Indeed with so much of our current energy focused on rendering into as new media publishing companies, Lieb often seems to have hit right on the bullseye.
Josh Jackson is Contributing Editor of BestMarketingDegrees.org, a growing resource for online learners, educators, and marketers in between.