When most people think of the term “marketing,” words like “staying power” don’t usually also come to mind. That’s because, aside from some painful experiments with infomercials that may prove to live in infamy, many company’s marketing messages fall by the wayside. From slogans like Apple’s “Think Different” and Mountain Dew’s “Do the Dew”, to the cigarette industry’s Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, marketing methods and messages tend to be moving targets that are hard for writers to hit with any consistency, much less publish books about. But against all odds, there are some books on marketing that have stood the test of time. To find these books, we think, would be to find the best books on marketing of all time. We also think we’ve found them in the ranking that appears below.
To compile this ranking, we sifted through 1000 books that were shelved under “all books” for the search term “marketing” on the popular reader review site, Goodreads. We handpicked the 215 with the highest ratings, stars, and number of published editions, then scored them according to their average number of stars out of five; the total number of ratings each book has received; and the number of editions published per year since the book’s initial publication. Only the highest rated, most rated, and most published books rose to the top of our list. See if you recognize some of the titles. Whether you’re one of our many self-taught marketers who’ve Googled “marketing books,” or a seasoned marketing professional who’s looking for a definitive list of some of the best reads of all time, we bet you’ll recognize at least one title, perhaps even several that you’ve read yourself.
1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
First published in 1937, Think and Grow Rich is often thought of as the grandfather of modern motivational literature. Authored by famed American author and business philosopher, Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich is widely considered one of the best books ever published on success. Why? Well, it helped Hill’s authority that he was an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt from 1933 to 1936, as well as the fact that the book itself was highly popular, selling over 20 million copies before Hill’s death in 1970. But the book arguably enjoyed such high levels of popularity because Hill spent much of his life studying and demystifying the mystique of the successful American businessmen whom he used as case examples in the book. These businessmen include Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, all of whose lives and business practices model principles of success that still resonate with modern marketers today. Indeed, much of Hill’s own advice on the “way of success”—that it is the same as “the way of continuous pursuit of knowledge”—echoes loud and clear through the halls of business history, where it reaches the ears of marketers in the information age.
2. Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
First published in 2003, Purple Cow is a definitive work on contemporary marketing by the prolific Seth Godin, who explains where the genius of great marketing begins—in the remarkable. Using the analogy of a Purple Cow, Godin uses this book to illustrate how businesses like Apple, Krispy Kreme, and JetBlue manage to stand out as somehow more special, phenomenal, and otherwise more preferable to their competitors. Much of the remarkability Godin points out can be traced back to the principle of memorability: we don’t forget the brands that stand out as “intrinsically different” from their peers. This is especially true of brands that make us stop and consider why the brand owner chose a distinctive name; that is, brands with intrigue tend to attract more customers than those without intrigue. Staying true to its name, however intriguing branding is only the tip of the iceberg for The Purple Cow. In fact, much of the book is spent explaining how the field of marketing changed as we entered the twenty-first century, as well as how we can adapt to a business and marketing environment that increasingly demands difference over similarity.
3. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Riskby Al Ries and Jack Trout
First published in 1993, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing is a business book co-authored by award-winning, thought-leading, and American marketing professionals, Al Ries and Jack Trout. 22 Immutable Laws takes as its premise the idea that every discipline has its laws. Physics has gravity. Geology has time. Governments have taxes. Marketing is little different. Although there may not be a single law that unites the entire practice, the discipline can be characterized as governed by twenty-two laws. Taken together, these laws and the way that brands choose to follow them (or not follow them) determine a brand’s place within the popular imagination. Not following these laws doesn’t mean a brand will necessarily fail, it just means they might occupy a different place in the public perception, because as Trout and Ries argue, “Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.” That means brands who break the laws are courting a high risk of failure, hence the subtitle “Violate Them at Your Own Risk.” But what makes this book one of the greatest marketing books of all time isn’t the fact that its lays down the law. It’s that it teases out the unspoken rules marketers operate by, so that in knowing them, we might bend them to our advantage, and possibly reap a reward.
4. The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey K. Liker
First published in 2001, The Toyota Way is a business book about the Japanese industrial giant, Toyota. Written by Dr. Jeffrey K. Liker, a professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan, Toyota Way is a veritable testament to how and why Toyota became the most consistently exemplary car manufacturer in the world. Dr. Liker takes the book to walk us through the management principles that underly the company’s most successful business practices. The most important of these principles is the “Lean Production” model, which if followed, can simultaneously improve the speed of a business’s processes and product service quality while also cutting costs. And all this across industry boundaries. Having interviewed Toyota executives and compared their methods to other manufacturers, Dr. Liker’s and his book are go-to resources for marketers from any industry who are looking for ways to pitch a guaranteed product, as well as learn how quality control can be the ultimate tool in a marketer’s belt.
5. Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith
First published in 1997, Selling the Invisible is a book of advice for how to sell a service to prospective clients who, in this day and age, we won’t see before they see us. Written by Harry Beckwith, the leader of a marketing firm who advises over twenty Fortune 200 companies, Selling the Invisible comes from a place of both principle and practice. That is, because Beckwith has spent much of his career selling both his own services and the services of others rather than products, he is uniquely fit to provide advice on how to sell what initially seems invisible to clients: subjective expertise. In a day and age where software as a service (Saas) has entered into the forefront of sales and marketing, Beckwith’s book was in many ways ahead of its time in extolling the values and virtues of selling services rather than goods. Indeed, with advice like “Building your brand doesn’t take millions. It takes imagination,” Beckwith nails the crux of the creative, service-driven economy that has enjoyed such a surge in the age of the Internet.
6. Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends into Customers by Seth Godin
First published in 1999, Permission Marketing is the second business book written by the marketing author and information entrepreneur, Seth Godin. An expert on the notion of marketing as part science, part art, Godin wrote the book for startup entrepreneurs to not only navigate the changing landscape of modern marketing, but command it. Having started his career well before the content boom, Godin describes a shift that began during the late 1990s, when old school, “Interruption Marketing” (think: TV ads and phone calls) started being replaced by “Permission Marketing,” which sought to offer consumers both an option and an incentive to shift their attention to listen to a brand message. All of Godin’s advice goes towards teaching us that in order to increase our chances of making a sale, we have to change the way we market. We have to show we care more about our consumer’s time, trust, and relationship to us than we do about their taking their money. It’s safe to say that in 1999, this book was way ahead of its time, as its ideas characterize the inbound marketing revolution we’ve witnessed in recent years.
7. Go Pro: 7 Steps to Becoming a Network Marketing Professional by Eric Worre
First published in 2013, Go Pro is a business and self help book written by Eric Worre, a former corporate employee who went into network marketing to spread the good news and never looked back. The product of Worre’s sales and marketing encounters with hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, Go Pro provides a comprehensive view of the network marketing industry, from finding prospects to presenting a product, from helping prospects become self-employed distributors to growing a sales team. Network marketers often sing Worre’s praise for helping them turn what was just an extra of income into a full-fledged career and valuable asset. But the book isn’t just about money. It’s even more about the mentality that it takes to educate customers by telling and selling the story of both a product and a company. And as the most popular book to emerge in recent years about the increasingly popular, albeit slightly controversial industry of network marketing, Go Pro represents its trade well on a list that would be remiss without a book about its unique brand of marketing.
8. The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, & Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott
First published in 2007, The New Rules of Marketing & PR is a business book written by a “recovering VP of marketing” and content entrepreneur, David Meerman Scott. Published in over 26 languages and to much applause at the beginning of the content boom that was the late 2000s, New Rules of Marketing & PR has been praised as “the benchmark guide to marketing and PR.” Scott 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 to fully participate in the content marketing economy we have today. With his casual, sincere, and authorial voice, Scott draws on over 20 years of experience as a marketing and PR entrepreneur to impress upon his audience that they don’t have to spend beaucoup bucks on expensive ad campaigns. All they really need is the patience and willingness to try following the new rules of marketing and PR, which like the field of real estate might be summarized in three words: reach, reach, reach.
9. All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World by Seth Godin
First published in 2005, All Marketers Are Liars is the tenth business book written by marketing author and information entrepreneur, Seth Godin. All Marketers Are Liars takes as its premise the idea that all marketers are liars. The best marketers, however, we don’t view as liars, but as storytellers whom we believe. The reasons for our believing a story are often different, but the best storytellers know what their audiences want to see and believe, and they deliver a tale that fits their audience’s narrative of what is true. We recognize the worst storytellers as liars and frauds, and we tend not to buy their products, services, or ideas because they appear inauthentic, or worse, of no value. Often viewed as Godin’s most accessible marketing masterpiece, All Marketers Are Liars teaches readers not just how to sell things that people need, but to create things that people want. Its ingenuity comes from this fact, as well as the fact that it models the marketing methods that it’s selling in the most authentic way it possibly can—by telling the stories.
10. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
First published in 2013 and having already been released in eight other editions, Contagious is written by Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Contagious takes on some of marketing’s biggest questions: What makes things popular? Why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumors more infectious? And what makes online content go viral? Berger’s answers to these questions hinge on social influence, or the idea that valued input we receive from those around us often has more impact on our decision to spread certain products, thoughts, and stories than our individual preference for those products, thoughts, and ideas. Berger elaborates on this theory of social influence with of six principles that may be said to drive all sorts of things to catch on and spread contagiously. This accessible and authoritative explication of consumer behavior is what makes Contagious one of the best marketing books of all time.
Josh Jackson is Contributing Editor of BestMarketingDegrees.org, a growing resource for online learners, educators, and marketers in between.