“The only marketing books worth reading.”


(I’ll explain why.)

There is nothing worse than wasting time on a bad book.

And most books on finding, attracting, and retaining the right customers are terrible.

Since I’ve wasted a good portion of my waking hours on these terrible books, I’ve created a list of the ones that are actually useful so you never have to suffer the way I have.

If you hate learning about what makes people tick, how to influence behavior, and how to affect perception – you will hate all these recommendations.

Note: These are affiliate links. If you’re opposed to affiliate links or supporting my coffee habit, that’s cool. These are still great books and you should buy and read them anyway. And then email me at margo [at] thatseemsimportant [dot] com and let’s geek out about them.


What: A semester on advertising, business, and selling from the real life Don Draper.

Why: It’s like reading a personal letter from your mentor. Your insufferably arrogant (and hilarious) mentor. His lessons on success and failure are timeless #facepalms that most businesses ignore, like this one: “Make sure what you promise is important to your customer.” There’s a reason Ogilvy was considered the best and when you read this book you’ll know why.

The crux of his philosophy is remarkably simple: “I don’t want you to tell me that you find it “creative.” I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” He teaches you how to think differently about advertising and selling.

There’s enough about advertising in here to keep you in business for 100 years. If you read nothing else, read this book.

What: Lester Wunderman’s biography. Lester Wunderman: The guy you’ve never heard of who is responsible for #nbd things like AMEX credit cards and the entire field of Direct Marketing.

Why: You know the famous saying, “50% of my marketing’s working. Trouble is I don’t know which 50%”? Direct Marketing is the 50% that’s working. It’s the branch of marketing that directly impacts sales. Mr. Wunderman’s story is a turn-of-the-century rags-to-riches tale, except not cliché. Heavy business lessons in this one.

It’s more a business book that happens to be about the business of marketing. (fair warning, some parts are a little slow and heavy on details which if you’re a nerd you’ll love. If you’re not in the mood, it could be tough).

Also look up Lester. He’s still alive and running a digital agency because he’s a baller.

What:  A book about the psychology behind what we eat, why we eat, and how we make buying and eating decisions as a result.

Why: It will BLOW YOUR MIND. Not only is this book fascinating on a personal level (you’ll never eat the same again) it’s got huge ramifications for understanding human behavior and business as it relates to decision making. Wansink is a fantastic writer and this book is chock full of “ah-ha” moments that will change everything about how you see the world. I gift this book a ton.

What: The bible for direct response copywriting.

Why:  If you’re not into copywriting and are thinking “wtf does this have to do with me?” I will explain. Copywriting is how you use language in order to influence behavior (behavior = purchase). In order to do that, you have to understand mass desire, positioning, market sophistication, and awareness.

This book teaches you how to get deep in the mind of the market you are trying to reach in order to reach them, keep them, and sell more to them. It’s even got hilariously offensive ad examples from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s (that are instructive, but still). If you want to understand why people buy, this is your book.

Huge disclaimer: For serious nerds only. This one will be hard to get through if you’re not interested in human behavior and language. The price tag on this is not a joke.  It is the best book on human desire you’ll ever read. But it’s HEAVY. I’ve read it in full twice and return to it regularly to take notes.

Eugene Schwartz was a mail order copywriter, one of the most successful of all time.  The principles laid out in this book will direct how you do business, roll out new products, and enter new markets for the duration of your career.

What:  An easy read describing how you stand out in a cluttered marketplace where people are distracted and not paying attention.

Why:  This book makes sense of the trope “MARKETING IS EVERYTHING!! AHHH!!” A Purple Cow is a metaphor for building a remarkable (remarkable = something people literally remark on) product in the first place. Godin details the massive paradigm shift from “create ordinary product and market it well” to “create remarkable product people want and people will seek it out.” Godin goes into detail on why and how it all happened and what it means for your business.

Disclaimer: this is written in typical Godin-style, conversational, top line, and arguably oversimplified. I still think it merits a place on the list since the point it makes remains true and is a helpful (and quick) introduction to modern marketing. It’s especially important to read for anyone who still thinks the old approach to marketing works (hint: it doesn’t).

What: Exposé on how companies manipulate and trick us into loving them and buying more. But with science. Neuroscience. #nerdalert

Why: This book confirms (with evidence) that everything you suspected was wrong with the marketing industry, is. Lindstrom breaks it all down for you in neatly organized chapters that make you wonder if you make any of your own decisions. TBH, he sensationalizes the “manipulation and deception” angle a bit for the sake of controversy. Most of what’s in here isn’t bad, it’s really smart and generally good business practices (i.e. giving samples of your clothes to celebrities with social influence).

Lindstrom brings you with him behind the scenes with the biggest brand names and explains all that goes on to get you to love and buy from them. This is the sequel to Buy-ology, but Brandwashed is better IMHO.

What: A book on how connecting with your consumer helps you sell more, disguised as a social media book.

Why: Say what you will about Gary V, the guy knows his stuff. Most social media books are useless and outdated the moment they hit shelves. This one is different. And that’s because it outlines a way of looking at the world, your business, and your customers that is completely counterintuitive.

The idea is simply this: find a way to add value first. Develop a relationship with your customers and prospects. Then ask for the sale, hard. The approach is based on listening to your prospects, instead of screaming at them.

Gary doesn’t mess around when it comes to sales. The approach he outlines here is applicable faaaar beyond social media. These are timeless principles of listening to your customer, showing up where they’re already hanging out, speaking to them in a way that they can hear you, and the inextricable link between adding value to the lives of others and sales. There’s also fun pictures.

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