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The Desert Island Library: 6 Essential Modern Marketing Books

Desert Island LibraryI read lots (and lots and lots) of books each year. But a client recently asked me a challenging question: If I were marooned on a “desert island,” with no access to another marketing book again, what 5 or 6 books couldn’t I live without?

5 or 6?!? I thought. Impossible! There are so many that have influenced my thinking over the years (and so many great new books every year), there’s no way to trim the list down to such a small number.

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are only a handful of books I reference again and again.

Now, this list is by no means designed to be comprehensive. It simply represents the books I’d recommend to anyone getting started in marketing (especially online marketing). Ironically, most focus on marketing generally, rather than specific tools. You’ll find little discussion of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Foursquare on this list. Instead of “how to market,” the list focuses on how to think about marketing.

So here’s my collection of outstanding thinking about how to understand and communicate with customers, how to grow and build a business, and how to think about marketing overall:

  1. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. The definitive guide to positioning your products, what it is and why it matters. Ought to be required reading for anyone in business.
  2. Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin. You can’t have a marketing book list these days without including something by Seth. For me, it’s this seminal classic (though I thought seriously about All Marketers are Liars instead). Both are light, easy reads, heavy on inspiration with just enough detail to point you in the right direction. Definitely worth the read.
  3. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition by Steve Krug. While it’s technically a usability book, Krug highlights how your customers act online overall and directs you to think clearly about how they’re going to interact with your messages online. Also, one of the funniest business books I’ve ever read. There’s a good reason this book (along with Positioning and The Long Tail) made both this list and my list of the “12 Essential Business Books of the Last 10 Years.” It’s that useful.
  4. The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business andTransformed Our Culture by John Battelle. While its view of Google is a little dated, having been written in 2006, no book explains why search has become the default online advertising medium as effectively as Battelle’s The Search. Absolutely essential reading if you want to understand not only why search remains critical to consumer behavior, but why its continued dominance remains inevitable.
  5. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. Another classic, Anderson’s The Long Tail introduced a critical concept to online marketing (and to business generally). Arguably, the single most influential and important book about how the Internet has changed business in the last decade. Indispensable.
  6. Groundswell, Expanded and Revised Edition: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Li and Bernoff answer the critical questions about social media such as why people participate (or not), whether a particular social network seems likely to catch on, and why specific social channels may work (or not) for your business. Fantastic book.

What do you think? Does this list capture the best thinking about marketing today? Or did I miss something obvious? Let me know in the comments if there’s something you can’t live without. I’d love to hear what it is.


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