16 Best Marketing Books for Beginners in 2020

My yearly reading list!

“Knowing who your consumers are is great, but knowing how they behave is even better.”

One of Kotler’s most significant contributions to the marketing industry was popularizing the “Marketing Mix” – also called “The 4Ps”. An idea first proposed by an academic named Jerome McCarthy in 1960, it became the bedrock of everything we learned and did in marketing.

However, as Graham Robertson points out in Beloved Brands, It’s a useful start, but it’s too product-focused and misses out on consumer insights, emotional benefits, and consumer experiences.

This doesn’t mean the marketing mix isn’t essential, and it will form the basis of most of the marketing plans and frameworks you’ll come up with for the rest of your career.

But, if you were a freshly minted marketing graduate just stepping into the job market and seeking out books to read, you might be better off reading titles leaning towards consumer psychology.


Consumer behavior is the big picture. In a highly saturated market, the key to brand growth is winning in physical and mental availability. And to do that effectively, you need to have a deep understanding of your consumer.

Back to our books!

If I could go back in time to when I just started in marketing, here’s a list of 16 marketing books that would form my ultimate reading starter pack.

And as my colleague and friend, Olawale Adetula, is wont to say, you should aim to read these books at least once a year…

Contagious by Jonah Berger

A New York Times bestseller and named Best Marketing Book of 2014 by the American Marketing Association, Contagious is an excellent introduction to the permanent link between consumer behavior and marketing. Jonah Berger uses easy to grasp language to explain the science behind word-of-mouth, social transmission and virality.

My favorite lesson from the book were the six STEPPS principles. These are:

 1. Social Currency (we share things that make us look good);

2. Triggers (we share whatever is top of mind—and that becomes “tip of the tongue”);

3. Emotion (we share what we care about);

4. Public (we share what’s visible and shows);

5. Practical Value (we share what’s useful);

6. Stories (we share what gets carried in stories).   

Invisible Influence by Jonah Berger

I didn’t read these two back to back, but it would be great if you could pull that off. In Invisible Influence, Berger expands on the ideas he explored in his first bestseller, Contagious, offering us an in-depth guide to the concept of social influence.

The book is a fantastic treatise on socially motivated behaviors such as imitation and differentiation, and how they combine to create intricate cultural and social patterns. One of my favorite statements from the book is – “The context we grow up in shapes how we behave and our interpretation of our behavior.”

How Brands Grow by Bryon Sharp

I believe my biggest takeout from Bryon Sharp’s How Brands Grow was his argument on buyer frequency. Sharp takes on Pareto’s Law, and using data goes on to argue that 20% of your buyers don’t drive 80% of your sales. Your brand has infrequent buyers who buy your brand a couple of times a year, and there are quite a large number of them.

Interestingly, at a recent marketing planning session earlier this week, our research agency partner used live data to show that Sharp’s argument was valid. The book is heavy on data, but if you can get through that, it’s an excellent introduction to evidence-based marketing.  

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, termed this a must-read for anyone interested in driving consumer engagement.

At first, glance, Hooked by Nir Eyal could pass off for a product management toolbox. However, if your brand strength is product-led, then you should be poring over all the tips and tactics based on Eyal’s years of research, consulting, and practical experience. 

After reading Hooked, you can be assured of practical insights and steps for building products that your consumers love and use consistently.

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

Although this book was written decades ago, the majority of his thoughts and concepts on advertising are still echoed in the walkways of many agencies and articles today. If you are looking to start a career in advertising, you should be all over this book.

It is packed with insights on advertising, copywriting, graphic design and storytelling. Ogilvy even throws in some advice on hiring and print ads.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

In Ogilvy on Advertising, Ogilvy called Hopkins: “the father of modern advertising.” Widely considered by many as the foundation of direct marketing, Scientific Advertising is a seminal piece of work.

Written in 1923, Hopkins covers many areas of advertising, including how to write headlines, consumer behavior, split testing and budgeting in an era when advertising was majorly announcements. If you are a fan of PDF files, you can download a FREE copy on Claude Hopkins Scientific Advertising.

Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom

Buy-ology is a result of Martin’s three-year, seven-million-dollar neuromarketing study. An experiment that peered into the brains of 2,000 volunteers from all around the world as they engaged with various ads, logos, commercials, brands, and products.

Martin Lindstrom is as big a brand guru as they get, and his book is an excellent introduction to neuro-marketing and it’s immense benefits for brands and brand owners.

No B.S Brand Building by Direct Response by Dan Kennedy

It is a no b*****t book. No B.S Brand Building by Direct Response is an introductory book on direct response marketing and advertising. For Kennedy, everything is about building irresistible offers and powerful messages loaded with benefits that drive the consumer to respond.

While the tone of the book seems like it was written for small business owners, you’ll learn a lot about copywriting, branding, and how to build a tribe of loyal customers that advocate for your brand daily.

No B.S Social Media Marketing by Dan Kennedy

In his classic no b****t style, Dan Kennedy rips into marketers who parrot that the old rules of advertising don’t apply on the internet. And that’s common sense, I must say. The internet is a tool with a different protocol, but the triggers of human behavior have remained the same for centuries.

The core principle of this book is social media ads should be benefit-laden messages that entice potential customers to engage with the business, and consequently, become leads that can be nurtured along the buyer’s journey.

The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton

I have read this book twice, and I’ll probably reread it sometime this year. The Choice Factory does a great job of showing you how behavioral science can be implemented in everyday advertising campaigns. There are at least twenty-five behavioral biases that affect/influence how we buy.

Written in an entertaining and easy to understand style, Shotton addresses each of the behavioral biases chapters after chapter and then outlines simple ways to apply it to your brand.

Break Through the Noise by Tim Staples

This was my 2019 book of the year, and a book I wish I had read much earlier. In a world where consumers are bombarded with noise and ads every day, Tim outlines a useful model for creating content and advertising that cuts through the clutter.

Break Through the Noise is a smooth flowing read, but it’s one of those books you should go through with a pen and notepad in hand.

Beloved Brands by Graham Robertson

Robertson calls Beloved Brands a playbook for building brands your customers will love, and I heartily agree. This is a textbook stripped of academic jargon. No fluff, just pure, actionable strategy models, tips and tactics.

If you are joining a marketing role from a non-marketing background, this should be your first read. It is well-written, incredibly insightful, and easy to follow.

Decoded by Phil Barden

Decoded came highly recommended when I shared my list of marketing books on LinkedIn. While I haven’t read it, it seems to be a great read on behavioral economics, consumer psychology, and how it’s all linked to marketing.

I just ordered mine, and I’ll update this piece once I am done reading it.

Made to Stick by Dan & Chip Heath

Made to Stick by the Heath brothers is an excellent read on building memorable and sticky brand messages. They do an excellent job of explaining why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck. They also discuss extensively what makes you notice these messages, understand them, care about them, remember them, and act on them.

Made to Stick is a guide, and if you handle brand messaging, or storytelling, you’ll find it immensely useful.

Building a Brand Story by Donald Miller

Storytelling is my new rabbit hole, and it’s looking like one I’ll spend this decade burrowing. Miller uses his 7-part storytelling framework to show how brands can build lasting emotional connections with their customers in Building a Brand Story.

People don’t buy products; they buy the products they can understand the fastest. So if you have the prettiest website or package, but your consumer doesn’t know what you do and why they should care, you’re dead on arrival.

Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Some marketers argue that its either the Tipping Point or Made to Stick. If you can afford the two, do go ahead and read both of them. At its core, both books are about ideas, messaging, and human behavior.

Gladwell explores how ideas spread and the various levers behind message virality. I would almost argue that the Heath brothers built their theory of Gladwell’s deep-dive into the world of ideas and idea carriers.

Final Thoughts

I am pretty sure if we wanted, this list could go on and on. However, this is my list of 16 books that should get you off to a good start in 2020 if you just got your first marketing role. And even if you are an experienced marketer, it would do you good to read most of these books yearly.

What other books would you add to this list?

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