Inspiration and motivation can come from unexpected places. That’s what we found when we asked marketers and other business people to share their go-to book for marketers.
Many people recommended books about content and marketing (read those recommendations here). But others suggested intriguing books that aren’t directly about marketing at all.
These 17 recommendations range from one that’s more than 2,000 years old to a modern story about sushi. Some are focused on building you, while others will inspire your creativity, change the way you think about your content marketing, help you avoid procrastination, and more.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2020 edition) by Stephen R. Covey
What Amazon says: This beloved classic presents a principle-centered approach for solving both personal and professional problems. With penetrating insights and practical anecdotes, Stephen R. Covey reveals a step-by-step pathway for living with fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity—principles that give us the security to adapt to change and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.
Recommended by Steve Pogson, founder and e-commerce strategy lead, First Pier: “As a marketer and leader, these seven habits guided me. I realized that being a leader isn’t just about achieving success; it’s also about upholding ideals and ethics in order to leave a lasting legacy. This understanding had a significant impact on my decisions as a marketing executive.”
Alchemy: The Magic of Original Thinking in a World of Mind-Numbing Conformity (2020) by Rory Sutherland
What Amazon says: In many crucial areas of our lives, reason plays a vanishingly small part. Instead, we are driven by unconscious desires, which is why placebos are so powerful. We are drawn to the beautiful, the extravagant, and the absurd – from lavish wedding invitations to tiny bottles of the latest fragrance. So if you want to influence people’s choices, you have to bypass reason. The best ideas don’t make rational sense: they make you feel more than they make you think.
Recommended by Jonathan Tian, co-founder, Mobitrix: “In this book, the writer highlights the complex theory with stories and great humor to both captivate and entertain. It’s a crucial work of evident irrationality.”
The Art of War (475 to 221 BCE) by Sun Tzu
What Amazon says: Art of War is almost certainly the most famous study of strategy ever written. This treatise has been credited with influencing some of the most legendary military operations. Beyond the battlefield, people far and wide have long turned to Art of War for advice on how to succeed in various competitive situations, and companies around the world now make this book required reading for their executives.
Recommended by Chris Alexakis, co-founder Cabinet Select: “There are many essential lessons business owners can learn from Sun Tzu’s book about ancient military strategy. However, you have to look at it with different eyes than the average reader because what’s important here is the mentality and philosophical lessons. You don’t need to know how many chariots an army needs to store food.”
Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way To Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones (2018) by James Clear
What Amazon says: If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.
Recommended by Ori Benshalom, founder, Self Made: “As a marketer, I was always intrigued by why people do what they do. Atomic Habits breaks down exactly what creates good habits and how you can break bad ones. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that if you want to create a new habit, start small and build it gradually.”
The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level (2009) by Gay Hendricks
What Amazon says: Gay Hendricks demonstrates how to eliminate the barriers to success by overcoming false fears and beliefs. Fans of Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, and The Secret will find useful, effective tips for breaking down the walls to a better life in The Big Leap.
Recommended by Laura Rike, consultant: “It teaches us that when we feel like life is getting in the way, we need to push through to reach our true potential and push past our upper limit.”
Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps To Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth (2017) by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
What Amazon says: Drawing on more than a decade of new work, Kim and Mauborgne show you how to move beyond competing, inspire your people’s confidence, and seize new growth, guiding you step-by-step through how to take your organization from a red ocean crowded with competition to a blue ocean of uncontested market space. They show why nondisruptive creation is as important as disruption in seizing new growth.
Recommended by Sep Niakan, managing broker, CondoBlackBook: “Suitable for anyone who wishes to make significant improvements in their marketing strategy. It comprises a road map drawn out by the authors, who have a startling 30 years of consulting and research experience and who carve out the way for easier and more successful reinventions.
“This book will help people from reinvention teams by answering questions about how and why each baby step toward reinvention is carried out. It also emphasizes things such as respecting your team’s feelings and delving into the details of everything, leaving little to chance.”
The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth (2017) by David C. Baker
What Amazon says: This passionate expertise manifesto is intended to elevate the impact of advisors who sell insight as entrepreneurs. Three foundational chapters form the basis of the entire book: experts develop insight by isolating patterns in data; they convert those insights to wealth by crafting a unique positioning for which few available substitutes exist. Their confidence grows as the marketplace embraces their application of expertise.
Recommended by Joshua Feinberg, CEO, SP Home Run: “If you sit still too long, even the best content marketers will get commoditized and marginalized. David C. Baker offers a great solution around focus, deep expertise, selecting the right niches, positioning, and demonstrating expertise.”
Get Out Of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior (1996) by Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg
What Amazon says: Practical, proven self-help steps show how to transform 40 common self-defeating behaviors, including procrastination, envy, obsession, anger, self-pity, compulsion, neediness, guilt, rebellion, inaction, and more.
Recommended by Brenton Thomas, founder and CEO, Twibi: “Working on marketing, we are all susceptible to falling into the impostor syndrome or the procrastination traps. This book has plenty of actionable strategies to snap out of those destructive creativity-killer habits and transform them into deadline-smashers.”
The Organized Mind (2014) by Daniel J. Levitin
What Amazon says: Somehow some people become quite accomplished at managing information flow. Daniel Levitin uses the latest brain science to demonstrate how those people excel—and how readers can use their methods to regain a sense of mastery over the way they organize their homes, workplaces, and time.
Recommended by Jason McMahon, digital strategist, Bambrick Media: “We evaluate the data, research, transcripts, slideshows, and reports daily. How are we going to deal with all of this data and convert it into great content for our readers? This is a book about managing the constant flow of information we encounter daily.
“This book helped me observe and comprehend how various people process information. It helps me think about my audience and how they receive and digest information as a marketer. It helps me better understand myself and my organizing patterns as an individual. It’s a really thought-provoking book.”
Scientific Advertising (1923) by Claude Hopkins
What Amazon says: This book is the precursor to the modern phenomenon in advertising of Big Data. That is merely the conclusion one reaches after thoroughly understanding this groundbreaking book. It contains many principles that are common in all performance-based marketing today, such as the idea of testing and measuring ad effectiveness, writing to one person, understanding and using psychology, basing advertising on sales, eliminating risk, learning what the thousands want to understand what the millions will buy.
Recommended by Nate Tsang, founder and CEO, WallStreetZen: “I was skeptical when someone recommended this to me, but for a quick, free read, I was hooked. Seeing content marketing abstracted away to its earlier iteration (the 1920s) helped me understand choices our team made in our marketing.
“Some of the advice is timeless essential – the chapter on headlines will change the way you evaluate email marketing. Some of it requires you to think about the way we advertise products and the way we market online. The methods have evolved, but the underlying purpose and psychology are the same.”
Think and Grow Rich (1937) by Napoleon Hill
What Amazon says: Napoleon Hill presents a “Philosophy of Achievement” in 13 principles drawn from the success stories of such greats as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and other millionaires of his time.
Recommended by Thomas Mirmotahari, founder and CEO, PerkUp: “It’s an all-time classic that is an absolute must-read for content marketers. He is absolutely brilliant and spent time with over 500 self-made millionaires. The aim is to demonstrate that, as entrepreneurs and content marketers, we are earnest about what we’re marketing, selling, and the problems we are solving. We can all learn some of the best traits of the greats to help us on our journey to serve humanity and make a fortune too.”
The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, From Samurai to Supermarket (2007) by Trevor Corson
What Amazon says: In this richly reported story, journalist Trevor Corson shadows several American sushi novices and a master Japanese chef, taking the reader behind the scenes as the students strive to master the elusive art of cooking without cooking. It is a compelling tale of human determination as well as a delectable smorgasbord of surprising food science, intrepid reporting, and provocative cultural history.
Recommended by Myles Carter, director of content marketing, Payment Rails: “After finishing this deep dive into sushi’s history and its culture of dedication and mastery, I was left with a deep feeling of admiration. That, and just a little pang of guilt that comes from knowing we can all be a bit more masterful in our work and our content.”
Add these books, too
A.J. Turner, marketing director, Off Highway Van, says you can learn a lot from reading memoirs, biographies, and similar non-fiction writing. A.J.’s recommendations include:
- Authentic by Paul Van Doren: “A memoir of the man who started Vans shoe company. A great insight into asking “Why not?” and pushing forward creative ideas.”
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: “A fantastic book about how to push forward and constantly be thinking about what’s next?”
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: “Surprisingly not much about food and a great read for anybody. I appreciate his storytelling ability, and I think it’s a great example for storytellers.”
- Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey: “Matthew speaks to the importance of journaling, and how to approach life in a way that fleshes out great experiences. It’s a fantastic book for content creators.”
- No Time Like The Future by Michael J. Fox: “Mr. Fox shows us that there’s nothing that replaces optimism and perseverance. As a content creator, it can be hard to constantly keep up and keep coming up with fresh and creative ideas. By remembering to look at the world through different lenses, we can learn to write meaningful things by pushing forward through setbacks and delays or even life-changing situations.”
What non-marketing book do you recommend to motivate, inspire, or help content marketers? Please share in the comments.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute