10 best marketing books recommended by CMO's in 2021

Post by
Omid G

Discover the 10 best marketing books (from beginner to advance) to read this year, regardless of which stage you are in your professional marketing career.

10 best marketing books recommended by CMO's in 2021

If I look back to what led me to work my dream 6-figure job, in my dream city, all paths lead to reading.

There’s just something about reading as a medium. It’s such an active way to consume content, as compared to listening or watching (which are passive). 

Many of today’s mediums of consuming content are decreasing our attention spans.

And what I’ve come to notice about reading (for myself) is that it actually restores my attention span — allowing me to focus on other tasks ever so slightly more. There’s no scientific evidence I can provide for this, I’m just speaking from personal experience.

Why read marketing books?

In a world where digital marketing gurus constantly want to sell you information, it's tough to know whether that information is from original thought or just rehashed from elsewhere.

More often than not, many of today's marketing "influencers" are simply preaching what has already been documented in books for decades, even centuries. 

In this post, I’m going to go over my 10 favorite marketing books. While these are mostly marketing directed, a few of them helped me a lot during my professional marketing career, but aren't necessarily limited to just the topic of marketing.

Any-who, in no particular order, here is the list of 10 books. However, at the end of this post I'll mention my top 4 to give you a start if you want to pick up your first marketing book to read.

The best online marketing books of all time

Here is a list of my favorite marketing books:

1. Scientific Advertising

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins book cover

Written by Claude C. Hopkins, Scientific Advertising is an advertising-related book that was published in 1923. It's one of those books that is so fundamental that the information revealed still applies even a century later. It's a must read for all marketers, no matter what stage you are in your career. 

This is a notable book in the marketing world because it was the first documentation of processes such as split testing, loyalty programs, and coupon-based tracking. The overall summary of the book is that it goes over how to approach advertising through testing and measuring.

2. Breakthrough Advertising

Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz book cover

Breakthrough Advertising is the holy grail of marketing books — probably the most influential one in this list. Written by award winning copywriter Eugene M. Schwartz, the book was first published in 1966.

Many founders and marketers have attributed this book to helping them make millions. And although the book is technically in the “copywriter” category of marketing books, it talks a lot about the state of awareness customers go through and how you should structure your messaging in your marketing efforts.

The book feels more like a dictionary, rather than one you read from beginning to end. I’ve found it to be a bit heavy of a read at times, mainly because I constantly want to put the book down to take notes.

If there’s one book to read this year from this list, it’s this one.

3. Play Bigger

Play Bigger book cover

Marketing is about driving awareness to bring things to market. So, what's the best way to tackle a market? Create your own.

Play Bigger, by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney, is a book about just that — a guide to show you how to be a category creator, so you can dominate your market.

The book focuses on showing you how competition is an old game to play. Rather, the new game is to define a new marketing category, develop it, and dominate it over time.

It’s why some companies are always just top of mind. For example, when you think of ecommerce you might think of Shopify. When you think of search engines, you might think of Google. When you think of live streaming, you might think of Twitch. And so on.

These companies are leaders in their category (aka industry), and Play Bigger dives into how to actually become a category creator.

This is a great book to read if you’re a marketer working at a fast growing company, or one that is trying to scale.

4. Content Design

Content Design by Sarah Richards book cover

Written by Sarah Richards, Content Design is a book about designing content for the web. Published in 2017, this book feels more like a handbook rather than a book you read straight through.

It's a great read for designers, specifically web designers. But I added it to this list because marketing is about communication. And this book goes over how to design your content so it communicates your message about your product or service effectively.

If you're a marketer that deals with content (whether it's copywriting for landing pages or writing blog posts), or works with other designers, this book is one I highly recommend. I find myself picking it off my bookshelf pretty often when I'm focused on projects that involve a lot of copywriting.

5. Epic Content Marketing

Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi book cover

Originally published in 2013 by Joe Pulizzi, Epic Content Marketing is a bestseller that opened my eyes to the world of content marketing and SEO (search engine optimization) content writing for the first time.

It was the first marketing book I ever read, and was gifted to me by a former manager when I was a marketing intern. It actually set the foundation for me to work as a Content Marketing Manager in San Francisco just a few years later.

This book is a great read for entry level marketers that are looking to help small businesses or start ups acquire more customers through content. Especially if you want to be a content marketing manager.

While it may not go over everything regarding the content marketing landscape today (it does change really fast), it will definitely give you a strong base of knowledge you can build on in the future. 

6. How to Launch a Brand

How to Launch a Brand book cover

If you're looking to help startups with their brand identity, naming, or positioning, How to Launch a Brand, by Fabian Geyrhalter, is a must read. It's a great book for brand marketers and early stage founders.

It’s sort of like a workbook that guides you through a step-by-step process to building a strong brand identity.

Depending on your field of work in marketing, you may never have to dive deep into branding. But this is a great book to have around and refer to from time to time if you’re working at a super early stage startup that is still trying to figure out and communicate its brand message to customers. It’s also a great book to have around if you want to build your one brand one day. 

7. Dotcom Secrets

Dotcom Secrets by Russell Brunson book cover

Dotcom Secrets, by Russell Brunson, is one of those books that I read early into my marketing career. It made me get excited about internet marketing and learning how to sell online. If you‘re a digital marketer, or just want to learn about general digital marketing strategies, this book is a must read.

Today, I don‘t necessarily agree with everything this book stands for. As I've gained more marketing experience throughout the years I started to shift my mindset away from internet marketing tactics, to thinking more holistically about the art and science of marketing as a whole.

However, I do think this is still one of the best digital marketing books for an absolute marketing beginner. The book definitely had an impact on me early on which is the only reason why I added it to this list.

8. Read Me

Read me copywriting examples book

I came across Read Me, by Gyles Lingwood and Roger Horberry, from a TikTok video — I know lol. But it’s one I often refer to from time to time.

I highly recommend this to anyone that does work involving copy. It’ll show you how to write effective copy and how to create sticky headlines that enhance brand identity. The book includes case studies, copywriting techniques, advice from real copywriters, and tons of ad campaign examples.

Make sure to get a physical copy of this one, given it‘s full of images and you'll want to refer to them easily from time to time.

9. Building a StoryBrand

building a storybrand by donald miller book cover

Building a StoryBrand, by Donald Miller, is one of those marketing books that’s pretty hard to put down once you start reading. I have most of my books on a Kindle, but I bought this one in a physical copy so I can highlight all over it, tear pages out, and easily refer to it. Ya, that’s how much I like this book.

The main bulk of the book is about the seven-step storytelling framework Donald has developed. It gives you clear examples and frameworks on the art of storytelling, and shows you how important it is when it comes to brand marketing.

I would probably put this as my second favorite marketing book, behind Breakthrough Advertising. Every marketer should read this one.

10. Good to Great

Good to Great by Jim Collins book cover

Good to Great, by bestselling author Jim Collins, isn’t necessarily a marketing book, but it’s a great business book. In fact, it’s a business owner’s must read.

I like to think that the best marketers are the ones that truly understand business strategy and entrepreneurship. The more you can think like an entrepreneur the better. 

It’ll help you see clear business problems and make you think on the same level as leaders in business, which is always a good thing if you’re working in marketing.

The book goes over the fundamental reason why most businesses plateau. And knowing that as a marketer is key to not only navigating your way through a company, but also knowing how to think at the executive level.

Reading more will help beyond your marketing career

Reading marketing books won’t just make you a better marketer. It will make you a better thinker, a better writer, a better executor, and a faster reader.

It may even inspire you to take leaps in your career, as I know it has for me.

If you need just 1-4 books that you should read this year I recommend these (in order):

  1. Breakthrough Advertising
  2. Scientific Advertising
  3. Building a Storybrand
  4. Good to Great

Any book on this list I didn't mention? Let me know in a comment below!