I'm the first to admit I don’t know everything about marketing. As a 23-year-old, I’d say I’m a novice -- in life as well as business. I can't claim to understand the nuances and psychological principles of persuasion, but I do have real-world experience working beside professionals who've mastered the art and science of marketing. Plus, I've gained a lot of practice selling online.
I know what works and what doesn’t work because I’ve been through dozens of product launches from start to finish. Some campaigns crush it while others get crickets.
As I watched these projects unfold, I kept asking myself one question: "What explains the difference between a runaway marketing success and a complete flop?"
To answer that question, I turned to the master marketers who came before me. Obviously, I couldn't meet them all one-on-one. But I could gain some of their insights without expending all the time, money and energy it took them to reach the same conclusions. How? By reading. Not just any books, though. They had to be the best.
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Over the past several months, I've gathered, sorted, combined and distilled the best-of-the-best books on marketing, sales, psychology and business. I've found what I believe are the seven most critical books any marketer needs to assure a hit. Within the pages of these volumes are the exact strategies and techniques every elite marketer uses.
So pay attention. No matter where you fall on the marketing spectrum, you can implement these tactics today and begin reaping the business rewards.
1. "Influence: The Power of Persuasion," by Robert Cialdini.
This is probably the most recommended book in the history or marketing -- and for good reason. If there’s one skill that will allow you to soar to the highest levels financially, it’s influence.
Whether you’re a parent trying to get your kids to go to bed, a consumer buying a new car or an entrepreneur working to close a multimillion-dollar deal, there's nothing more powerful than knowing how to make people want to work with you.
This isn’t about coercion or neuro-linguistic programming. It’s about tapping into deep human desires. In "Influence," Cialdini boils influence down to six key elements you need to exert ultimate selling power. You always should be thinking about ways to include these components in your marketing messages.
Virtually every marketer, salesperson and psychologist has this title on the bookshelf. The theory is sound. More important, it works in the real world and you can start applying the approach almost immediately.
2. "Ask: The Counterintuitive Online Formula to Discover Exactly What Your Customers Want to Buy ... Create a Mass of Raving Fans ... and Take Any Business to the Next Level," by Ryan Levesque.
Levesque's ideas have helped generate more than $100 million in revenue for his clients. But that’s not the craziest part.
Just a few years ago, Levesque was living in one of America's poorest cities, surviving on $500 a month. Today, he runs a company with annual revenue in the seven figures.
His secret? A simple but profound discovery. Rather than guessing what people wanted and then trying to sell it to them, he had a groundbreaking thought: "What if we just asked customers what they want and then found the best way to give it to them?"
With that one insight, a business and an industry were born. Levesque learned that asking the right questions is the key to setting your product or service apart from the rest of the boring competition. For example, don't sell the same old ketchup. Offer customers the choice of a spicy, gluten-free ketchup that pairs perfectly with eggs or another natural favorite.
"Ask" provides details on using Levesque's proprietary survey method to collect even minor details such as these. Lucky for the rest of us, his principles apply to much more than selling condiments. Levesque's process delves deeper, describing how to construct funnels, sales sequences and entire businesses around servicing the only thing that truly matters: giving people what they want.
"Ask" is a masterclass in doing just that for your audience.
3. "Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream," by James Altucher.
This book contains no marketing tactics. But it’s packed with lessons every marketer should know -- lessons like why you should study bestsellers and deconstruct what made them shoot to the top of the charts.
Read "Choose Yourself" with your marketing X-ray goggles, and you initially might be shocked it resonated with so many people. Consider some of Altucher's teachings:
- Get up early.
- Go for a walk.
- Eat less.
- Read more.
- Help one person a day.
There’s nothing new or game-changing about the core material. "Choose Yourself" became a bestseller because Altucher presents the lessons through compelling stories.
It's a critical lesson for marketers today. Almost nothing you sell will be “new," so to speak. Success is all about how you package and position your offer, and Altucher is one of the best in the business. If you can pick up some of his short, punchy writing as you read, that’s just icing on the cake.
4. "Getting Everything You Can Out of All You Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition," by Jay Abraham.
Jay Abraham is a marketing genius, and I don't use that term lightly. He’s helped more than 10,000 business in over 400 industries. He's earned more than $20 million in consulting fees because businesses happily pay him for the work he does to help them grow.
One of the most important lessons Abraham teaches is the concept of leverage: taking something you're already doing, spending a little more time and multiplying the results dramatically. "Getting Everything You Can Out of All You Got" shows you how.
Leverage is completely different than what most people do. Most people take something that's not working and try even harder to make it work. When a marketer gets zero likes, leads or sales from a bland Facebook post, the knee-jerk thought process goes something like this: "Oh, I know -- we'll post even more. That'll get 'em!"
Abraham knows if something isn't working, you shouldn't try harder or do more. You have to do something different. Instead of running the same ads again and again, change the lead or even just the first few words and get 10 times the response. This is leverage. Abraham's book shows you how to apply the concept to your business and life.
Abraham packs other crucial ideas into his book as well. Here's another: There are only three ways to grow a business. You can increase prices, increase frequency of purchases or increase the number of customers. Everything you do in business (and in copywriting) should relate back to one or more of those three strategies. And Abraham offers hundreds of tactics to help you do each of them really well.
Abraham's work is wonderfully eye-opening and artfully simple. Pay attention as you read, and you'll learn how to harvest uncommon profits from your marketing efforts.
5. "Feed A Starving Crowd: More than 200 Hot and Fresh Marketing Strategies to Help You Find Hungry Customers," by Robert Coorey.
This book's opening story makes it well worth a read. If you work in marketing, it might be the most important story you'll ever add to your arsenal.
The fundamental premise is this: If you were to start a business selling hamburgers tomorrow, what’s the No. 1 thing you should do to guarantee success?
Before you answer, notice your gut reaction. Do you start thinking about the quality of ingredients or your customer service approach? Do you get to work hiring a great chef or securing a location on the "good" side of town?
Those are all important variables, but they’re not the ultimate key to selling your hamburgers. Your primary focus must be finding a starving crowd of people. In other words, if you’re going to serve a market, first seek out the people with an insatiable desire for your product. Then you can shift your attention to the shiny aspects of building a business.
The ideas in "Feed a Starting Crowd" go beyond starting or operating a business. His book shows you how the principle applies to positioning and other vital strategies. Running an ad? Don't worry about the fancy design. First, find out where the buyers are and market specifically to their needs. Format follows function. Do this, and your marketing will win every time.
"Feed a Starting Crowd" provides a wealth of detail on how to bring the burger-stand mindset to your business. Coorey also gives advice on where and how to find profitable niches so you can launch a business on a shoestring budget.
6. "Contagious: Why Things Catch On," by Jonah Berger.
Most ads, businesses and ideas go unnoticed. But every once in awhile, something breaks out -- a Youtube video spreads across the nation, a dance takes over every corner of the globe, a charitable cause goes viral.
Each is remarkable in its own right. So how to explain the difference between the blockbusters and the millions of undiscovereds?
These seemingly overnight successes elicit a powerful response. Does your marketing do that? If you can't tell, put it to this test: Can you read your copy without feeling as if you simply must do something?
"Contagious" dives into what causes that "have-to-share" emotion. Even better, Berger gives you the schematics to engineer virality into your products, promotions and pitches. If finding the viral element within your products or ideas has you stumped, Berger shows you how to find inner remarkability.
7. "80/20 Sales and Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More," by Perry Marshall.
The 80/20 rule has more applications and ramifications than you can imagine. Marshall's "80/20 Sales and Marketing" illustrates just how pervasive it is. The book opens with a pretty simple example on shoe ownership that quickly will blow your mind. Then, he uses something as mundane as traffic to prove the 80/20 rule's finer points.
Consider this: 20 percent of roads carry 80 percent of traffic. Again, a straightforward application of the 80/20 rule. (By the way, in case you were wondering, the 80/20 rule also states that 20 percent of the input will generate 80 percent of the output. For example, 20 percent of customers will generate 80 percent of a business' revenue.)
Things really start to get interesting in the next step, as Marshall uncovers layer upon layer:
- 20 percent of the initial 20 percent of roads will carry 80 percent of the 80 percent's traffic. Put another way, 4 percent of the roads (that's 20 percent of 20 percent) carry 64 percent (and that's 80 percent of 80 percent) of the traffic.
- 0.8 percent of the roads carry 51.2 percent of the traffic.
- And so on, and so on.
The math makes you think, and so does the big idea: Some things require almost zero time, effort or resources and will generate massive value. Great marketing begins with creating products for the 20 percent who will generate 80 percent of your profits (there's the input equation again).
Marshall provides plenty of thought-provoking examples that dig deeper into the 80/20 rule's hard math. For me, the takeaway means marketers should spend their time figuring out what those key leverage points are in their industry, then focus only on those aspects as they build their initial campaign strategy.
Following the 80/20 approach also prevents marketers from falling victim to one of the most crippling things any of us can do -- attempting to get everything right from the start. Marshall's book tells us not to do that. You'll waste your day trying to be flawless. Once you start 80/20-ing all your efforts, you'll be light years ahead of your competition. They'll be the folks sitting on the sidelines, waiting for perfection.
Enjoy this list? Add these titles to your library first and then check out an even wider-ranging roster I've assembled on my website. The forward-thinking experts behind these books have the professional and life experiences to help you transform the way you market your products and services for good.