Business of Marketing

The 5 Books Every Marketer Must Read

July 7, 2022
Digital Surgeons

Whether you’re a writer who wants to become a better marketer or a marketer who needs to dust off your copy chops, this reading list is going to help you improve your skills. 

These books formed the foundation of my mindset around copywriting, and are ones I still revisit periodically to mine for valuable nuggets of insight. 

My advice is to read through this list in chronological order so that the learnings from each of these books spill over into the next. These books will inspire you to create meaningful content that builds brands and arm you with the frameworks and methods that A-list copywriters have used for 50+ years to write words that drive action (and sales).

Crushing It! By Gary Vaynerchuk

Whether your love him or you can’t stand the guy, Gary Vaynerchuk has had a hand in building some of the most successful businesses and brands to date in the industry. Let’s face it, the man knows a thing or two about influence. 

Written in Gary’s signature direct, no-bullshit style, Crushing It is a practical guide that dissects every major social media platform and tells the story of how individuals have leveraged those platforms to build influential brands and achieve massive commercial success. 

Why should you read this? 

Why am I recommending that copywriters read a book about personal branding and entrepreneurism? And why am I recommending it first on this list? Because “Crushing It” gets you fired up about content creation and brand building. If you were to grab this off my bookshelf at home, you’d find it stuffed with notes, underlines, and a-ha insights hastily scribbled in the margins. 

As a copywriter, and someone who plays a critical role in content creation for our clients at Digital Surgeons, “Crushing It” helped me to understand how important it is to create relatable social content that adds value and is built around trust and transparency. 

Published in 2018, it does leave out some of the emerging platforms in 2022 (I’m lookin at you, TikTok). But, I believe that the strategies and principles Vaynerchuk outlines can be applied to any type of social platform in perpetuity. “Crushing It!” is as much about mindset and work ethic as it is about practical application.  

Reading this makes you immediately want to take action – and any writing that actually makes me want to DO something is a win in my book. 

How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz

Based on the critically acclaimed NPR podcast of the same title “How I Built This” features a collection of stories that provide insights from the world’s top entrepreneurs on how to “start, launch, and build a successful venture.” 

How I Built This” earns the number two spot on the list because it’s the perfect companion to a book like "Crushing It" and can even be read side-by-side if you’re into that kind of thing.

Where “Crushing It” helps you to understand the landscape of social media, and how it can be leveraged to amplify a brand, “How I Built This” is a glimpse into the inner workings of how businesses are built from the ground up. 

Why should you read this? 

It’s a fun book to read, and one that I found myself excited to pick up every morning. It’s packed with gritty storytelling that takes you on a journey from the very first spark of an idea in an entrepreneur's mind, to a fully functioning business operation. 

As a copywriter or a marketer, you’re bound to encounter businesses at various stages in their lifecycle – from small solopreneur operations to VC-backed startup ventures and huge well-established enterprise organizations. “How I Built This” pulls back the curtain of these types of businesses and gives a detailed glimpse of how they were born, why they pivot, and when they hit the inflection point of their success. 

This book made me a better copywriter because it helped me gain a deeper understanding of the path to market for different types of businesses (DTCs, CPGs, B2B consulting, app development, e-commerce, etc), and how these businesses made strategic decisions based on product-market fit (or lack thereof). 

Another delightful, yet unintended, benefit is that it also made me stronger in my interactions with clients. For example, I’ve never once launched a DTC brand for myself, and I’ve never spent late nights at my kitchen table fretting over labels and shipping logistics, but after reading Raz’s book, I found it much easier to connect with those clients through a renewed sense of empathy and understanding. 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, PhD

Here’s the section in our list where we start to move from the inspirational into the instructional how-to-write-better type of books. 

But before we dive into headline templates, attention hooks, and copy frameworks, it’s important that we stop and take a moment to understand the human psychology behind the words you’re going to write. 

That’s where Robert Cialdini’s book “Influencecomes into play. This book is one I’d consider to be the ultimate authority on behavior psychology as it applies to sales, marketing, and persuasion. Seriously, if you’re in marketing in any capacity and you haven’t read this yet, stop what you’re doing right now and get your hands on a copy. 

Dr. Robert Cialdini is a well-respected scientist in his field and has devoted his entire career to studying human behavior. Specifically, what gets people to say “yes” to requests. Published in 1984, “Influence” still stands the test of time,  whether it’s 1984 or 2054 the things that motivate people will never change. 

Cialdini’s research focuses on his 6 Principles of Persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Scarcity
  4. Authority
  5. Liking
  6. Social proof

Why should you read this? 

At the other end of your writing, there’s always a human being. As marketers, we get hung up on metrics and conversions  But the truth is; that behind every abandoned cart, successful sale, or opened email, there’s a living, breathing person on the other side. And that person has a complex inner thought process that drives all of their decision-making. 

“Influence” takes you into the mind of the reader on the other side of your writing so that you can craft copy that speaks to their deepest needs and desires.  

Note: it can be heavy on the psychology-speak at times, and therefore a somewhat dense read. My recommendation is to read this along with the next book on the list to gain the most practical application to writing copy that converts. 

Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene M. Schwartz

At this point, you might be thinking, “Finally, we’re getting into actual copywriting books!".

But there's a method to my madness. This list is laid out to help you build a strong contextual foundation for the copy/marketing ecosystem that we work in today.

If you only ever read a single book on marketing copy in your entire life, make it this one

Why should you read this? 

One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Copy is not written. Copy is assembled. You do not write copy, you assemble it. You are working with a series of building blocks, you are putting the building blocks together, and then you are putting them in certain structures, you are building a little city of desire for your person to come live in.” 

I believe this quote perfectly sums up what you’re going to get from “Breakthrough Advertising”. You’re going to learn the building blocks of great copy, and you’re going to learn the right structures in which to assemble those blocks. 

Marketers today still use the “Stages of Awareness” framework that Shwartz pioneered. This book helps you understand the blocks and structures of copy as they exist inside the reader's stage of awareness. 

Do you want to take what you learned about human persuasion in “Influence” and actually apply it by writing copy that converts? This is the tome that brings it all together. 

What’s with the hefty price tag? 

You can purchase “Breakthrough Advertising” online anywhere from $125 to $400, but it's well worth the hefty price tag that comes with it.  Originally published for a limited run in 1966, this incredible book has since become a revered classic in the marketing industry. 

At the time of writing this blog, my recommendation would be to purchase the book from Brian Kurtz of Titans Marketing who has revitalized its 

publishing in collaboration with Eugene’s wife. Brian was also a personal friend of Gene’s. 

When purchased through Titans, you'll get some freebies and swipe files along with your purchase. Your copy of the book will also include a sales letter written by Brian himself (another piece of amazing writing to add to the old swipe file). 

Finding the Right Message by Jennifer Havice

So now you understand the social media landscape, the foundations of building businesses, the psychology behind customer decisions, AND how to write words that make people want to do things. You might be thinking “what else do I really need to know?” Herein lies the final piece of the puzzle: voice of customer research

Finding the Right Message” is full of valuable insights from a seasoned copywriter and will provide you with an excellent framework for conducting voice of customer research.

Why should you read this?

The reality is, that all of these insights mean nothing if you’re not identifying the RIGHT message to use at critical touchpoints in your buyer’s journey. Where Shwartz introduced us to the “Stages of Awareness” in “Breakthrough Advertising” Havice takes this a step further in “Finding the Right Message” by giving you a research method that pinpoints exactly how to uncover the different types of messages that will move your customer through the different stages of awareness (AKA how to increase conversions by using customer research to identify WHAT to say and WHEN to say it). 

BONUS BOOK: Write Dumb: Better Writing by Thinking Less by James Dowd

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a copy how-to book from Digital Surgeon’s very own VP/Creative Director, James Dowd. “Write Dumb” is all about how uncovering the “straight-up stupid secrets to crafting the written word and discovering that writing is far easier than people realize”. 

Why should you read this?

Like any craft that people dedicate their entire careers to, writing can be one of those things that seem daunting and complicated, especially if you’re new. In “Write Dumb” James lets everyone in on a not-so-secret secret that all writers know; we take shortcuts whenever possible. 

Professional copywriters understand the importance of structures and frameworks, but we also know that in today’s fast-paced world, marketing waits for no one. This book will let you in some tricks of the trade to produce great quality copy faster. 

It is my firm belief that anyone can write great copy, the most important quality you must have is curiosity.

If you’re the type of person who finds yourself with an innate curiosity for human beings, and what makes them tick, then you’re already well on your way to crafting copy that converts. 

P.S The fact that you’ve made it all the way to the bottom of this article speaks volumes for your curiosity, now get out there and start learning! 

Thanks for reading.
Digital Surgeons
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