Top 10 books that changed the way I do business

A client (David Edwards from UL) asked me yesterday for some advice on what books he should read to develop his product marketing knowledge.  This prompted me to reflect on which books have had the greatest influence on me.  All these books have had a material effect on my approach to creating growth strategies that everyone is convinced will work.

Product marketing is about more than marketing, it is about attracting more customers.  Over the years I have found very few marketing text books that were really helpful and stimulating.  But many books that have influenced the way I think about marketing and attracting customers.

None of these books give a simple answer straight out of the box.  They are all thought-provoking and will help you to move your thinking forward.  If you want easy answers then look elsewhere, if you like a challenging thought-provoking read, then take a look.

My top 10

The science and laws of marketing

How brands grow

Start with Byron Sharp.  He has taken the pioneering work of the late Andrew Ehrenberg and made it accessible to everyone.  This is about why it is more important of get more customers, not just focus on customer loyalty.  It is about why light buyers matter so much.  It is why the 80:20 rule is wrong.  It is based on years of research into how people actually behave and not anecdotes and armchair thinking about marketing theory and customer loyalty.



Byron shows us why evidence matters and how to bring science into marketing.  Byron shows you that there are 10 laws of marketing and why you cannot ignore them.
Watch his TEDX Talk here

The Text-Book

marketing byron

This is the only marketing textbook I would recommend.  It takes the laws of marketing as explained in How Brands Grow and tells you how to apply them to the business decisions you need to make to develop a marketing plan that will actually work.

It is written by whole team at the Ehrenberg Bass Institute of Marketing Science and has some good case studies.  It is aimed at university students studying marketing and strategy.

This academic work is known and been adapopted by global brand leaders like P&G, Mars, Unilever, Colgate and Google for some time.  It has only become accessible to everyone else in the past 5 years.

Leadership and innovation

Find your light bulb

Mike Harris shares his experience of creating totally new and game changing brands by taking a radical approach to providing service to customers in conservative industries.

Find Your Lightbulb draws from Mike’s experience of creating game changers in banking (First Direct and Egg) in telecoms with Mercury and in internet security with Garlik.

This book is about leadership and driving extraordinary ideas through your organisation and creating somethign that will attract more customers.


Behaviour and psychology

Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast Thinking Slow

Daniel Kahneman reveals why and how people’s decisions and behaviours are not entirely conscious or rational.  He discovered that we have two systems in our brain,  System 2 is the one we all know about, it is conscious, rational, slow and cautious.  System 1 is actually the driver of many decisions, it is unconscious, instinctive, fast and very importantly, we could not function without it.

This book helps you understand why people buy, why emotion matters, what triggers a purchase and you will think differently about how to attract customers when you have read it.

Advertising and marketing communications strategy

IPA Peter Field Les Binet, The long and short of it

This report analyses the results of 998 marketing campaigns.  These campaigns were all submitted to the IPA Annual Effectiveness Awards.  They were all assessed on the basis of the results and the effectiveness rather than subjective critieria like creativity or design

This report updates an important study called Marketing in the Era of Accountability. It tells you what worked and what did not work so well.



This highlights and confirms the importance of increasing market penetration (i.e. strategy speak for “getting more customers” ) and the role of share of voice in building market share.  They also discuss and demonstrate why generating emotional response to campaigns is important to get value for money from your marketing

Looking to the future

Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Improbable events

Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows us that looking to the future is a bit of a mugs game.  The most likely thing to happen in the future is an improbable vent that you cannot predict.  So stop worrying about it.

His writing is dense and a bit inaccessible, he is a mathematician and ex stock trader with a big brain.  But what he writes about is important and has implications for strategy and practical decisions.  I wrote about what we should do about this in 2008 in this post.



My conclusion is we should spend less time worrying about the future.  We should spend more time strengthening our ability to withstand unexpected shocks.  Read here

Social Media

Penny Power, Know me, like me, follow me

There is increasing evidence that digital marketing and social media are attracting a disproportionate share of advertising revenue as these new media have become more fashionable “must haves” in your marketing plan.

Penny Power takes a different approach and shows us what social media is really for and how to use it to build a following and create a network that will help you and your business and even how the network will help each other.

Penny’s approach echoes the whole Attractive Thinking ethos.  It is about attracting people not broacasting to them and capturing them.


This book is a classic, it may be 7 years old, but it is not out of date.  It reveals some fundamental truths about who we are, how we interact and what that means for your business, brand and marketing plan.


Good strategy, Bad strategy, Richard Rumelt,

Richard Rumelt has studied many strategies and the book has loads of examples.  This makes this very practical and well grounded.  Richard invites us to look inside the business for what we can do and what we are good at.

Rumelt dispels popular misconceptions about strategy – such as confusing it with ambitions, visions or financial goals – by very practically showing that a good strategy focuses on the challenges a business faces, and providing an insightful new approach for overcoming them.


Remember a strategy is merely a set of actions designed to achieve a particular goal. This book will bring you back to what really matters, so you create a plan that will work

Getting recognition and being recommended

Key Person of Influence, Daniel Priestley

This book together with the KPI programme showed me a whole buch of stuff that is known by entrepreneurs and not so well understood or taught in large corporate environments.

Daniel Priestley highlights five steps that are essential if you and/or your business are to gain recognition and be recommended.  Daniel has talked with thousands of entrepreneurs and gained insight into the problems they have to overcome.  The KPI method is an effective way to overcome them.

If you want to develop your career and be secure in your ability to attract customers or employers, then read this.

He has followed this up with another book called Oversubscribed how to get people queuing up to do business with you.

Avoid being misled by common sense

Common sense, Duncan Watts,  Everything is common sense until you know the answer

In the 2001 election, William Hague created the Common Sense campaign for the Tories.  It did not work.

“Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? And does higher pay incentivize people to work harder? If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again.


Common sense is one of the most dangerous ideas that pervades general thinking and our decision-making.  Yet science nearly always demonstrates that many ideas that were common sense were plain wrong.  (e.g. sun goes round the earth).  Duncan Watts will help you fine tune your antennae to detect common sense ideas that are misleading or just plain wrong.

And another 5 books

Inevitably I found it difficult to nail this list down to 10.  But the list above is my top 10. Here are my next 5.

  1. Viral marketing, The science of sharing.  Shows what goes viral and why
  2. Switch, How to change things when change is hard:  Argues that we need only understand how our minds function to unlock shortcuts to switches in behaviour.
  3. Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age:  Does what it says on the tin
  4. Marketing Manifesto:  The booklet from the Marketing Society on what marketing leaders must focus on to increase their effectiveness and impact  download here.  I helped the team to create this book.
  5. The One Thing You Need to Know: This helps you discover the question you need to answer, get the right answer and then get everyone else to agree with you.  You will be better at pitching within a corporate environment.