These marketing books are worth my thirty thousand dollar master’s degree

archival photo of madison avenue new york

These marketing books are worth my thirty thousand dollar master’s degree

Don’t get me wrong. I loved doing my master’s degree in marketing.

Marketing has a great blend of psychology, strategy, and creativity. All things I love. You probably do as well.

But these standout books are practically worth as much as that $32,000 Master’s degree. These books, not textbooks, have helped me with tons of clients, from startup entrepreneurs to large international operators.

So here is my selection of must-read marketing books (with my personal affiliate links).

My criteria for recommending these books to you is:

  • insightful and actionable
  • easy to understand (plain English)
  • fun to read
  • easy to get

Confessions of an Advertising Man

by David Ogilvy  (1963)


At age seven, I was writing poster ads for our small toilet. Those four apricot walls were at the end of a dim corridor. The showstopper was the spare toilet roll tucked under the crocheted dress of a surprised-looking doll.

I remember some of the headlines I wrote.

I Aint Heavy, It’s My Bladder; The Pool of Relief & Tranquility; The Toilet is Open 7 days a week… more features, rather than benefits. But it was the beginning.

Some people hate advertising. It won’t surprise you that I’m not one of them.

I love writing and designing advertising copy. It is a total head rush.

David Ogilvy was one of my earliest forays into the dark side. I was a media and communication student doing semantic analysis of advertising and its evils. Joining them was unthinkable.

Unless your advertising has a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night

David Ogilvy

Ogilvy was the inspiration for Mad Men, which refers to Madison Avenue men. Ogilvy was a fresh and strikingly sharp observer of human behaviour.

Labelled the bible for the 1960’s advertising culture, his approach is still relevant and work today.

If you write ad copy, or do graphic design work, learn from the godfather.

Get Confessions of An Advertising Man



Building a Storybrand or Marketing Made Simple

by Donald Miller (2017)

marketing made simple book cover

I really like Donald Miller, even though his religion comes through a bit much. He is principled. He’s ethical. And he loves marketing and communication too. Who knew you could be both?

Miller’s message is simple. Be clear!

It is amazing how many businesses clutter their message. You don’t need a degree in semiology to know this. If your message is confused, no one will listen. They don’t try to work it out, they leave.

Miller’s Storybrand book and the follow-up, which I also recommend (but you probably don’t need both) is Marketing Made Simple.

Storybrand is all abut messaging and clarity.

He ties in storytelling and shows how powerful it is for business. I understand that he will son release another book called Victim, Villain, Hero, Guide. That, essentially, is how to think of your business brand. Identify the problem, set the stakes, solve the problem. That simple.

The businesses of the future I believe will be the one’s whose story is simple and clear.

Get Building a StoryBrand

Finally, the man with the hexagon.


The New Strategic Brand Management

by Jean-Noel Kapferer (2012)


ceiling lights in hexagon

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

I have used Kapferer’s brand identity prism for a decade. It’s extraordinary I don’t have my friend, the hexagon tattooed on my arm.

Oh, wait!

The brand identity prism is so simple, but a deeply useful way of exploring a brand so you can build one and protect it.

It really was a paradigm shift in thinking for brand managers and C-level executives.

This book has ranging insights across different sectors from luxury (where he is most well-known) to pharmaceutical brands.

My startup clients have loved this tool. I use it as a framework. We can take a pedestrian idea and give it higher-order values and brand story that signs.

Crystallised psychology and design, this book is the birthplace of that prism.

Get The New Strategic Brand Management

Marketing Warfare

by Al Ries and Jack Trout (2005)

man leaps from armoured tank

Photo by Chris Geirman on Unsplash


Reading this for the first time 15 years ago was like discovering a McDonald’s happy meal made from vegan immortality protein.

Okay, bad analogy.

But do you know what I mean? It is so easy to drink in and tasty to devour.

This book includes the powerful tactics and classic blunders. Even global brands like Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, and IBM make mistakes too, not just the little guys.

I still remember classic lines from Marketing Warfare that come back all the time. It is a total cult classic marketing book. And for very good reason.

Jack Trout has now passed away, but at the time, they created a powder keg. Definitely add this read to your arsenal.

Get Marketing Warfare 


Blue Ocean Strategy

by W. Chan Kim and Renée A. Mauborgne

calm blue ocean
While we are still looking at the big picture, few come up with a compelling new take than Kim and Mauborgne.

Blue Ocean Strategy is so clear, it’s crystal. The analogy is that it is better to find unoccupied territory in which to compete than to get lost in the choppy, bloody waters of fierce competition.  How do you do that? You innovate. You hybridise. You blend concepts and businesses. You co-create new solutions with customers, and more.

You read this book and say, oh duh. Of course.

Get Blue Ocean Strategy


Harvard Business Review (HBR) On Strategy


hbr on strategy book cover made infrared

Author photo


You might think from the name and bland cover design, this is going to be a dry and academic read.

Not so! HBR books are engaging with witty and visual language. They are brilliantly written little gems. A pleasure to read and full of C-suite level wisdom.

This is a definite advantage to the newcomer.

Get HBR’s On Strategy  by various expert authors.


The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

by Al Ries and Jack Trout (2002)

22 immutable laws of marketing book cover

Author Photo


This is the predecessor to Marketing Warfare by the same pair. It has their inimitable style and depth of experience.

Human psychology. Commonsense. Practical thinking.

This is one of the most illuminating marketing books you can get your hands on.

This book was written a long time ago now. But a lot of companies — big companies — still  break these laws and fail. This is your chance to know better.

You can learn why a simple name is better than an acronym. Why you shouldn’t extend your dairy milk brand into the category of orange juice, no matter how respected it is.

For a lover of great business literature, this is pure joy.

Get The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

The One-Page Marketing Plan

by Allan Dib (2018)

1 page marketing plan book cover

Author photo


If you are in a business any larger than three people, I wouldn’t recommend this exact approach. But if you are a sole trader or have a very simple business, this works fabulously well.

Extraordinarily simple. And genius.

I would only mention that most organisations have six markets to deal with, not just one. This book focuses wholly and solely on customer attraction.

Want customers? Get this.

Get The One-Page Marketing Plan


The Four Hour Work Week

by Tim Ferriss (2011)

person on beach chair reading

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash


This was recommended to me in 2011 by a client. Ever since, I have bought all of Tim’s books.

This was the breakthrough book that showed how digital marketing is an escape rope out of the daily grind.

Much of his advice still rings true, like not checking email all day. Shut those things off and give yourself time to do the things that matter.

I’m a big believer in flow states, so this works for me. The tricks with ebay and pricing strategies are still good.

Now, there are many more outsourcing websites and places for online sellers like Shopify, etsy, Squarespace, and Facebook has changed a lot.

This space changes every day. But the core principles still apply.

4HWW makes you want to jump in and start creating systems for your escape.

Get The Four Hour Work Week


To the seasoned marketer, these books may seem like commonsense suggestions. But commonsense is not common practice. Have you read them?

If you are wanting a career in marketing, these books will save you $30,000.