7 Modern Marketing Books for the 21st Century

A lot is being written on marketing in the age of social media, start-ups, and changing consumer habits. There are good ideas and explanations, and of course there are a lot of books that offer no additional value. This is why we compiled the 7 best modern marketing books for you to get started. These books are a good introduction to what marketing in the 21st is and will continue to be.

In contrast to the classical marketing books, such as Kotler, these books focus more on the practicalities rather than the principles. But as with everything that is new, you never know how effective it will be until later. So look at the key messages of the below modern marketing books, but remember that not everything works or will continue to work. You have to do your own research and experiment by yourself.

Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey by Bob Hoffman

Front cover of the book 'Marketers are from Mars, customers are from from New Jersey' by Bob Hoffman.

First on the list of modern marketing books, and essential if you want to cut through the bullshit that often surrounds marketing, is Marketers are from Mars, Consumers are from New Jersey. In it, Bob Hoffman describes how marketers and consumers are living in totally different worlds. Marketers have created a delusion for themselves about what works, what consumers want, and the effectiveness of “content” and social media.

This book is a re-bundling of some of the content that was published on his popular blog, The Ad Contrarian. It’s definitely worth to check out both the blog and the book if you want to be grounded in reality as a marketing professional.

View book on Amazon.

Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

Front cover of the book 'Building A Story Brand' by Donald Miller.

One of the most important and difficult things to do is to connect a brand to consumers. If consumers don’t know the brand or if they don’t have any feelings towards the brand it will be difficult to sell and grow the business. In this book Donald Miller describes how to best connect with customers, how to write a brand message that actually works, and how to explain the value that you’re offering. In short: how to best communicate who you are and what you do.

While the book is a good read and very useful for both company branding as well as personal branding, it is also a vehicle for Miller to upsell his expensive courses. Especially towards the end of the book this is starting to become more obvious. It’s (perhaps) smart for him, but as a reader it can be disappointing – so be aware of that.

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Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday

Front cover of the book 'Growth Hacker Marketing' by Ryan Holiday.

If you’re new to the world of growth hacking then this book is a great primer to get started. Growth hacking is the non-traditional approach to quickly grow a new business. As Holiday states in the book: “A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable. Their tools are emails, data targeting, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity, and money.”

However, if you’re an experienced marketeer, or are already familiar with the basics of growth hacking then this book is probably not the best. It’s a good introduction, but it doesn’t contain much advanced topics or case studies that might be more of interest to you. Still, it’s included in the list because it provides a new way of approaching marketing – one that is undoubtedly essential in the modern world.

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Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Front cover of the book 'Contagious: Why Things Catch On' by Jonah Berger.

Why do some things go viral? Why do some products or services succeed, while others (that are similar) don’t? These are questions that most marketers will struggle with: how can we position or promote this to ensure it becomes popular?

In this book Jonah Berger, a Wharton marketing professor, explains how things become contagious and why they spread. The book is a good introduction for understanding why things catch on, and how you can position your content, service, or product to maximize the chances of it going viral.

His course on Coursera covers much of the same content and is also worth to check out.

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Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan

Front cover of 'Why She Buys' by Bridget Brennan.

At first sight this might be a strange book to include on the list. But after some reflection it makes sense: females are the driving force for many purchases (Brennan cites 80% of all purchases in US), but not many marketers reflect on gender difference in their marketing and outreach. What works for men, doesn’t necessarily work for women.

The saying that women are from Venus, and men are from Mars holds true in some respect. And this is why, as a marketeer, you need to understand the gender difference and how it affects the buying process and the marketing process.

If you’re male, you will most definitely learn a lot. But even for females it would be good to read this book because businesses, in general, are very masculine oriented. So the things you might (un)consciously know, do not necessarily translate into the correct approach in practice with your own marketing ideas or campaigns.

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They Ask You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer by Marcus Sheridan

Front cover of the book 'They Ask You Answer' by Marcus Sheridan.

In contradiction to Hoffman’s book on modern marketing bullshit and myth, we still wanted to include a book on content marketing. It might not work for every business, or for every product or service. But there is a case to be made that content marketing can be used successfully, and this book is an example of that.

The basic idea is this: when you have a question, what do you do? You probably type it into Google. And if you, or your business, shows up in the first results with the perfect answer you create a sales funnel. Not everyone will be interested in buying of course, but by being seen as a truthful authority, people will come to you with their problems. Content marketing is not advertising and that is probably where many people go wrong.

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The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing? by Jeff Hayzlett

Front cover of the book 'The Mirror Test: Is your business really breathing?' by Jeffrey Hayzlett.

Hayzlett is probably most well known for his television appearances and as the former CMO of the Kodak company, but this book is also worth checking out. It is in line with the first book on this list: we can talk about gimmicks, new things, but in the end there’s only one thing that matters, the bottom line. What works, and what doesn’t work?

In the book Hayzlett present many real-world marketing insights that work. Rather than creating a “buzz” or participating in the latest gimmick, we should improve our business thinking and focus on the things that produce results. In the world of modern marketing books and techniques it’s good to stay grounded to reality. This book does just that.

View book on Amazon.

These 7 modern marketing books should give you a good introduction to what’s going on in the marketing world right now. As we said in the introduction, it’s good to know about the current trends in the marketing world. But remember, in the spirit of the first and last book on this list, that marketers often live in a delusion. Not everything that we think works, actually works. Not everything that can be tracked should be the basis for performance evaluation.

So read, think, and experiment. Take the key lessons from the above books, but focus on the bottom line. That’s the only way to know if your marketing works or not.

Featured image credit: Toa Heftiba (Unsplash)

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