“What books do you recommend in order to improve our company’s online marketing?”
I was asked that recently…. And I think that the person asking the question was rather taken back with my answer.
They thought they were going to get a list of some of the summer’s “hot” online marketing books, written by trendy names like Gary Vaynerchuk or Jay Baer.
But while it’s undeniably important to stay up-to-date with the latest theories and “best practice” (oh, how I hate that jargon), it’s not where I think you’ll get the best value. They’re current, but they’re not timeless.
The books I recommended were different: Back-to-basics classics. I like them because they explain the fundamentals of good writing, including how to structure compelling copy, how to decide which offer to make, and how to tap into your readers’ psychology to increase their response. All the building blocks you need to master and yet are so often overlooked.
While it’s undeniable that marketing has come a long way since these books were published – in fact, some of them were published before the Internet was even a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye – I’m convinced that they will still be read and learned from in 50 years’ time.
They’re my go-to marketing books, and where any serious student of marketing should start.
- Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. Written in 1966, this rare volume has been known to sell for $900 used, and is now available on Amazon.co.uk for £441 (plus £2.80 delivery!). But luckily, I have a PDF which I’m happy to send you if email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.It would be worth every penny if you bought the original, though. Schwartz, who in his day was one of the world’s highest paid copywriters, shows you how to position your product so that it appears utterly distinctive.His insight is that you can’t create your marketing in a vacuum. You need to understand what kind of offers your competition has already made to your target market, and adjust the type of offer you make accordingly.Incredibly, this is still a revolutionary idea to many marketers.Schwartz explains how to do this step-by-step, and then goes through seven “basic techniques” to make your offer really resonate with your prospects once you’ve hit on a winner. Some of the examples are outdated, but the principles are essential.
- Gary Bencivenga’s Marketing Bullets. This one’s not a book but a collection of emails written by “the world’s greatest living copywriter”. He released them just before he retired, claiming he wanted to share his greatest secrets with the world.As a group they’re not particularly structured, but each one is a gem. He explains which words to use in your headlines to be persuasive, how to overcome your prospects’ natural scepticism, how to come up with new ideas for your copy, how to reel in new leads, and more.But best of all, each one is beautifully written. They’re models of persuasiveness themselves, and worth studying for that alone.You’ll be happy to hear that they’re available for free online.
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy.David Ogilvy, “the father of modern advertising”, mixes a bit of personal autobiography with an account of how he created some of the world’s most famous ads.His insights are scattered throughout the book: Make sure every campaign has a “big idea”, focus on getting your headline right because most people don’t get any further than that, spend an enormous amount of time getting to know your product, long copy allows you to sell hardest, and so on.This is probably the most outdated of these books (it was published in 1983), but it’s still worthwhile and it’s still fun. Ogilvy’s writing is charming and chatty, and towards the end he takes a little detour to talk about the men (and they were all men) who influenced his own thinking during his career.If you run any kind of agency, he also dispenses some invaluable advice on how to hire the best people (not just the best – make sure they’re better than you!), get the clients that you want and other business tips.The ads he talks about are all reproduced so you can see exactly what he’s referring to. I’ve only read the Kindle edition so I haven’t seen the print version, but it looks bright and colourful on Amazon.
- How to Write Sales Letters That Sell by Drayton Bird.Not, strictly speaking, an online marketing book, but a guide to writing direct mail.However, copy is copy – and the principles Bird outlines here are directly transferable online. There’s no tougher gig than selling through direct mail, to people who consider your letter junk. If you can sell through a direct mail campaign, you can sell anything in any forum….Bird, who used to work with Ogilvy, covers what you need to know before sitting down to write, how to structure your letters, how to write a great headline, what kinds of offers work best and how to test your ideas. (He even includes Schwartz’s idea about understanding the sophistication of your market.) The book is full of real examples of both good and bad letters, which bring it to life. In fact sometimes I just flip through the book to look at the letters because many of them are inspiring.
That’s it from me. Which marketing books do you return to, again and again? Comment below – I’d love know.