3 must-read Marketing Strategy books

3 must-read Marketing Strategy books

Marketing Strategy is a blend of art and science… not such an easy discipline to master.

To help you get into the tricky topic, here are 3 recommended books to help on your journey to creating an effective marketing strategy.

HOW NOT TO PLAN by Les Binet and Sarah Carter

Les Binet is Head of Effectiveness at Adam&EveDDB… they’re the ones who make the John Lewis Xmas ads!

He is probably the advertising world’s leading expert on effectiveness and a self-confessed excel boffin.

His legendary status was assured for co-authoring The Long and The Short Of It with Peter Field.

If you clicked that link, you’ll have enjoyed a frisson at the book’s price of £50!

Costly signalling!

A more affordable option is watching Les and Peter summarising the findings in many super intersting keynotes on YouTube.

How Not to Plan (66 ways to screw it up), written with the Global Planning Partner at the same agency, Sarah Carter, is a business book that sets out to be truly different.

As they say in the introduction:

We don’t want it to be clever. We just hope that it’s useful - on your desk, coffee-stained and well-thumbed.

And it is very useful.

And extremely readable.

Each chapter goes like this…

  1. Chapter title with negative word crossed out. e.g. How not to think about loyalty, turns into, How to think about loyalty… which immediately gets you thinking!

  2. Meaningful quote

  3. Short anecdote filled run down of the topic (no more than a 3-4 minute read)

  4. 2-minute checklist on how to do it well

  5. Useful Case study

If all business books were written like this, they wouldn’t be sitting on shelves un-read, half-read or forgotten.

It’s a treasure chest of advertising wisdom in a neat practical guide/workbook.

If you’re still not convinced, just consider the Section headings:

  1. Setting Objectives

  2. Product, Price and Place

  3. Brand and Communication

  4. Research and Analysis

  5. Talking and Thinking about Strategy

  6. Who are you talking to?

  7. Budgets and Media

  8. Creative Work

  9. Effectiveness and Evaluation

Basically, it has you covered for all your strategy needs.

And thanks to the super user-friendly format, you can dip in and out very easily to work on/think about issues, as and when you need them, rather than slogging through a long-winded traditional business book.

Here’s a nice vid of Les Binet doing his thing….

If you don’t speak Czech, then you might want to skip to 1:40 where Les first appears…

HOW BRANDS GROW by Byron Sharp

Byron Sharp is Professor of Marketing at the University of South Australia and is a director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, the world’s largest marketing research centre.

In other words, he knows his stuff.

And that’s why How Brands Grow is so often quoted as an essential read by marketing wizards like Les Binet and Mark Ritson.

It looks at the key questions modern marketers should know the answers for and gives evidence based answers.

To sum up the book in one sentence :

Most things that marketers think are true are wrong (as shown by Ehrenberg-Bass Institue evidence), but there are laws to help understand better.

If you are after an academic data-driven vibe (but written in a style for marketing professionals) as to how advertising really works, how price promotions work, how loyalty programs affect profits, then this is for you.

It also revels in its academic takedown of some marketing giants, such as Reichheld (inventor of the NPS score), Philip Kotler and more.

If you want to sound like you really know what you’re talking about, there are plenty of terms to learn and then throw out in meetings like:

Pareto law 60/20, Double jeopardy law, Retention double jeopardy, Law of prototypicality and the Duplication of purchase law.

All these and many more are explained.


Because marketing has been done to us for so long, we take it for granted.
Like the fish who doesn’t understand water, we fail to see what’s actually happening.
And don’t notice how it’s changing us.
It’s time to do something else with marketing, to do things better.
To cause a change you’d like to see in the world.…
To serve the people you care about.
The answer to just about every question at work, is really the question: “Who can you help?”
(Seth Godin - This is Marketing)

Seth Godin is undoubtedly a great thought leader, teacher, and presenter… and actually a great narrator of his own audiobooks, if you’re a fan of mellifluous tones.

If you’re in the marketing game and don’t know what Seth thinks, then you’ve got some catching up to do.

Just google the single word ‘Seth’.

After the Egyptian God and Seth Rogen (with his 9.2M Twitter followers), Seth Godin is your next hit, which kinda proves how well thought of he is.

Any of Seth’s numerous books will fill you with catalysts, inspiration and tangential thoughts on what marketing should look and feel like.

This is Marketing’ lies somewhere between a love letter, a call to arms and a fireside chat with a wise and beloved uncle.

It is not a marketing strategy text in the truest sense of the word, but it is filled with insights, examples and recommendations that will make you think differently about your marketing actions going forward.

E.g. You should work out why people who don’t buy from you are right in their decision: why are they right?

There’s a very useful ‘Marketing in 5 steps’ checklist, which you’d be wise to utilise.

And to help create your strategy, there is an extremely useful set of 13 questions (below).

If you can give considered, comprehensive and convincing answers to all the questions, you will have done a good deal of the hard yards into creating a meaningful marketing strategy.

A Simple Marketing Worksheet (to help create your strategy)

  1. Who’s it for?

  2. What’s it for?

  3. What is the worldview of the audience you’re seeking to reach?

  4. What are they afraid of?

  5. What story will you tell? Is it true?

  6. What change are you seeking to make?

  7. How will it change their status?

  8. How will you reach the early adopters and neophiliacs (the people that love the novelty)?

  9. Why will they tell their friends?

  10. What will they tell their friends?

  11. Where’s the network effect that will propel this forward?

  12. What asset are you building?

  13. Are you proud of it?

Marketing Strategy book - honourable mention

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy is not a marketing strategy book at all.

But it is an interesting read on the characteristics of good strategy in general.

It covers war to business, highlighting with examples that successful strategies emanate from:

  1. Diagnosis

  2. Guiding Policy

  3. Coherent Actions

According to author, Prof Richard Rumelt, strategy is all about simplicity and focussing multiple resources (especially on eliminating what you will NOT do) on a single objective.

There’s a lot to be learned that you can map on to your marketing strategy creation.

Be warned - this is not as light and as immediately useful a read as ‘How Not To Plan’ (above).

It’s an old-school type businessy book that is scholarly, and comprehensive.

It feels like it would be part of a reading list for an MBA… if that’s your kinda thing.

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Jay Baer podcast on marketing with empathy, a good strategy

Jay Baer podcast on marketing with empathy, a good strategy