17 Best Digital Marketing & Advertising Books To Help Improve Your Business

These are the best digital marketing and online advertising books to make you a better marketer and improve your business.

What is marketing?

When I was doing my university marketing degree, Kotler was the marketing bible in which he defined marketing as“an exchange of value”.

Not that useful or helpful.

But as my career evolved I started collecting other definitions such as :

Marketing is any activity a company does that finds, gets or keeps customers (profitably)

Marketing helps to sell the right Product that solves the right Problem to the right People in the right Places at the right time with the right Promotion at the right Price; Profitably.

The Revenge of Brand X by Rob Frankel

It was around 1998 that I was introduced to branding.

Most people don’t have a clue what branding is.

They think it’s a nice logo, nice colours, fonts and a strapline.

Rob Frankel explains that branding is about “getting your prospects to see you as the only solution to their problem”.

I worked on my own branding with Rob and he created my personal brand message:

Unlike other web designers, we build websites with business in mind.

It’s a way to tell potential customers I’m focused on the business aspects of a website that other web designers aren’t.

I’m moved on from web design so I do need to reposition my brand as I target a different customers with different marketing services.

So where does brand fit in the marketing and design puzzle ?

You create a brand message using Rob’s interpretations, then you design it, then you raise awareness of it through marketing.

Fashion Brands : Branding Style from Armani to Zara

Fashion marketing isn’t my passion but I get it.

A friend connected me to a fashion brand who were planning e-commerce into their sales strategy.

Can you imagine me trying to decipher their brand with the problem – solution approach ?

So I bought a fashion branding book on Kindle to read on the train journey to London.

When one brand’s pair of jeans looks the same as another brand’s jeans that’s when the brand has to tell a story.

So fashion branding is telling the consumer a story about what’s behind the brand.

Think about the Lambretta brand; what’s their story ?

You think about scooters, mods and Quadrophenia and the Union Jack.

That’s the story their brand sells.

The Patek Phillippe watch brand

It must be tough selling an expensive watch and seeing Apple’s market entrance eating your brand share.

But Patek brand tell their own brand story using classic consumer psychology.

You never actually own a Patek Philippe.

You merely look after it for the next generation.

A Patek watch isn’t a device for telling time.

It’s an heirloom that transfers values across generations.

Now that’s how you sell a high ticket price to people who are used to buying an investment.

Go look at their website; it’s all about their back story.

One more thing about fashion brands

I worked with a UK fashion brand earlier this year.

One thing they were bloody good at is product and photography.

These brands know that a “fashion picture is never a picture of a dress, it’s a picture of a the women who wears it”.

Or to put it this way “The best marketing in the world comes down to a person standing in front of a mirror”.

Creating You & Co

Around 2002 I knew my sponsorship marketing job was nearing the end of its contract.

I started reading a book called Creating You and Co by William Bridges.

I had thoughts about running my own digital marketing agency.

Project management in the marketing department for a big company was unsatisfying; you didn’t actually implement work.

My sponsorship marketing job was very hands on and practical and I loved that aspect.

I was trying to figure out where I would get work from next.

So to paraphrase the book, the author said that companies are like marketplaces in their own right.

They have budgets and they have problems.

Your job is to find the biggest problems your employer faces for which you and your skills are the solution.

And this quote resonated with Rob Frankel and his branding approach.

Creating You & Co book is full of exercises for you to figure out your personal brand DATA; desires, abilities, temperament and assets.

And as I was leaving the big corporate world behind that’s when Seth Godin’s marketing books had (and still have) a huge influence on me.

Fixing Micah’s Site

Seth explains how he met a web designer and told her the opportunity to pursue.

Fixing Micah’s Site was a PDF that used to be a free download on Amazon.

If you want a copy Google it or contact me and ask for a copy.

To paragraph

“The next generation of web designers will build client’s a 4 page engine of revenue.

The client buys target with adwords and you constantly tweak and redesign the pages to turn strangers into friend into paying customers”

This was 15 years ago.

The people who actioned this advice now runs big PPC agencies that buy adwords traffic and tweak the web pages.

They may not have directly read Seth’s advice but they became the next generation of web designers.

Then Seth explained how to buy clicks from Google Adwords.

And most business people and website owners still do not understand the maths behind buying clicks to grow their online business.

Knock Knock : Seth Godin’s Incomplete Guide to Building a Website that Works

Fixing Micah’s site was like a draft version before becoming the more polished Knock Knock book.

It’s a great book to learn about online persuasion, online sales funnels, marketing costs and sales lead generation.

Both are similar books but Knock Knock has more case studies.

Permission Marketing

In 2020, nearly 22 years after its publication the permission marketing strategy is as relevant as 1998.

I even have my original copy next to my Mac.

Permission Marketing is definitely the most influential digital marketing book of all time.

The book is a digital marketing strategy and I’d summarise it like this.

  • Interruption marketing starts with advertising
  • Offer the prospect an incentive to volunteer to hear from you.
  • Using the attention the prospect offered you teach them over time via email marketing about your product or service.
  • You offer more incentives to get more permission.
  • Over time you leverage permission to change their behaviour towards profit.

The relationship is like dating over time rather than going for the one night stand that advertising has historically behaviour.

The Big Red Fez

Imagine your website visitors are monkeys.

Another classic Seth Godin marketing book is the Big Red Fez.

“Most sites are poorly designed.

As a result the owners of the sites need to pay more money for more traffic to get desired results.”

The best way to motivate a monkey is to use a banana.

If the banana isn’t easy to see or get the monkey will lose interest.

Make the it clear to the monkey and odds are he’ll do what you want.

Now I’d never compare my website visitors to monkeys; nor does Seth !

But Seth is making the point you need to have obvious offers with signs pointing to them if you want the visitors to do what you want.

HTML and CSS Web Standards

The more involved I got with websites the more I realised I lacked basic html and css skills.

There are more modern html and css books but you absolutely need basic skills like this in marketing today.

Today’s internet marketing professionals must have these basic skills.

  1. How to format a page from the page title to the header.
  2. How to put a table or two columns on a page.

And I’ve retained the html and css I learned and use these skills daily.

The New Marketing Manifesto by John Grant

John Grant ran a big advertising agency (St Lukes) in the late 90’s.

New Marketing Manifesto set out the new ways to launch multichannel marketing campaigns.

If you read the book today, the ideas, case studies and strategies of 1999 fit right into 2020 as John was way ahead of his time

One marketing rule was to get up close and personal.

Today every brand gives you a pathway into your brand through their social presence.

What I love about this book (and yes I still use it) is how to work on a strategy.

Let me quote from the book.

The strategy for IKEA Chuck Out Your Chintz went like this:

QuestionIKEA Answer
Why?Expansion into middle England (and two-thirds of UK adults don’t like modern decor.
How?Challenge and change people’s tastes.
Who?Women aged 25-45; the key decor decision makers.
What?Furniture feminism (if you decor were a dress would you wear it ?)
Where?TV advertising – quick, direct and pungent.
When?September – key sales period, launch of new catalogue.

That’s probably the greatest marketing strategy document you’ll every read in the above table.

The why – how approach is different from the normal marketing planning process.

You will have breakthrough marketing campaigns if you can answer the why and how this way.

Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott

My formative marketing years were spent mostly working on the client side of marketing.

I’ve always been somewhat envious of the famous advertising men like Don Draper and Dave Trott.

You start reading Predatory Thinking and it’s as if a bloke from the East End of London is telling you a bunch of really funny stories.

You completely forget you bought this to learn about digital marketing strategy but then Dave connects the stories to business.

Then he goes in for the kill.

When was the last time you read an advertising brief that identified where we’d be taking sales from ?

We talk about branding and hope it will act like a magnet.

Magically attracting people from somewhere.

Client’s need someone who can operate for them in the consumer’s world, who understands the consumer’s mind.

Dave’s book gives a good insight in how advertising agencies think and work.

The War of Art

Strictly not a digital marketing book but I had to include The War of Art in this post.

If you have ever been stuck writing, creating or launching something then this is the book for you.

Once you read the book and recognise what’s getting you stuck isn’t personal then you’ll become a better do-er than delayer.

Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley

I bought Oversubscribed a couple of years ago as I was planning to create a learning platform with a paid subscription.

I took 2 key learnings from the book.

Market to people so that they have interacted with your content for 7 hours before you started selling to them.

And don’t release your product until you are oversubscribed.

For example, if you have 500 people who have downloaded your report you have the capacity for 5 sales – that’s soft interest.

If you’ve not hit that target then keep building up interest and educating people with free and paid resources.

There are few better marketing toolkits for search engine optimisation business.

Ultimate Guide to Google Adwords

When I think of Google Adwords I think of Perry Marshall.

If you haven’t done online advertising before, get a £75 or £100 Adwords vouchers and buy Perry’s book.

As a business owner you will be able to run a very simple and basic campaign in less than a week.

Adwords is very complicated today but Perry explains and demonstrates it in is a very simple manner.

Marketing Outrageously

I bought the Marketing Outrageously book written by the owner of a lower league American baseball team.

At the time in my career I was involved in leveraging a sports sponsorship deal and I didn’t have a network of peers to bounce ideas off.

There’s a great story in the book how the author hired an Elvis impersonator for pre match and post match entertainment.

He bundled the entertainment and the baseball match to sell ticket for a bottom of the league team.

He explains how bottom of the table teams should be promoting the famous players of the opposition to encourage ticket sales for their home matches.

And every chapter in the book is focused on marketing activity linked to the bottom line.

Truth, Lies and Advertising

Truth, Lies and Advertising is about account brand planning within advertising agencies.

The sole purpose of accounting planning is to process advertising that truly connects with consumers.

I’m trying to think of advertising that’s really connected with me.

The one that comes to mind is Buster the Boxer advert for John Lewis a few years ago.

Girl bounces on her bed on Xmas Eve; dad is assembling a trampoline outside in the cold and snow.

The garden foxes and a badger start bouncing on the trampoline as the Buster the Box looks from the living room and growls at them then whins.

Christmas morning arrives, the girl runs downstairs and outside towards the trampoline only for Buster to overtake the girl and jump onto and bounce on the trampoline first.

The girl and parents look on in shock as the ad closes with “Gifts that everyone will love”.

Where does that idea come from and how do the ad guys know this advert will connect with shoppers ?

The author takes us into the planning process and talks about problem solving.

The Russian astronauts solved the pen writing problem in space by taking pencils.

There’s a great story how the author had to find a consumer friendly way to show and explain how a megapixel camera worked.

The benefit of a megapixel camera is that the image taken is so sharp you could not only see a bee’s balls but also count the number of hairs on them.

He used this as a metaphor for the creative team (not the client god forbid) to explain the technology in an interesting way to spark consumer friendly advertising.

Confessions of an Advertising Man

I’m young enough to still remember walking into a Don Draper style advertising meeting, smoke filled room, Jack Daniels on the drinks trolley and a secretary dictating shorthand notes.

The era of mass advertising doesn’t seem that long ago and David Ogilvy was the guru.

I purchased “Confessions of an Advertising Man” published in 1963 by David Ogilvy in the late 80s at university.

There’s a chapter on how to write copy that is still relevant today especially when writing adverts, blog posts and articles.

  • The headline is the most important element in advertisements.
  • 5 times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.
  • If you want to catch the eye of mothers, put Mothers in the headline.
  • Promise a benefit – How Women Over 35 Can Look Younger.
  • Inject news into your headline – free and new are the two most powerful words.
  • Use phrases like How To, Announcing, Introducing, Improvement, Quick, Easy, Compare, Hurry, Last Chance.
  • Include selling promise in the headline.
  • Headlines containing 6 – 12 words pull more returns than short headlines.
  • People are more likely to read your body copy if the headline arouses curiosity.
  • When you write body copy pretend your talking to the person most likely to buy and they asked you “I’m thinking of buying this product, which would you recommend”.
  • Write as if you’re answering that question.
  • How long should the copy be ?
  • If you’re advertising chewing gum there’s not much to say so the copy should be short.
  • Readers fall off after 50 words of copy but drop little between 50 and 500 words.
  • In my first Rolls Royce advert I used 719 words piling one fascinating fact on another.

Having read this 55 year old advertising advice I could easily apply it to writing a sales page or blog post in 2020.

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

I think I purchased 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing just as I started my first marketing job.

I won’t bore you with all these marketing laws but rather share the example of the law of category.

  • Who was the first name on the moon ?
  • Who’s the greatest movie director ?
  • When you think of mobile phones, what’s the first brand you think of ?
  • Name a light beer ?

I’ll bet 90% of people reading this page answer the same as me.

One law of marketing is to own a category or create one you are first in.

For decades the brand Hoover owned the vacuum or carpet cleaner category.

Then Dyson came also with better products.

Today you don’t ask for or buy a hoover or vacuum cleaner you go to buy a Dyson.

Social Media Marketing Books

I have read Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crushing It book.

This social media marketing book didn’t resonate with me first time so I should re-read.

It’s basically just full of case studies about small business influencer campaigns; nothing concrete about search engine marketing.

I’m sure Gary is great at what he does but there’s nothing it this book you won’t learn by following his social media channels.

The only thing of value I took from him was to check the App Store charts regularly to see what the next social platform will be.

If you can recommend another social media marketing book I’d gladly quote you here.

SEO Books

Honestly, don’t buy an SEO books.

Follow Ahref’s on YouTube; their digital content is incredible.


These are some of the best digital marketing books I’ve read and ideal digital learning materials to help with your online presence, digital strategy and growth.