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12 Must-Read Digital Marketing Books in 2020

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A question I often get asked by students is, “What is the best digital marketing book?” 

It’s not easy to answer; the majority of digital marketing books don’t have a long shelf life. The information around best practices needs to be fluid as algorithms change, tactics lose their effectiveness, and the platform rules constantly shift. 

While digital marketing books that are rich on tactics continue to be updated and recycled, there are a number that have managed to withstand the test of time. Included in the list below are also the books that every digital marketer should read for developing a well-rounded understanding of behavioral psychology, growth mindset, and a few other areas that will help you stay ahead of the pack.

1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

It may have first been published in 1984, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of best marketing books that doesn’t include this ageless text.

Widely regarded as the marketer’s bible, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” provides a succinct and effective outline for understanding what leads to us making decisions. Cialdini uses storytelling and real-world examples to seamlessly guide readers through six principles of persuasion of which many a marketer have called upon to compose email copy, frame social media ads, and devise practically every memorable marketing campaign in recent history.

While you can’t expect to learn specific channel tactics from this digital marketing book, the application of reciprocity, consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity will ensure your digital marketing strategy is laser-focused on achieving conversion outcomes.

2. Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

Claude Hopkins was a man far ahead of his time. While A/B testing and statistical significance are commonplace in today’s digital marketing world, Hopkins was teaching early interpretations of these all the way back in 1923 in “Scientific Advertising.”

I find myself regularly returning to this book when looking to return to fundamentals surrounding ad creative and influencing buyers. At just 120 pages, you can almost read it in one go and won’t find a page that doesn’t offer a quick tip applicable to effective digital marketing today.

3. Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson

You will find iterated teachings of “Expert Secrets” within countless social media and digital marketing courses across the internet. Yes, it may have been published 4 years ago (which is like 40 years in digital marketing) but its valuable content is likely to remain a mainstay in the years ahead.

The appeal of “Expert Secrets” is that it provides a practical framework that takes the guesswork out of email marketing, content marketing, and copywriting. It helps you recognise expertise in areas and how your intimate knowledge of a subject can lead to the development of a successful business. Author and ClickFunnels founder Brunson is one of the most recognised figures in the digital marketing world, and the book really reads as a collection of the best practices he has discovered through the constant refinement of his own digital marketing strategy.

While everybody will have unique takeaways from this digital marketing book, I am constantly revisiting his tips towards the end on conducting the perfect webinar. He outlines the structure, the perfect timings between sections, and evergreen tips for keeping audiences engaged — a must read!

4. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

I read this book cover to cover on a plane trip from Sydney to Los Angeles and it’s fair to say it had me, well, hooked! 

“Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” is an excellent product and marketing book for learning what it takes to create habits in consumers. You’ll learn how to create triggers, get customers to take action, reward them, and encourage investment following the fundamentals adopted by many of the world’s leading technology companies. There are few digital marketing books that will provide you with better end-to-end insights into optimising the user journey of your audience. 

It’s packed with relevant examples of these techniques in practice and I found it refreshing that author Nir Eyal ended the book with some wise words on how to apply these teachings ethically while keeping your consumer’s well-being top of mind.

5. Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

In my opinion, this is the best book that’s been written on social media marketing strategy thus far. “Jab Jab Right Hook” was my first exposure to the teachings of Gary Vee, and his celebrity status should be of little surprise to those who have read about the common sense approach he preaches here.

The book asserts the importance of social media marketing in today’s landscape while providing a winning blueprint for developing an engaging community that will reward you in the long run. We all want sales, but it’s through adding value to our audience first that we earn the right to ask for something in return.

The audiobook is read by Gary Vee himself and he frequently deviates from the script to adding yet another nugget of social media gold. Whether you’re wanting to learn about creating content specifically for a social media platform or how to build an Instagram following from scratch, you’ll find something here to put into practice.

6. Content Machine by Dan Norris

“Content Machine” is an absolute must read for anyone looking to develop an epic content marketing strategy that drives commercial success.

The book details the exact content marketing strategy used by Norris to build a 7-figure business that was fuelled by an outstanding blog. You’ll learn that there is far more to winning the content marketing game than just creating the most blog posts, and the search engine optimization techniques and tools mentioned by Norris remain as relevant as ever in today’s digital marketing landscape.

7. Lean Analytics by Benjamin Yoskovitz and Alistair Croll

I won this book at a startup event and I’ll admit that the title didn’t win me over at first. However, after a colleague recommended it I decided to give it a try and couldn’t put it down.

I haven’t come across a book that better equips you for doing digital marketing in a tech startup than “Lean Analytics.” You’ll learn how to measure, but more importantly what to measure depending on the stage and focus of the company. 

If you’re intimidated by digital marketing jargon such as AARRR, CAC, CTR, and Virality, then this should be your first step. It’s as close to a startup digital marketing textbook as I have found, and will equally help B2B and B2C marketers level up.

8. Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

Any book by Seth Godin is a worthwhile read, but few have influenced my own approach to marketing strategy more than “Permission Marketing.”

While other digital marketing books will jump straight into tactics, Seth’s 1999 guide focuses on the importance of building a relationship with your customer over time. Marketing is most effective once your audience has given you permission to market to them, and to get to this stage we need to provide consistent value from the get-go.

A true highlight of this book for me was the variety of case studies Godin uses in detailing the evolution of marketing over time. You’ll certainly walk away with plenty of things to try for yourself.

9. StoryBrand by Donald Miller

In the words of Donald Miller, “Pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things.”

There are plenty of great books on copywriting, including classics like Gary Halbert’s “The Boron Letters” and David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” My personal recommendation however would be to start with “StoryBrand” for a more holistic and modern take on how to delight your customers with your digital marketing creative.

Too often businesses position themselves as the hero in the story. What customers really need is a guide who can help them successfully solve their problems. Miller will help you use content to make your customer the hero of your story and how to create your digital marketing assets accordingly.

10. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abrahams

This book helps us understand how incredibly simple it is to have an impact on the commercial success of a business.

While they’re not specifically about digital marketing, the teachings of this book will help shift your mindset to one that is always on the lookout for internal growth opportunities. You’ll end up with a range of ideas surrounding email marketing, search engine marketing, social media promotion, and conversion rate optimisation.

Abrahams helps us to identify the value of our customers, what we can do to increase that value, and how to find more of our ideal customers. So simple, yet so very effective!

11. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

It’s a mistake to consider a user who gets stuck on our website as foolish. If a potential buyer is unable to complete an action on our website, then it’s on us to change.

“Don’t Make Me Think” is a book you’ll find on virtually every UX designer’s bookcase and with so much of digital marketing depending on an excellent user experience, this is a book we simply can’t ignore. The journey from an ad click to conversion depends on reducing friction, limiting distractions, and maximising accessibility. You won’t find a better guide to achieving this than Krug’s classic, which remains the go-to resource on web design 20 years on from its first publication.

12. Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown

It’s only entered our vernacular in the past decade, but growth hacking has quickly made its way to the top of every company’s digital marketing wishlist. Growth hacking focuses on finding faster and more cost-effective solutions to success, and it’s only fitting that the godfather of the movement’s work makes the list of must-read digital marketing books.

Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacker in a blog post back in 2010, and went on to co-author “Hacking Growth” seven years later alongside renowned marketer Morgan Brown. The book walks through the humble beginnings of some of today’s biggest companies — Airbnb, Facebook, Uber — and the methodology behind their unprecedented growth. 

You won’t find a better methodology for attaining, retaining, engaging, and motivating customers than “Hacking Growth.” It will completely change the way you approach your digital marketing strategy and help you to use data to deliver driving cost-effective results.

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