The 10 most motivating books for marketers to read this summer

Planning your summer reading? Here are 10 books to fire you up for the second half of the year

May 14, 2018

Planning your summer reading? Here are 10 books to fire you up for the second half of the year

It’s time to finalise those summer holiday plans. And that includes deciding which books are worth cramming into your suitcase, taking to the beach, or grabbing a few moments with, while your nearest and dearest incinerates chicken on a barbecue. You’ll probably come across several essential summer reading lists for marketers over the next couple of months. But I’m not sure you’ll come across any quite like this one.

I haven’t chosen these 10 books because they align with the hot topics and buzzwords floating around the marketing zeitgeist. They haven’t made the list because they are the last word on AI, Virtual Reality or Blockchain. These are, purely and simply, the books that have had the biggest impact on me as a professional and as a marketer over the past six months. And I believe that’s the most genuine reason for recommending anything.

As I scan through the list, it strikes me that very few of these books are specifically about marketing at all. That makes sense to me. The best inspiration can come from unexpected quarters: counter-cultural memoirs, heart-wrenching family histories and challenges to the status quo. There are books in here that confront received marketing wisdom, but also books that confront other forms of standard thinking. There are books that will persuade you to look at history differently, to look at yourself differently, and to reconsider what you’re capable of. And there are books that will give you the tools to be a happier and more purposeful marketer in the second half of 2018 than in the first.

That sounds like a pretty worthwhile way to spend a few summer hours to me.

Boys Keep Swinging by Jake Shears
This is a beautifully written memoir about overcoming personal odds that lifts the lid on what it feels like to hit the big time as a rock star. However, these aren’t the only reasons it’s on my list. The story of the Scissor Sisters frontman is as exciting and amusing as you’d expect – but it’s also a deeply inspiring, personal tale that shows how creativity and empathy can free you from others’ prejudices.


The Last Ring Home by Minter Dial
This is a superb example of how the best storytelling fuses epic themes with personal narrative. It’s about a man who connects to deeper meaning in his life and his family history and it’s no coincidence that it’s written by one of the wisest marketing thinkers that I know. The Last Ring Home tells the tragic story of Minter Dial’s grandfather and namesake, a hero in the Second World War who died in a Japanese POW camp, and whose Annapolis navy ring was discovered decades later in a country where nobody expected it to be. However, it’s also the story of how that family history inspired a lifelong quest. Minter’s own journey is a big part of what makes this book such a compelling read.

Unbranding by Scott Stratten
Scott Stratten isn’t just an irreverent and hilarious marketing podcaster. He’s also a fantastic collector of marketing stories with an eye for what’s genuinely significant and what isn’t. In Unbranding, he brings all of these qualities together to show what brands really mean today. This book is a fierce reminder that the fundamentals of branding remain as important as ever – and it offers straight-up practical advice for applying them in a fast-changing digital landscape. Cutting through the noise, maintaining trust, dealing with criticism on social media: it’s all in here.


Exactly What to Say by Phil M Jones
What if somebody whispered to you that there are certain ‘magic words’ that could make you successful in sales, in marketing and in life? That’s the promise of this book by Phil M. Jones, one of the world’s most respected sales trainers, who’s also a fantastically clear, concise and engaging writer. It’s really a book about the power of the spoken word and the lost art of smart, sensitive and responsive conversation. Sure, it will help your sales colleagues to close deals, but it will also help you introduce your ideas with more confidence, and make your points more persuasively. In the process, it will subtly broaden your view of your own capabilities.


Attention Pays by Neen James
As marketers, we spend a great deal of time thinking about other people’s attention – how to capture it, and how to keep hold of it. We spend a lot less time thinking about our own. This book explains why it’s in the interests of any marketer to change that. It’s a meditation on the ability to focus productively, in work and in life. It will leave you with a plan for prioritising more effectively, finding more meaning in what you do, and respecting the attention of your audience in a way that makes it easier to earn it.

Enlightenment Now by Stephen Pinker
Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners recommended this book to me – and I’m very grateful for it. The next time you feel bombarded by news headlines that leave you sighing, shrugging and giving up on the planet, do yourself a favour and reach for a copy. Stephen Pinker is out to defend the progressive values and scientific achievements that have driven humanity forward for the last 300 years. He argues that the problems we are faced with today can all be overcome, provided we have faith in our own capabilities. Warning: there are strong opinions in this book, and I don’t guarantee you’ll agree with all of them. However, it’s a great starting point for challenging received wisdom about the state of the world we live in.

The Glass Wall by Sue Unerman
Forget the glass ceiling. According to Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom, the real problem for women in the workplace is a glass wall that ensures they are seen but never fully heard or integrated. And it affects them at every stage of their career, not just when they get near the top. This is a challenging book from a genuinely challenging thinker on gender equality and workplace culture. It takes on the assumptions and interpretations that are routinely projected onto professional women, and calls out the behaviours that keep them isolated. Just as importantly, it outlines the strategies that can help both women and men to overcome these hidden barriers, and build better businesses as a result.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
This is a hugely popular book and New York Times bestseller that deserves every bit of that popularity. It’s painfully honest, outrageously funny, refreshing and fulfilling. Unlike most books about thinking and living better, it will leave you feeling more contented and more grounded about where you are right now. And it will help you to think more deeply about what really matters to you in the process.

How to be F*cking Awesome by Dan Meredith
As you might guess from the title, this book is irreverent, rude and rough around the edges, and it’s very hard to put down as a result. Want to get off your ass and make your dreams happen? Want to feel amazing about life while working smarter rather than harder? Dan Meredith will help – and he writes in a way that makes it easy to dip into How to be F*cking Awesome whenever you’re in the mood for taking on the world.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
The best thing I can say about Barking Up the Wrong Tree is that I’m genuinely hesitant about putting it on this list. Why? Because it’s made such a positive difference to me that part of me just wants to hoard the magic. Fortunately for the rest of you, it turns out I’m a generous guy!

Eric Barker’s book uses a compelling combination of science and history to bust common myths about what makes people successful. However, he isn’t doing this to provide you with some new formula for success; he’s doing it to put success itself in context. When you understand what really helps some people to rise above the competition and become high-profile successes, you don’t necessarily want to copy them – because success is often the consequence of characteristics you don’t want. Equally though, you won’t waste time trying to follow the received (and incorrect) wisdom about what made these people the successes they were.

Most importantly of all, you’ll be invited to look differently at your own characteristics. It may well be the supposedly undesirable aspects of yourself that you should credit for helping you to get where you are. Celebrate them – and learn how to harness them to make a difference for yourself and others.

Challenging you to think differently and celebrate the unsung aspects of yourself at the same time.

That sounds like a pretty good way to wrap up a summer of reading and head into the second half of the year fired up to make a difference. And that’s what this reading list is all about.