While digital marketing roles can be wildly different in their day-to-day work (I write thousands of words each week while you may be building mountains of links or running ads with thousands of dollars behind them), they all have one big thing in common: they have to aim to keep learning.
This isn’t to say that other professions don’t have to do the same. They have to keep upgrading their skills consistently, too! The challenge digital marketers face, however, is finding the source to trust enough to learn from.
There are hundreds of sources publishing blog posts, ebooks, videos, tutorials, interviews, white papers, podcasts, checklists, cheatsheets, templates, and everything in between. How do you know what to rely on to help you progress in your career?
This is why I keep coming back to books. Often summing up years and even decades of someone’s work, they’re easy to come back to whenever you need a push in the right direction.
Below are my favorite books to read and reread when I’m looking for a framework to follow and more inspiration to do excellent work.
Only two books out of six are what you would consider an expected read for content marketers, so I hope you’ll find a book you haven’t considered reading until now.
1. Content Inc. by Joe Pulizzi
This list wouldn’t make sense if it didn’t recommend a book from one of the earliest greats of content marketing: Joe Pulizzi. He used the term ‘content marketing’ as early as 2001 and founded the Content Marketing Institute in 2007.
Whether you’re an OG content marketer who’s been around just as long or you’re just starting out, Content Inc. is a great read to revisit every year or so. Sometimes we’re so deep in our work that we forget to zoom out and look at our content’s big picture, and that’s what this book is a framework for.
The Content Inc. model consists of six steps: the sweet spot, the content tilt, building the base, harvesting audience, diversification, and monetization. My favorite one to revisit often is the content tilt—finding a content niche we can be the leading expert in.
In the world of skyscraping and reverse-engineering our competitor’s content, this is a good reminder we can build our content’s own unique advantage.
2. Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Made to Stick is a book that analyzes what makes ideas from advertising, stories, and urban myths stick in our brains. If you’ve ever wondered why some campaigns go viral and some others, often apparently better, somehow don’t—you’ll want to read this book.
The authors analyze the six ‘sticky qualities’ that make these campaigns and stories not only memorable, but impactful, too. They are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story-based, or ‘SUCCES’ as an easy to remember acronym.
My favorite parts of the book, and probably the most useful and practical ones, are the ‘clinic’ sections in each of these six parts. They cake an idea or a message and analyze why it didn’t stick; then, they rewrite to show how you could make it much more impactful and memorable.
You can take these learnings and apply them to a piece of content you’re working on immediately.
3. Obviously Awesome by April Dunford
I remember the exact moment when I knew I needed April’s book.
“But it’s a product positioning book, not a marketing one—it says so right on the cover,” you may be thinking, and you’re right to do so.
However, the burden of selling products is often purely on sales and marketing teams; they have quotas and targets and KPIs to hit. But even world-class products that are positioned poorly will fail.
This book helped me approach writing and messaging from this perspective. April also tackled the standard positioning statement, which looks something like this:
For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).
The issue with this statement is that it presumes you know how to fill in the blanks. It doesn’t tell you what to do next nor how to approach your product roadmap, marketing, sales, or really anything else.
April reframes the positioning process by implementing competitive alternatives, unique attributes, value, target market characteristics, market category, and relevant trends. She used this to reposition 16 products in her career, and it works—and spills into all other areas of business, including content marketing.
And if that wasn’t enough, check out this endorsement:
4. Break the Wheel by Jay Acunzo
If you feel like you often jump on recommendations and best practices from the industry, this is the book for you.
The idea behind the book is that we all too often rush to try what others said worked for them. In my own experience and observations, it’s the concept of long-form blog posts, hacking an algorithm of a social media platform, skyscraping a dozen posts that were already skyscraped… You get the idea.
I’m not saying any of these on their own are a practice you shouldn’t follow. I’m just saying that a blog post that can have 500 words doesn’t have to be 5,000 words just for the sake of a “best practice.” (And long-form blog posts are my bread and butter, so I don’t say this lightly.)
Jay does a great job by showing excellent examples of companies who decided to figure out what works for them instead of what works for everyone else. He offers six fundamental questions to guide you through this process.
Tip: if you like audiobooks, try listening to this book instead of reading it. Jay is such an engaging narrator!
5. The Creative Curve by Allen Gannett
Everything I mentioned earlier works really well if you have a consistent stream of ideas.
But what if you don’t? What if you’ve hit a writer’s block and you keep drawing blanks?
Allen’s book tackles the conventional belief that all the great ideas and creations were a result of an unpredictable stroke of genius. If you’ve ever felt envious of all the people that were lucky enough to be hit by an idea that you wish was yours, you’ll love this read.
Allen talks about creativity as a specific balance of familiarity and novelty. Anything too familiar and you’re cliché; too much originality and you’re a bit crazy.
He goes on to explore the four laws of creativity: consumption, imitation, creative communities, and iteration. If you want to ensure you’re the one ‘lucky’ enough to get those genius ideas, treat yourself to this book.
6. 10x Marketing Formula by Garrett Moon
Folks at CoSchedule are the leaders when it comes to creating content that hits the spot with marketers of all kinds—and they do it regularly.
In this book, their CEO Garrett Moon explores the concept of competition-free content and finding your content core. From here, he shows you how to run your content projects, calendar, workflows, and team, as well as how to promote your content.
This book is excellent both if you’re feeling completely lost when it comes to content and starting from scratch, as well as if you simply have gaps in your workflows, promotion, or reporting.
It’s also packed with examples and you can take action immediately—making content marketing no longer overwhelming.
What’s your favorite book for content marketers?
Have you read any of the books from this list, and do you have any you keep coming back to? Will you give those you haven’t read a try?
If there are books that have made you a better content marketer in any way, please leave your suggestions below and pay it forward. 🙂