I’ve been on a quest to become the best marketer I can be for a long time.
I started marketing as a lowly intern, then consulted for one of the top SEO agencies, then became the first marketing hire at fast-growing B2B company, then lead marketing for an event series about startup failure, then taught a 5-week growth marketing bootcamp for marketers and startup founders, and now currently serve as mentor at two different accelerators focusing on B2B SaaS businesses.
It’s been 8 years since I officially started working in marketing and in that period of time I’ve learned a lot about what sort of marketing strategies work and what don’t.
If you want to become a great marketer, the question you ask yourself is: “What’s the best way to learn marketing?”
There are many ways to learn marketing, as there are with any subject, but the best way to learn a subject is by breaking that subject down into its component skills and practicing these skills as you learn them.
Break down the marketing process
As I understand it, a robust marketing process involves several skills.
Here are important marketing skills as I see them:
- diagnose what customers want
- communicate what customers want
- measure communication effectiveness
- understand how people make decisions
- learn experiment frameworks to acquire customers
- learn psychology frameworks to retain customers
- create engaging and persuasive content
Find resources to learn marketing skills
If you don’t already have a basic understanding of the skills you need and want to find accessible resources to help, there are many options available to you.
But there’s so much written about marketing that it’s hard to know which resources are valuable and which are a waste of your time.
Many marketing resources are useful, but most aren’t.
Choose between resource types: books vs blogs
There are more than enough marketing blogs to consume all your spare time reading them.
Even worse, it’s difficult to know whether blog content’s useful until after you’ve dived into it. It’s a pain to assess the quality of the information you’re reading.
Because most marketing blogs exist to generate business leads rather than educate readers, most marketing blogs quality of content is mediocre.
That’s why when you look at most marketing blogs a popular format appears:
Most blog articles are simply a bunch of ideas loosely held together by a topic without validating their ideas or discussing how they relate to each other.
This format results in thin but engaging content.
Instead of wading through endless content of dubious quality, I recommend being extremely selective in how you consume information.
After all, every piece of information you consume requires investing both time and energy.
To select high quality content, choose resources that have been highly recommended consistently over time.
Another simple way to be more selective in what you read is to read more time-consuming content.
To ensure I’m being selective in what content I consume, I prefer reading books instead of reading blogs.
In my experience, books are great resources to learn new subjects.
Books are more likely than articles to explain concepts in meaningful depth and create deep understanding that enables the comfort required to use the concepts books describe in the context of your everyday life, at work, and in conversation.
Books to succeed in each part of the marketing process
From my experience learning, practicing, and teaching marketing, these are the books I recommend to those looking to learn marketing for each stage of the marketing process. These books are recommended by readers and expert marketers alike. I’ve read and applied concepts in each of these books to my work.
Learn what customers want
The Mom Test
Knowing how to market to customers begins by understanding them. Sadly, many business owners and marketers don’t understand the audiences they’d like to sell to well enough. Understand how to have better and more meaningful conversations with your customers to discover and deliver value. Learn how bias creeps into customer conversations from the lies we tell ourselves to the lies customers tell us. Discern between customer wants and needs, identify behaviors that indicate the willingness to pay, and identify language that emotionally resonates with customers. The Mom Test is an excellent primer on how to learn what your customers actually want which is an essential part of communicating value to them.
Never Split the Difference
Continue building strength in customer discovery with this fantastic book on negotiation. Accomplish key aspects of sales and marketing: identify roadblocks to sales without damaging customer relationships and discover what hidden aspects customers perceive as valuable. Develop the skills needed to navigate important customer conversations. Learn how to spot the hidden needs and objections of key decision makers whether they are your spouse, business partner, colleagues, or customers. If you’ve ever wondered “How should I negotiate the things that matter most in life?”, reading Never Split the Difference will serve you well. A great field guide to the universal value of emotional intelligence.
Communicate what customers want
Start with Why
Great marketing requires understanding how people make decisions and communicating your messages accordingly. Start with Why serves as a beautiful introduction to this concept because of how well it explains how to communicate more effectively through simple and accessible examples from the world’s most transformative leaders and best businesses. Understand the role of emotion in decision making. Learn how to communicate in line with customer psychology. Start with Why’s simple message: when you start with why customers care about what you sell and are more likely to take action on it. It’s a message worth hammering into the point of redundancy.
Made to Stick
Why do some ideas die why others thrive? This is the question Chip and Dan Heath set out to answer with Made to Stick. Intrigue, curiosity, and contrast from everyday life shape our perception and memory more than the reality we see before us. Those who know how to craft messages with these defining attributes shape perception and decision making. Made to Stick shows the principles of winning ideas and tells us how we can apply these rules to make our own messages stick with customers.
Measure communication effectiveness
When businesses measure what matters, they focus on improving the right things and business improves as a result. A guide to measuring what matters without becoming distracted by data that isn’t important, Lean Analytics teaches readers how to use data to your advantage instead of getting lost in it. By measuring and analyzing as you grow, you can validate whether a problem is real, find the right customers, and decide what to build, how to monetize it, and how to spread the word. Prevents countless wasted hours and effort. Invaluable.
Sometimes a firm understanding of statistics is required to validate the outcome of marketing campaigns and experiments or to assess the value of marketing opportunities. Naked Statistics is a great book to gain this understanding. Charles Wheelan presents a normally intimidating subject through accessible contexts that create a solid foundation to gain a robust understanding of statistics. Learn how to solve marketing problems and make decisions with the right data. Understand the statistical requirements you need to validate the success of marketing experiments, advertisements, and surveys using practical lessons.
Learn how people make decisions
Why do people do the things they do? This is the subject of many books today, but one stands above them all in sheer usefulness for marketers. With limited time and attention from our target audiences, marketers need to understand how people make decisions to convey value to customers in ways that persuade. Cialdini walks through 6 principles of influence that effectively persuade people across all cultures and guide our behavior unconsciously. Influence is the closest thing to a bible in behavioral psychology.
Thinking Fast and Slow
For a deeper dive into the science of how people make decisions by one of the pioneers who innovated the field, read Thinking Fast and Slow. Learn how the human mind works to make decisions. Learn when people act automatically using instincts and when they make conscious choices. Understand cognitive biases in decision making. Understand the role of attention and effort in human decision making and marketing communication. Understand how depletion of mental energy shifts behavior away from conscious decision making and towards instinctual decision making. Learn flaws in how people make mental associations and naturally seek to reinforce existing beliefs. Learn how the brain uses instinct to estimate risk and make decisions. Learn how when faced with a difficult question the brain answers an easier one instead without noticing the substitution. Learn how to brain fails to incorporate statistics in decision making.
Acquire customers by applying marketing experiment frameworks
A great introduction to begin experimentation within the marketing process. Figure out which marketing channels are likely to create results with the bullseye framework. Assess the opportunity of marketing channels through a simple 5-step process. Brainstorm expected outcome, cost, and difficulty of implementation for each marketing channel. Rank channels by opportunity. Prioritize channels to market using. Test high opportunity marketing channels.
For advanced marketers who are looking to understand and apply growth marketing process Hacking Growth provides an in-depth marketing experimentation framework. Learn processes to create robust growth. Learn how asking counter-intuitive questions can identify marketing opportunities and value. Build teams that facilitate business growth. Prioritize types of customer data and feedback. Identify the value customers experience within your product and service. Use customer feedback to develop new marketing messages that better resonate with customers. Gauge your product or service’s potential growth from customer referrals and word-of-mouth. Set up growth experiments that quickly identify and validate opportunities.
Retain customers by applying psychological reward frameworks
The Power of Habit
One of the most important under-focused areas of marketing is customer retention. While most of the focus in marketing goes towards top-line acquisition, retention serves as the foundation for business growth. The Power of Habit is all about the psychology behind retention and understanding habits. Habits control much of our behavior. Learn about how they are made, broken, triggered, and reinforced. Understanding the habits of customers enables us to create and market products or services that fit within their lives as well.
Some businesses radically outperform others that solve the same problems. When businesses create deeper customer engagement with their products and services than their competitors, they form a solid platform for growth that becomes difficult to defeat. Learn how to use Nir Eyal’s hook model to create a positive feedback loop for users to continuously use your product. Learn how to develop products that your customers will use day in day out.
Create effective content
They Ask, You Answer
How can I sell to customers who already know what they want? This is the question They Ask, You Answer sets out to answer. The answer: building trust. An expert guide to focused inbound marketing. Increase the quality of your leads by labeling customers concerns and addressing them before they get to you. Teaches how to build trust on the web, how to develop strategies that build value over time, and how to find and sell to well-informed prospects.
An integral part of being a great marketer is understanding how to create great content. Whether you create content by writing it yourself or manage