My Big. Branded. … Bookshelf


BookshelfLike any doctor worth his saline solution, knowledge is my greatest asset. That’s why in my time off (in between studies and saving lives), I make a point of reading lots of great content from lots of the great minds in my field of business. Life Fun Fact #1: Reading one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been discovering some powerful titles and some absolute must-reads in the marketing arena. As I move into the home stretch of the Ogilvy Graduate Program this week, I thought I’d take a break from the regular posts of branding advice and point you in the direction of those whose advice inspires my OWN. I’ve thus decided to give you a sneak-peek into my personal library of marketing titles which you can start digging into voraciously today if you want to fast-track your business success via marketing. This list includes some hardcover books while others are e-books (hey, knowledge is knowledge – we take whatever we can get!)

But what makes a best title THE BEST?

I know. You hate suspense and not getting the juicy details right away, but before we dive into the titles I thought I’d give you some advice on selecting marketing books. I can’t recommend EVERY title on brands, but in case you’re strolling through Exclusive Books or (strolling?) through Amazon for some brilliant reads to boost your brand, here are my quick tips on what to really look for in a book to know if it’s worth your time. And money. Of course.

  • It must be relevant and accessible to small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • It should have some pretty solid case studies. Monkey-see, monkey-do you know? (PS: Sorry for calling you a monkey. Completely unintentional.)
  • Make sure it’s an easy read – not necessarily short, but easy to understand and absorb and, more so, apply.
  • It must be perfect for ongoing reference. We can’t learn everything in one sitting so make sure it’s an enjoyable read so that you can always refer back and continuously improve your branding

Time to get stuck in! Here’s my suggested list of the best brand and marketing books every marketer should have! In no specific order of course, this is what’s on my shelf right now or at the top of my still-to-get list.

  1. Visual Hammer


Beyond any shadow of doubt, there’s simply no better read you will find out there on visual marketing and why it is so important for brands, especially today. Straight from the genius mind of world renowned branding consultant Laura Ries, the book focuses on the importance of linking your brand’s core message (the ‘verbal nail’) with a striking visual (the ‘visual hammer’). For years, the world of marketing revolved around words – marketing plans, slogans, marketing messages. Visuals were merely decorative. Ries hammers home the point (bad pun intended) that to leave a lasting impression on your customers’ minds, brands cannot rely on words alone. There is superiority in the visual approach to marketing. Relying on a distinct image that communicates the brand message will help you achieve that elusive impression marketers seek because imagery packs a direct, emotional punch that words often lack. Like all good things in life though, the search for a visual hammer is a paradox as that search begins with words— you need a ‘visual nail’ as Ries draws out the metaphor. Deriving this verbal nail from a company’s brand strategy demands focus. “Companies try to be all things to everybody. If that’s what your strategy is, you’re never going to have a powerful or effective message and you’re never going to be able to think of a good visual hammer to go along with it.” Really successful branding is about “owning a word in the consumer’s mind”. But in today’s world of marketing clutter, one needs to cut through the noise to stand out and a simple ‘word approach’ isn’t enough, especially with words flying left, right and centre in customers’ faces these days! Here’s where the visual hammer comes into your marketing toolkit – a powerful visual that “says something” and drives that idea into the mind by working jointly with the word you have chosen. The objective is that verbal nail, but you need a visual hammer to reach that objective. It’s the two working together, a verbal nail and a visual hammer, that creates a powerful brand.

“The best way into the mind is not with words. It’s with visuals. They can play a more important role in marketing than words because visuals hold emotional power that words alone do not. Emotion is the glue that sticks memories and brands into the mind.”

A quick read that’s logical, enlightening and worth every page.

  1. Positioning – The Battle for Your Mind


By all means, this has to be THE first book anyone reads when they walk into Marketing 101! Admittedly, it was only about the … 6th book I came across, but it is definitely a classic which is as true today as when first published over 20 years ago. Marketing pioneers Al Ries and Jack Trout hit you with the basics of identifying where exactly your product fits into what other people want and what the competition is doing. Though the examples are a tad on the ancient side of life, this book remains an essential text for the serious marketer. With loads of case studies on how to brand products or services and how to place them both in the market AND in the mind of the consumer, it’s little wonder that Laura Ries’s work on the Visual Hammer was inspired by daddy dearest’s seminal work with Uncle Jack.

“Positioning is not what you do to a product.  Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect.”

  1. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding


Damn tired of seeing the name Ries popping up everywhere? Get used to it if you want your marketing to really start going places!
This marketing classic has been expanded to include new commentary, new illustrations, and even a bonus book to help you not just stay afloat in these digital times, but to do swimmingly with your brand. That title is The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding. The Rieses go into some rather unconventional strategies for branding on the web which have served both small and large companies in establishing their online brands. The 22 Laws is a definitive branding text with step-by-step guides to brand building, punctuated with anecdotes from some of the world’s BEST brands (think Rolex and Heineken).

In this piece of work, Al Ries demonstrates that marketers essentially need two skills: building a brand and keeping it alive. With amazing company profiles and keen insights, this book will reveal all, whether you’re the dreamy-eyed entrepreneur just starting out, or a seasoned veteran in your field.

“A successful branding program is based on the concept of singularity. It creates in the mind of the prospect the perception that there is no product on the market quite like your product.” 
(Page 7)


  1. Seth Godin


Okay fine, you caught me with the red hands. I cheated here by listing an author instead of a title. Sue me. But marketing guru and speaker Seth Godin is just so damn brilliant that I found it near impossible to pin down ONE best title. Maybe I’ll just give you a little teaser on some, starting with the first of his works I ever read, Permission Marketing. Basically, marketing was always thought of as you, the company, shoving your marketing message down the customer’s throat, selling THEM the product. Seth Godin flips this notion around by saying that nowadays, people have waaay too many choices and so they’re going to choose what THEY want to hear. After reading that (and really swallowing the idea that consumers don’t actually care what YOU want) the big question is then how do we get attention to ask for permission in the first place? That’s where Unleashing the Idea Virus comes to the rescue, and even the Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable for that matter. But why stop there? Pick up Linchpin, The Icarus Deception and a personal favourite All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories. Fairly simple reads, yet potent stuff. Book reviews in short: you should just read everything the man publishes!

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”



  1. The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing, and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly


Okay. I lied. Again. I actually listened to this as an audio book. Guess Seth Godin was right about all marketers hey …

But that’s beside the point (he said, craftily changing the subject). What I took away from The New Rules was a how-to guide on leveraging online communication channels and what doing so can do for your business. Having been updated several times over Scott, this book is perfect for catching you up on everything the modern marketer needs to know about promoting products in the new digital age. With creative ad copy changing drastically these past few years, The New Rules provides a forward-thinking guide on getting the right message out there to the right market, without the terror of a massive budget advertising campaign.

“You can buy attention (advertising). You can beg for attention from the media (PR). You can bug people one at a time to get attention (sales). Or you can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free.”

  1. Ogilvy on Advertising


And what would a marketer’s recommended book list be without a toast to the King of Madison Avenue and the most sought-after wizard in the advertising business himself? If you’ve ever dreamed of working at an ad agency (like myself) or if you’ve ever had a great affinity for certain ad campaigns and wanted to learn how to craft similar brilliance and reception for your product or service, this is a candid and indispensible GEM of a resource! Ogilvy’s passion for advertising was inspiring to say the least. To him, advertising was a noble business pursuit to be taken very seriously, it wasn’t just about being creative with words and visuals – every advert was a contribution to the brand image. Sure, from a pragmatic perspective, this book was written in the 80s and loads have changed in advertising these past 30 odd years. So while it may lack in solid guidance on applications in the innovative internet age, the core of advertising remains the same because basic human motives remain the same.

In that sense, don’t ever discard this title as much of its principles remain sound and relevant, especially Ogilvy’s small quips and anecdotal nuggets of wisdom which are simple yet remain timeless. I don’t think you’ll find an author with as much practical insight into the worlds of advertising and marketing than this. It’s a brilliant introduction to and handbook on copywriting, advertising and communications in general, all the while focusing on customer-focused management which is all the rave with big brands today. Without any previous insight into marketing and advertising, Ogilvy will not only provide a general introduction, but will also bestow upon thee, commandments on approaching the industry. For anyone hoping to promote and sell their organisation and its brand effectively, this is not a book that you simply shelve after one read through. Nay, sir. This is your bible and well of inspiration when projects escalate and ideas run scarce.

“The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.”


Still-to-get Titles

These are some big books in marketing which I’ve heard big things about, but which I’ve yet to get my hands on. Definite gems in building my skill set as a marketer and aspiring advertising maverick though.


Apparently this is a business book which will have you in stitches in no time at all. When last did a business book do THAT for you?! Yes, this book is that funny, but it’s also one of the best books out there on what makes an ad great, and how to challenge yourself to create a great one. Being written by a copywriter, this book demonstrates the power of words and the power of spending the time to find the right words. Doing so doesn’t just work for getting the girl. Customers need love too.






As far as economic transformations go, the biggest must have come from manufacturing economies shifting to service-oriented ones. A major shift from products to services lies in the intangibility characteristic, so how do you deal with that? Beckwith’s bestseller explains how top brands are able to make that seamless transition – it’s all in the hidden ability to build and maintain strong relationships.






I’ve always maintained that if I were to go into market research, it would definitely involve the field of neuro-marketing. I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with consumer behaviour and understanding what drives people to make the decisions they do. I mean let’s face it – people (and especially customers) are cray! And I’d like to think there’s more to it than just being dropped on their head a few times as a kid.

Martin Lindstrom fuses neuroscience with marketing in this bestseller title to explain how everything we think and do is influenced by mental forces of which we are only vaguely aware (if at all). More importantly, Lindstrom shows how these impulses might be scientifically measured and then used to hone marketing campaigns.



Having heard about the term ‘guerrilla marketing’ very early in my studies at varsity I began searching for more and more on the topic and it’s been a massive tool (wait, that came out wrong) big help in developing unconventional, unexpected ideas for brand awareness campaigns during my time as Brand Manager at UCT Radio. Alas, I’ve yet to get my hands on this seminal work on the topic by the legend who coined the term himself.

Jay Conrad Levinson’s book takes marketing out of the world of huge corporations and places it into the hands of entrepreneurs and small businesses through the use of unconventional, low-cost and yet memorable marketing efforts. The book explains why it’s no longer necessary to spend a great deal of money to gain visibility, as long as you’re willing to get creative.

Any titles I missed that you rate should definitely be on the list? Drop me a comment below. 

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