I always have a stack of “to-read” books on my nightstand. Recently, I finished a biography of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. No matter what you think of the company today, it was amazing to learn how Walton transformed a small-town dime store into a multinational behemoth. This story was full of wisdom about promoting products, connecting with customers, and building a lasting brand — lessons that are relevant to anyone in marketing today.
Sometimes not-so-obvious books contain the most useful guidance — if you can apply the lessons.
For example, early on Walton encouraged store managers to be ambitious and run their own promotions. One did so by buying 3,500 boxes of detergent and pricing each one at $1.99 rather than $3.97. Headquarters was not pleased with the volume of boxes, but everything sold within a week. And the promotion was actually featured in the news. It was a bold move, but this type of “buy big, sell low” promotion came to define the company.
Walton’s is not the only story that contains such impactful lessons. Recently our team at Aha! read The Widow Clicquot as part of a group assignment in preparation for our bi-annual company meeting (our “onsite”). It chronicles the story of Barbe-Nicole — the woman who built and ruled the Clicquot champagne empire around the time of the French Revolution. I was impressed with her courage and ambition, and I knew the team would be inspired by her story too.
But not every book that inspires me is about building companies and brands. For example, not too long ago I read Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin. I personally appreciated his commitment to being authentic and his perseverance. He built his career while the idea of comedy was going through a fundamental transformation. He recognized that, and through relentless practice of his craft over decades, he was finally recognized for his unique talent.
I am always looking for more books that inspire. So, I asked our team at Aha! and folks on LinkedIn to share their favorite non-marketing marketing books.
Here are some of the most intriguing titles, in alphabetical order:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“This is a book about self-discovery and the choices we make along the journey of life. I enjoyed the tale of Santiago and it definitely made me think about the signs in my life that have led me to where I am — which you could apply to your path in marketing and business as well.” — Susie Boyer, Aha!
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“This book is equal parts memoir, artist’s musing, and guidance for creators. Anne Lamott shares a fundamental message about writing that applies to any role, but especially marketers — it is work and play together. Most marketers are highly creative and will relate to her advice. But the real lesson is that it is not the outcome that we should focus on, but the act of writing itself that is the real reward.” — Molly Jane Quinn, Aha!
The Boys in the Boat By Daniel James Brown“Set in the Great Depression and running up to the 1936 Olympics, this is a story of nine working-class American boys who formed an odds-defying crew team — achieving results that no one thought possible. The book showed me what true teamwork looks like and why you should never give up, even when you are faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” — Barry Paul, Aha!
Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too by Chris Dancy
“This book is a refreshing take on the upside of our tech-heavy world. It is about how technology can actually help you adopt healthy habits and improve your life. Marketers will especially be interested in some of the author’s more professional advice — specifically about how the digital visibility that you create becomes your ‘personal shop window.’” — Tom Bailey, Aha!
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
“This book really made me question my own sense of curiosity and what more I should be thinking about and exploring. Da Vinci wanted to accumulate knowledge just for the sake of learning. As a result, he left behind a legacy of creativity and innovation — something I think every marketer aspires to.” — Ashley Hamilton-Truppo, Aha!
Oranges by John McPhee
“John McPhee is amazing at making the mundane interesting. Oranges talks about the orange industry, of course, and it also reminds me to take nothing for granted. We are surrounded with fascinating objects, and when you work in marketing, you also get to fascinate people.” — Erik Johnson, Aha!
Raw Material: Working Wool in the West by Stephany Wilkes
“This is about a woman in San Francisco who works in tech, but on her weekends she sets out to become a sheep shearer (an extremely punishing job that pays little). She meets a lot of people along the way and tracks their journey from living in their trucks to having their own ranches. It also tracks a family trying to open up the only wool mill in California so they can stop exporting it and make truly local products. Very inspiring stories and eye opening. North Face now makes clothes from the wool from some of the shepherd’s flocks in the book.” — Phil Wilt, Aha!
Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies by Geoffrey West
“This is a fascinating read. The author, a physicist, begins by examining how we can use scaling laws to determine the life cycles of plants and animals. But then he applies this same scalability concept to cities and businesses. This book really puts into perspective the reasons why some teams and companies grow while others fall behind.” — Perry Hurtt, Aha!
Books can crack open our creativity, introduce us to new ways of thinking, and inspire us to go boldly.
What could be more beneficial for marketing teams? We all aspire to new ways of telling stories and connecting with customers. So, read widely and often. And the next time you pick up a really impactful tale, let me know. I am always looking to add more to my “to-read” stack.
Which books have made the greatest impact on your work?
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