Every year, the Content Marketing Institute community shares what they’re reading – which books inspire them and improve their work – and what they think you should read (or listen to).
This year, almost 20 books tackle subjects you’d expect – writing, AI, content marketing, messaging, etc. But they also surprise with topics like change, disruption, music, science, and more.
But we don’t stop there. Read to the end for another two-dozen-plus titles recommended by community members in the past couple of years. Thanks to all for helping create the ultimate book list for content marketers.
Description: Our world is flooded by advice, ideas, and experts, but we shouldn’t make decisions based on “best practices.” Instead, we should do what works best for us, building careers and companies with the sort of clarity that leads to exceptional work. Only, first, we need to escape the endless cycle of stale approaches and trendy tactics that holds us back. We need to Break the Wheel. In this quick-hitting, powerful book, keynote speaker and podcaster Jay Acunzo hands us a sledgehammer.
Recommended by Adam P. Newton, copywriter content manager, NRG Energy: “Much like his podcast and newsletter, Jay’s 2018 book extols the virtues of resonance, quality, and craft – and the pursuit thereof. Break The Wheel encourages marketers to enjoy the process of creating while showing them why inspiration and intuition matter if you truly want to be your audience’s favorite.”
Description: Your brain burns with a powerful idea worth sharing. Could writing a business book spread that idea, create real change, and launch your career on the path to visibility and influence?
Definitely. But don’t start by piling up words. Instead, focus on the story. What urgent problem does your reader face? How can they solve it? And what journey must your readers take as you guide them from confusion to understanding, action, and success?
Recommended by Michelle Garrett, founder, Garrett Public Relations: “While there are a lot of business books out there, many don’t seem to be as well thought out as they might be. There’s so much to know when you’re writing one – and not only writing it but putting together a marketing plan and so forth. (I say this as someone who’s in the process of writing my first business book.) Josh’s book, based on his vast experience as a writer and editor, is a helpful guide before, during, and after the process.”
Description: The result of thousands of conversations about web marketing with hundreds of companies, this illustrated handbook is a compilation of the most effective advice about – practical approaches to search engine optimization, social media, and email marketing – the social, analytical, and creative aspects of modern marketing – the theory and practice behind content marketing – analytics tips for ongoing marketing optimization and improvements This sixth edition has been updated to reflect new technologies and marketing trends.
Recommended by Lee Densmer, owner and content marketing strategist, Globia Content Marketing: “It’s simply an amazing and comprehensive book to understand the overall content strategy and the best mindset to drive a good program. If you want to build a brand online and long-term industry leadership, this is one of the best books to read. It’s also just a good read so you can understand content strategy and overall marketing. Lots of charts, graphs, and examples help people to quickly understand the concepts.”
Description: Content Marketing Strategy explains what top brands are doing to streamline their content and how marketing strategists can scale their methods to create business success. The chapters cover stacking a team, working with marketing and branding professionals on a consistent tone and message, setting meaningful goals for the content strategy, implementing it, and measuring the resulting outcomes.
Recommended by Jeremy Bednarski, content strategist for Salesforce Industries Experiences: “I’ll put this with Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes as a book that is instantly usable and enlightening. I’ll continue to refer back to it throughout the remainder of my career.”
Everybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
Description: A hands-on field guide to consistently creating page-turning content that your audience loves. (And that delivers real results.) In the newly revised and updated edition of Everybody Writes, marketer and author Ann Handley improves on her Wall Street Journal bestselling book that’s helped hundreds of thousands become better, more confident writers. In this brand-new edition, she delivers all the practical, how-to advice and insight you need for the process and strategy of content creation, production, and publishing.
Recommended by Nicole Woods, content marketing manager, Zylo: “Even as a content marketer most of my career, I found Everybody Writes to be a great refresher on writing and storytelling principles. Even more, Ann Handley’s style makes it entertaining and engaging! I recommend the book for storytellers of all experience levels — no matter the media they use.”
Other recommenders: Jeremy Bednarski, Hal Werner, Michelle Garrett
Description: The Savannah Bananas should not exist. You can’t name any of their players. They play in a 1920s-era ballpark with no ads or billboards. They play in kilts, stilts, and stilettos. They even have an all-grandma dance team: the Banana Nanas. Everything the Bananas do is unconventional. It shouldn’t work.
And yet they sell out every game, have a waitlist in the thousands, ship merchandise around the globe, and entertain millions of followers on social media. ESPN calls the Bananas “the greatest show in baseball.” How is this even possible? Two words: Fans First. Packed with behind-the-peel stories, hard-earned lessons, and a few other surprises, Fans First teaches you how to stand out in your marketplace, drive explosive growth, and inspire fanatical loyalty.
Recommended by Jeremy Bednarski: “It’s just amazing to read how Jesse and his team built the Savannah Bananas into what they are by unabashedly focusing on the fan experience. So many of his stories had me thinking, ‘How can we do something like that?’”
Other recommenders: Jeff Revilla
Description: The architect of some of the most famous ad campaigns of the last decade argues that culture is the most powerful vehicle for influencing behavior and shows readers how to harness culture to inspire other people to share their vision.
We all try to influence others in our daily lives. Whether you are a manager motivating your team, an employee making a big presentation, an activist staging a protest, or an artist promoting your music, you are in the business of getting people to take action. In For the Culture, Marcus Collins argues true cultural engagement is the most powerful vehicle for influencing behavior. If you want to get people to move, you must first understand the underlying cultural forces that make them tick.
Recommended by Jodi Harris, director of content strategy, Content Marketing Institute: “If you’re looking to influence the behavior of your brand’s communities, it helps to speak their cultural language – a social shorthand informed by a deep understanding of the attitudes, mores, and perspectives they share. Marcus dives into the common sources of cultural affiliations, revealing “cheat codes” marketers can use to create more authentic, resonant content conversations.”
Description: The sixth edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This offers a new take on the rapidly evolving industry of creative advertising. Creativity – while critical – is no longer enough to succeed. Updating all the classic creativity training from the first five editions, this version now provides the necessary tools to navigate the field’s changing technical and social media landscapes. From learning how to tell brand stories to creating content for Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, Whipple will help sharpen your writing chops, enhance your creativity, and raise the level of your work whether you’re new to the business or a practicing professional.
Recommended by Hal Werner, senior manager of digital operations, BMC Software: “This book is a great reminder of timeless fundamentals that often get lost in data-heavy, fast-twitch digital marketing today. It emphasizes how to use evergreen truths of human psychology, customer research, and insight to craft ideas and messages that hit audiences in special ways regardless of medium.”
Description: Hidden Potential offers a new framework for raising aspirations and exceeding expectations. Adam Grant weaves together groundbreaking evidence, surprising insights, and vivid storytelling that takes us from the classroom to the boardroom, the playground to the Olympics, and underground to outer space. He shows that progress depends less on how hard you work than how well you learn. Growth is not about the genius you possess – it’s about the character you develop. Grant explores how to build character skills and motivational structures to realize our own potential and how to design systems that create opportunities for those who have been underrated and overlooked.
Recommended by Hanna Szabo, COO, We Are Visual: “Adam Grant’s latest book is full of ‘hold-my-coffee-I need-to-dance-on-my-desk’ moments. You’ll be overspilling with joy! If you want a radically more inspiring framework to think about human potential, read this book. It will change the way you think about sourcing and nurturing talent.”
Other recommenders: Cat Kessler, content marketing manager, Zartico
High-Impact Content Marketing: Strategies To Make Your Content Intentional, Engaging, and Effective by Purna Virji
Description: High-Impact Content Marketing shows how to succeed by taking a simplified yet strategic approach to standing out and driving revenue impact. It covers time-proven strategies to create video, audio, social media, and longer-form content that audiences will actually want to consume and how to do so in a genuinely inclusive way. It also shows how to master content distribution across channels such as websites, blogs, email, and social media networks to maximize reach, engagement, and impact.
Recommended by Kim Moutsos, vice president of editorial, Content Marketing Institute: “I’ve only started digging into this one, but I’m already convinced it should be on content marketers’ to-be-read list. Content marketing isn’t easy, as Purna admits. But her clear-eyed look at where people make it harder than it needs to be (i.e., focusing on output rather than outcomes, chasing trends over strategy, not balancing creation and distribution) makes me eager to dig into her methods for avoiding these traps (and making a bigger impact with less work).”
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in the Age of Distractions by Derek Thompson
Description: In his groundbreaking investigation, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson uncovers the hidden psychology of why we like what we like and reveals the economics of cultural markets that invisibly shape our lives. Shattering the sentimental myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, Thompson shows quality is insufficient for success, nobody has “good taste,” and some of the most popular products in history were one bad break away from utter failure. It may be a new world, but there are some enduring truths to what audiences and consumers want. People love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold yet sneakily recognizable.
Recommended by Jeff Revilla, digital marketing director, Smail Auto Group
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
Description: In this revelatory book, Simon Sinek offers a framework for leading with an infinite mindset. On one hand, none of us can resist the fleeting thrills of a promotion earned or a tournament won, yet these rewards fade quickly. In pursuit of a Just Cause, we will commit to a vision of a future world so appealing that we will build it week after week, month after month, year after year. Although we do not know the exact form this world will take, working toward it gives our work and our life meaning.
Recommended by Jeff Revilla: “The Infinite Game has helped me shift my focus and work on building something bigger than myself. Too often, as marketers, we get stuck on short-term goals and monthly business metrics. That is a very finite way to think, and it limits our creativity. If we can change our perspective and think long term, these short-term goals and metrics can take care of themselves.”
Is Marketing a Good Career? by Christoph Trappe
Description: This book is for anyone – early in their career, mid-point, or even later – considering a marketing job for one reason or another. In this book, I cover the different skills needed for marketing, how to find the right company that works for you, and, after all, make it a successful career if indeed you want to do that.
Recommended by Christoph Trappe, author and director of content strategy at Growgetter: “Especially good for people looking to find their right fit in marketing, with the right team, etc.”
The Music Never Stops: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught Me about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Magic by Peter Shapiro with Dean Budnick
Description: In The Music Never Stops, Peter Shapiro shares the inside story of how he became a powerhouse in the music industry – an island in an increasingly consolidated landscape of venues, ticketing, and touring–through the lens of fifty iconic concerts. Along the way, readers gain insight into what it was like to work with some of the most celebrated bands in modern music, including not just the Grateful Dead and U2 but also Bob Dylan, Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Al Green, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Jason Isbell, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Roots, Robert Plant, Leonard Cohen, and many more.
Recommended by Jeff Revilla: “For the last eight years, I have been expanding on the types of content that can be created with virtual events and experiences. This book lays out 20-plus years of how Peter Shapiro built real-life events, clubs, and venues. There are some great parallels to what I am working on and new ideas to think out of the box.”
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by Christopher Voss
Description: After a stint policing the rough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, Chris Voss joined the FBI, where his career as a hostage negotiator brought him face-to-face with a range of criminals, including bank robbers and terrorists. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession, he became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles–counterintuitive tactics and strategies–you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.
Recommended by Ashley Baker, founder and marketing manager, Coastline Marketing: “Starting a business is hard no matter who you are. This book really helped me understand my worth and how I should ask for it. My contracts and my client meetings are better for it because now I know how to ask for what I and my teammates deserve.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Description: Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.
Recommended by Michelle Garrett: “It’s a classic that belongs on every writer’s shelf. It helps you think a little differently about being a writer. The way he talks about his writing process and how he captures the details of stories really helped me bring more life into my own writing. Plus, it’s very entertaining to read. Definitely a memorable one.”
Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte
Description: Resonate helps you make a strong connection with your audience and lead them to purposeful action. The author’s approach is simple: Building a presentation today is a bit like writing a documentary. Using this approach, you’ll convey your content with passion, persuasion, and impact.
Recommended by Penny Gralewski, strategic marketing executive and communication leader, STORIES of Space Project: “At #CMWorld, I gifted my mentee a copy of Nancy Duarte’s Resonate. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the Duarte firm on corporate storytelling projects, and I’ve completed several Duarte trainings. You could say I’m a fan. Resonate is a great way to start rethinking how you present information to tell a compelling story.”
Simply Put: Why Clear Messages Win – And How to Design Them by Ben Guttman
Description: Simply Put is a modern exploration of the simplicity principle for anybody who needs to sell stuff or persuade others. This book is a splash of cold water, designed to wake up entrepreneurs, C-suite executives, and marketing pros who have something they need to tell the world but just can’t quite connect the dots. With this book, we’re all better marketers.
Recommended by Ann Gynn, editorial consultant, Content Marketing Institute: “Always great to have reinforcement in what I strongly believe: Simple is the best strategy whether writing, strategizing, or doing just about anything else. No one wants to work hard to read or understand what you have to say or want them to do. Ben helps you help your audience with Simply Put.”
Using Behavioral Science in Marketing: Drive Customer Action and Loyalty by Prompting Instinctive Responses by Nancy Harhut
Description: Using Behavioral Science in Marketing shows how to apply behavioral science principles in key areas of marketing, including marketing communications, email, direct mail and ad campaigns, social media marketing, and sales funnel conversion strategies. Highly practical and accessible, it includes case studies and examples from AT&T, Apple, Spotify, and The Wall Street Journal, showing how these approaches have been used in practice.
Recommended by Ashley Baker: “After attending Nancy’s session at Content Marketing World, I immediately went home and purchased her book. I’ve highlighted, underlined, and taken notes more with this book than a majority of my college textbooks. She gives action items you can immediately implement into your marketing in a clear and concise manner without all the extra fluff.”
25-plus more books for your list
Consider these recommendations contributed in the last two years by the CMI community:
- AI For Marketers: An Introduction and Primer: Third Edition by Christopher S. Penn
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- Brand Bewitchery: How to Wield the Story Cycle System to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand by Park Howell
- Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller
- Buyer Personas: How To Gain Insight Into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business by Adele Revella
- Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis
- The Content Fuel Framework: How To Generate Unlimited Story Ideas by Melanie Diezel
- Content, Inc.: Start a Content-First Audience, Build a Massive Audience, and Become Radically Successful (With Little or No Money) by Joe Pulizzi
- The Content Puzzle and the Missing Piece by Andi Robinson
- Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
- Epic Content Marketing: How To Tell a Different Story, Break Through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less by Joe Pulizzi and Brian Piper
- Everyone Is an “Influencer”: Building a Brand by Engaging The People Who Matter Most by Kelly Keenan
- Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible by Tamsen Webster
- How to be Great at Your Job: Get Things Done. Get the Credit. Get Ahead. by Justin Kerr
- I’m Not a Copywriter, But …: Lessons Learned from a Late Bloomer by Joshua Womack
- Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in a Digital Age by Mark Schaefer
- Lights, Camera, Impact: Storytelling, Branding, and Production Tips for Engaging Corporate Videos by Tony Gnau
- Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Thrive by Chip & Dan Heath
- Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers by Chip Heath and Karla Starr
- Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison
- Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It by April Dunford
- The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath
- Practical Content Strategy & Marketing: The Content Strategy & Marketing Course Guidebook by Julia McCoy
- Prove It: Exactly How Modern Marketers Earn Trust by Melanie Diezel
- RE:Think Innovation: How the World’s Most Prolific Innovators Come Up With the Great Ideas That Deliver Extraordinary Outcomes by Carla Johnson
- The Secret Army: Leadership, Marketing and the Power of People by Gina Balarin
- What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles That Separate the Best From the Rest by Denise Lee Yohn
- Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean by Josh Bernoff
- You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
- Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype by Jay Baer
What would you add to the list?
We appreciate the thoughtful contributions of the book recommenders to compile this list. They illustrate the vastness of content marketing education. But we also bet we missed some of your favorites. Which ones would you put on the gift list? Tag Content Marketing Institute on social channels, and we’ll update this article regularly.
Updated from a November 2022 post.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute