With so many marketing books on Amazon (and elsewhere), it’s hard to know what’s essential, what’s good, and what’s garbage. That’s why I was happy to get some recommendations recently from someone whose marketing expertise I respect: Mark Ritson. Ritson teaches Marketing Week’s Mini MBA in Marketing, which I recently completed. If you don’t know him, he’s an ex-professor with a PhD in marketing who’s taught MBA students at London Business School, MIT Sloan, and other universities. He’s also worked with clients like Dom Perignon, Ericsson, and McKinsey. And his weekly column at Marketing Week is often thought provoking and funny (his ability to sling obscenities rivals his marketing prowess).
By the way, I highly recommend the Mini MBA in Marketing. While it’s not cheap (about $2,500), I think I can honestly say it’s the best online course I’ve ever taken. Professor Ritson is an entertaining teacher and has done a great job organizing the curriculum so that it’s interesting but easy to digest. I learned a lot, and especially enjoyed the final exam, which required students to create a marketing plan for a fictional company.
At the end of the course, Ritson recorded a final video to share answers to the exam and some parting thoughts, including where to go for additional marketing knowledge. Along with some courses to take and individual experts to follow, he recommended five marketing books. I’ve listed them below, along with some details for each. I’ve started digging into them already, and thought you might want to do the same.
Marketing books recommended by Mark Ritson
“There are certain things you have to read,” says Ritson. How Brands Grow, the 2010 book by Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science (EBI), changed marketing forever. Ritson goes on to say, “It’s not an easy book to read but it is an important treatise. It changed the way marketing works. You’ve gotta read it.” Professors Sharp and Ritson have a complicated history—Ritson regularly refers to Sharp as “The Dark Lord of Penetration,” and they have publicly debated on at least one occasion. As far as I can tell, they have a begrudging respect for one another.
Ritson describes Playing to Win, by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin, as his “second favorite strategy book.” Lafley was chairman, president, and CEO of Procter & Gamble, and Roger Martin is “an amazing strategy professor.” Ritson adds, “it’s a really good book about strategy set in marketing.”
In Playing to Win, Lafley and Martin outline five strategic choices that they claim will help any brand beat the competition:
- What is our winning aspiration?
- Where will we play?
- How will we win?
- What capabilities must we have in place to win?
- What management systems are required to support our choices?
Ritson refers to this one, quite simply, as “the greatest strategy book.” Furthermore, he adds, unlike all the other books on this list, “it’s very readable. You can take that on holiday and actually kind of enjoy it on the beach. I mean it’s not like reading Vanity Fair, but it’s good.”
The author, Richard Rumelt, is a professor emeritus at UCLA and has been a consultant for companies like Samual Goldwyn Company and Shell International. This book shows up on many lists of important books about marketing, brand strategy, and business strategy, so you don’t have to take Ritson’s word for it. For example, John Stopford, Emeritus Professor at the London Business School, calls it “a milestone in both the theory and practice of strategy.”
I like Sarah and Les’s book, How Not to Plan. That’s a really nice reader as well.”
That’s all Ritson had to say about this book, but I’ll say a little more. The authors hail from Adam&eveDDB, a creative agency based in London, New York, and Berlin. I’m not familiar with Sarah Carter, but Les Binet is somewhat famous in the branding world for his evidence-based approach to advertising and marketing (much like Byron Sharp of EBI, discussed above). Binet, along with Peter Field, wrote The Long and the Short of it: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies, which got a lot of attention for proposing an approximate 40/60 split between “short-term response activity and long-term brand-building.” (In fact, Ritson teaches this rule of thumb in his Mini MBA in marketing.)
Lastly, Ritson recommended a unique way of “getting your MBA” without paying to go to an elite school. It’s not a marketing book, strictly speaking, but here’s what he had to say about Don’t Pay for Your MBA:
There’s a wonderful woman called Laurie Pickard who wrote a book and has a website called “Don’t Pay for Your MBA.” She’s a really clever woman and what she’s done is … worked out all the free online courses that are the best courses from these best business schools taught by the best professors. It’s a brilliant hack. … It is a great way to get instrumental knowledge fast.”
The author took advantage of “MOOCS” (massive online open courses) to simulate an MBA curriculum. Her book walks you through how to do the same. I’ll admit: I’m curious!
BONUS: ONE OF MARK RITSON’S FAVORITE MOVIES
Movie: Nobody’s Fool
It has no business on a list of marketing books, but this may give you a sense of Mark Ritson’s style: In the middle of a long video about marketing, at the end of his list of book recommendations, he added Nobody’s Fool, a 1995 movie starring Paul Newman. Why? No reason in particular. “I really recommend Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo,” he says. “The book‘s great. But the movie with Paul Newman’s even better. What has it got to do with marketing? Nothing. I just think it’s the best film ever made. Newman’s best film. Just gorgeous.”
So, there you have it. Five marketing books and one non-marketing movie recommended by none other than Mark Ritson of Marketing Week and the Mini MBA. On the Mini MBA alumni network, a fellow alumnus sent me a separate list of books, also apparently recommended by Ritson (I’m not sure where). That list includes most of the books above but adds quite a few more. Here’s that list, with the books above omitted (and with some notes from me):
- Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference, by David Halpern
- The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy, by by Richard Shotton
- Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense, by Rory Sutherland (a very fun read!)
- The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard (a classic!)
- Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez
- Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life, by Gillian Tett
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight
- Building Distinctive Brand Assets, by Jenni Romaniuk
- Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data, by Rishad Tobaccowala
- Look out: An advertising guide for a world that’s turning inwards, by Orlando Wood
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman (I recently read this one. I found it thought-provoking but not especially useful.)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (not an especially easy read, but “required reading”)
- Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Anything by Simon Lancaster, such as Winning Minds: Secrets from the Language of Leadership or Connect: How to Inspire, Influence and Energise Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime
- Good Thinking: A Guide to Qualitative Research, by Wendy Gordon (seems to be out of print)
- Eat Your Greens, by Wiemer Snijders (includes essays by Mark Ritson, Rory Sutherland, Peter Field, and Byron Sharp, among others)
- The Bullmore Collection, by Jeremy Bullmore (read, download, or listen to 20 years of essays for free)
- Lemon. How the advertising brain turned sour., by Orlando Wood (also recommended: this book review by Tim Healey)
Whether you pick from the list of five or the longer list above, I’m curious which of these you’ll read next. If you’ve already read some, what did you think of them? And have you taken Ritson’s Mini MBA? If so, I’ll see you in the alumni network!