This post describes a select list of marketing and management classics – those publications that, over time, can provide lasting and enduring impact. This is a subjective list, developed to follow five criteria:
- Unique: The book or article provides a unique perspective on an important element of marketing or marketing strategy.
- Relevant: The publication is still relevant today. In other words, a marketer or manager reading the book today would learn something that would be relevant to their current activities.
- Insightful: The publication provides real insight on problems, trends, and issues that are important to marketers and strategists.
- Readable: The publication should be readable by the average marketer or manager. In other words, the material should be written in a manner that is clear and accessible.
- Lesser known: The list generally focuses on publications that, in many cases, are lesser-known and deserve more attention and readership. I’ve made a few exceptions for works that may be better-known but are certainly not over-exposed.
The list reflects my own training and experience. I plan to update the list from time to time, adding to it and perhaps even subtracting from it.
Here then are some classic articles and books that every marketer and strategist should read but may not have:
- “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt (in Harvard Business Review, 1960)
This article challenged managers to ask what, “What business are you really in?” The article is written in the beautiful and unique prose style of Professor Levitt, starting with the wonderful first sentence, “Every major industry was once a growth industry.” When growth stops, according to this article, it is due to a “failure of management,” because managers must properly define their industry to create a “customer-creating and customer-satisfying organism.”
- The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School press, 1997)
This book addressed an important and novel question: why is it that incumbent companies in existing markets are often unable to replicate their success when technology changes, so that they end up yielding their market position to new entrants? Professor Christensen used data from the disk drive industry to demonstrate how upstart companies can develop innovations that steal share from incumbents, only to find themselves usurped by the next generation of technology. The book coined the phrase “disruptive technology”, and also first pointed out that it is not always good to listen to customers, because listening can keep a company tied to existing markets and customer segments.
- The Essential Drucker, by Peter F. Drucker (Collins Business Essentials, 2001)
A collection of writing from the man who invented modern management thinking. More than any other publication on this list, this is one you have likely seen, or have seen parts from. It is worth seeing again.
- Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill (Simon & Schuster, 1999)
Paco Underhill studies the science of shopping. Much of his research either involves observing consumers while they are shopping, or talking to consumers about their shopping habits. This book provides an informative and entertaining description of how malls and stores delight, annoy, and influence all of us.
- Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism, by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. (Harvard/Belknap, 1990)
While not as easy to read as other books on this list, this important business history book tackles the vast question of how the modern industrial enterprise evolved. Professor Chandler examines the history of the modern industrial enterprise in three countries: the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany. It is a comprehensive and impressive work, describing how large companies came to exist with observations both sweeping and specific.
- New and Improved: The story of Mass Marketing in America, by Richard S. Tedlow (BasicBooks, 1990)
An informative and enjoyable history of how mass marketing came to be developed, told through battles for consumers’ hearts and wallets in four industries: soft drinks, automobiles, grocery, and general merchandise retail. The characters and stories make this book well worth reading, and along the way the reader also learns about the histories of companies and industries that are part of our lives, culture, and history.
- Being Direct, by Lester Wunderman (Random House, 1996)
Imagine a book written in 1996, pretty much before the Internet, that discusses “…how to advertise profitably in a postindustrial, information-based society.” This is it – the guidebook to direct marketing, written by one of the founders and masters of the art form. Many lessons in this book are relevant for today’s marketplace of social media and customer-driven marketing.
Dr. Bruce Isaacson
MMR Strategy Group