5 Must Read Books for Marketers

My relationship with books started out in a rather curious way. As a child, I was raised in a highly religious household where amongst other peculiar and bizarre restrictions, the majority of books were banned besides the Bible. Whether it was Dickens, Austen, Peter and Jane or even educational materials, memories of hiding under my bed, secretly reading classics such as Oliver Twist, gave a clandestine edge to my first steps into the literary world. When I left home and the holds of religion, I read books with the fervor of an unwatched child let loose in a Sainsbury’s cake section.

As a creative director, insight and brand strategist specialising in cultural branding, my reading is reflective of my working practice: a combination of popular strategic and marketing business books, but also a much wider selection of topics including how marketing, advertising and brands relate to real life, culture and trends. As a marketer, it’s important not only to immerse yourself in your industry but also to able to be critical of it. Without this final ingredient, we leave ourselves open to becoming exploitative of the cultures we wish to associate with.

To create ideas and experiences that are authentically rooted in culture requires a deep understanding of audiences’ behaviours and lifestyles, working alongside trends that are emerging in culture, hence my recommendation of Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practices. While the title might sound a wee bit dusty, the content is far from it. It is a rich and wonderful exploration into the subcultures that have helped shape society and gives an understanding into such topics as sociality, hobohemia, excess, utopia, tattoo communities, leatherfolk, to fan networks and media subcultures.

From a marketing and case study perspective How Brands become Icons is worth a read while both the writing style and marketing techniques spelt out in this book are slightly rudimentary, it provides a good selection of case studies on brands that have gone that extra step in becoming part of a culture. While this is an ever-growing trend for marketing agencies (many with the mantra that their work must have ‘cultural value’) this book demonstrates how some brands have succeeded in integrating themselves with culture and defines the stages and steps required to do this. This book explores the histories of the brands that become part of the culture by creating an emotional connection to their consumers – sometimes through strategy, sometimes organically, and sometimes entirely by accident.

A book that I would recommend to anyone regardless of whether you work in the industry or not is The Comfort of Things. Things, according to Miller, are constitutive of identity. "Material culture matters," he insists, "Because objects create subjects more than the other way round" and suggests, "The closer our relationships with objects, the closer our relationships with people".

With this hypothesis in hand, Miller and his co-researcher Fiona Parrott set off on a 17-month investigation into the lives and loves and domestic interiors of 30 households in a randomly chosen London street. It gives a rich and diverse perspective on consumerism and what it means to the ‘tribes’ of the world, demonstrating how material things function as a vehicle for all kinds of social interaction.

On the flip side of this humanistic study of consumerism, and returning to the idea of being able to criticize your industry, No Logo is a must read. It explores how brands overtake our physical and individual space, and the ramifications of this infiltration as well as providing an overview of the activists fighting against brand invasion. Books like this are imperative for marketers and advertisers seeking to be ethical in their work - it is possible to have a moralistic and non-exploitative approach as well as a campaign that is successful.

My final book has nothing to do with my industry or my career but is one that excited, inspired, and left me both elated and with a sense of sadness: Please Kill Me. This unadulterated oral history of punk is an incredible book, providing a cultural and historical viewpoint on New York in the 60s and 70s. I love the rawness of this book. A place where there was a filth and romance in musical culture that perhaps now has been replaced with commercialism. This book made me discover more music, start my own band, go to New York, research 1970s artists, scenes and photographers and do things that were nothing whatsoever to do with marketing, strategy, audiences or consumerism. This book woke me up creatively.

So these are my recommendations, but as one of my favourite writers, Haruki Murakami, said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” So perhaps don’t listen to anything I’ve suggested and find your own way.