We reached out to True Tamplin—Amazon #1 Best-Selling Author, public speaker, founder of UpDigital, and an avid reader—for his list of recommended books to help grow a digital marketing career. He has read over 100 books on business principles and practices and compiled a list of the top 10 most influential books for digital marketers. All the views expressed in this piece are his, and the examples are how he applies the principles to his digital marketing agency. Here is what he had to contribute:
“I practice the principles found in these books day-in and day-out and have discovered which ones actually work, and which ones just look good on paper. I’m going to give you the inside scoop on which ones to pick up and which ones to leave on the shelf. Let’s get started with a business classic, by Perry Marshall.
- Pros: This book is excellent at training you as a digital marketer to have an inner ear that finds the most valuable thing to do with your day. Written from a marketer’s perspective, Perry Marshall gives loads of tangible examples relating to the field of digital marketing. Reading this book will keep you from spinning your wheels on tasks worth little value, and focus on doubling down on tasks that will actually help you level-up your business.
- Cons: This is not a technical book for digital marketing, even though the principles are timeless and valuable. There isn’t much else to say by way of criticism for this book, which is why it makes the top slot for this list.
- Pros: This book is great for helping you grow your digital marketing agency. In summary, the Lean Startup walks you through how to create a minimum viable product (MVP) and iterate through the “build-measure-learn” process. This process entails creating a product/solution that is just good enough to sell, making sure that there is a market for your product/service, then figuring out ways to deliver that product/service profitably as you begin to scale.
- Cons: The “build-measure-learn” process is primarily engineered for creating a physical product, whereas a digital marketing agency is primarily in the service industry. The principles are still the same, and have helped me think well about how to grow my agency.
3. Advanced Google Adwords by Brad Geddes
- Pros: This book introduced me to a world of levers you can pull within Google Ads that I didn’t even know existed—I never knew what I was missing out on with RLSA (remarketing list for search ads). This is particularly helpful if you’re running ads for a large enterprise because they will have large lists available to make this worth your time. Advanced Google Adwords will help you sure-up any weaknesses or any unexplored areas of the Google Ads platform. Strap on your seat belt and make sure you have coffee on hand as you get ready for this technical piece. **Another pro tip is that you can skip to any chapter you’d like to learn about any particular aspect of the Google Ads platform.
- Cons: You can tell that this book is a bit outdated. The title belies the age of the work by referring to the platform as Google Adwords instead of Google Ads. It wouldn’t have made the list if the techniques outlined in the book weren't still useful, but keep the outdated nature of the book in mind as you glean Google Ads techniques from it.
4. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger
- Pros: This Book will help you win clients and keep them. Most people don’t understand what clients actually care about. They focus on the technical, and don’t do a good job of listening to clients and hammering home the talking points that a salesperson can tell the client really cares about. A perfect example is, Frank Bettger recalls telling an excellent real estate agent that he cares a lot about trees, and every time Frank objected to the price of a home, the real estate agent just started counting up the number of trees on the property. He recalls getting sold 12 trees and house being thrown in with the deal. This type of thinking helped him truly listen to clients, and only focus on selling them on the issues the clients cared about. For a digital marketer, this takes the form of hearing your client hates the negative review that shows up for their brand name in google, and selling them on an online reputation package instead of an SEO audit.
- Cons: Once again, this is not a textbook specific to digital marketing, so you’ll have to do some creative thinking about how to translate the principles offered in the book to your digital marketing agency. Winning and keeping business is the thing that keeps a digital marketing agency alive, so consider that before ignoring this text because it doesn’t directly apply to digital marketing.
5. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
- Pros: As a digital marketing agency, your focus may be narrowed only to the day-to-day digital marketing problems that your agency runs into; but, if you step back and think about it, you’re simply an extension of your client’s sales and marketing team. This text helps you, as an agency, think about how to “Cross the Chasm” of moving from the early adopters to the masses so that the world can adopt your product/service as a household name.
- Cons: Once again you run up against the issue of this not being a book about digital marketing specifically, but the principles will still help you as a digital marketing agency understand how to level-up your clients. All too often digital marketing agencies get caught up in the game of dressing up successes rather than adding actual value to their clients. Simply reading this book will help you think in terms of leveling-up your client’s businesses using digital marketing as the medium by which to improve their sales. Keeping this in mind is essential to deriving value from this book as a digital marketing agency.
6. Inbound Marketing, Revised and Updated: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online and Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan
- Pros: If you want a thorough understanding of the digital marketing sales funnel, then these books are for you. Shah and Halligan are experts at helping digital marketers increase conversion rates at every step in the conversion process. If you’re not already thinking in terms of breaking down every step in a conversion—all the way from people seeing an ad/your listing in Google to growing the lifetime value of a client—you should be!
- Cons: To be candid, the principles are great and work well in theory, but the text doesn’t give a lot of air time to real-world problems. I believe it is good to optimize checkout flows, but reality pushes against some of the recommendations. For example, when working with 101domain, I was told that making simple changes to the checkout flow after the cart would take hundreds of hours of dev time to make a tweak because their system is connected with literally every registry that sells a domain name (over 1,000 domain registries in total). The book is still definitely worth a read, but as you go to implement the principles I believe you will run up against the same issues that I did.
7. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of "Intangibles" in Business by Douglas Hubbard
- Pros: How to Measure Anything is the bible for exactly that: how to measure anything. Two of the biggest takeaways are 1) that we’re not measuring the most important things to measure because they are intangible and difficult to measure (and spending way too much time in Google analytics), and 2) that you can do way more with way less data than you think. Of course it is good to ruminate on your inbound web traffic, but it is much more useful to estimate the probability of the success or failure of a new, GIANT marketing initiative. This book will help your team to stop fixating on a 3% downturn in website traffic, and start estimating what the potential upside is for a risky and time-intensive site migration.
- Cons: The related cons don’t have to do with the book itself, but with its implementation. Digital marketers only feel comfortable checking data that is readily available to them through platforms like Google Analytics. It is going to be difficult to shift your team toward less quantifiable metrics. The challenge here will be to convince your team that seemingly immeasurable metrics are, in fact, measurable.
8. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
- Pros: Although your first inclination would be to garner leads through an online medium, you’d be shocked at how many leads you can get through traditional networking. This book is the best text I’ve ever read on how to network without being sleazy by passing out business cards at a cocktail party. The title “Never Eat Alone” serves to drive home the message that every meal, every outing, and every social gathering is an opportunity to network and win business. You have to eat anyway, so you might as well make the most of that time by eating with someone else and building your network. By using everyday life as a channel through which you’re garnering leads, you can expect to see massive growth in your digital marketing agency (or at the very least, connecting with clients on a personal level for retention purposes).
- Cons: The beauty of running a digital marketing agency is that you can get clients from all around the globe. Only getting leads locally could become a limitation for the growth of your agency if you solely rely upon this medium. This book is meant to complement your own digital marketing strategy, not replace it.
- Pros: I’m putting these two books on the same row because I believe that both philosophies of management are valuable, and neither of them are nuanced enough to take the good away from the other. The Essential Drucker is your run-of-the-mill management science textbook for managing employees in corporate America. It includes strategies such as “over the shoulder management,'' which really ensure that your employees are working under optimal conditions with maximal efficiency. Screw it Let’s Do it, on the other hand, gives room for a new era of management science, particularly for digital marketing agencies that allow employees to work remotely. This book is more of a mindset than a book on how to manage people effectively.
- Cons: Aside from having to read two books instead of one, which just takes longer, these books might not be useful to digital marketing agencies that are just getting off the ground. Sometimes digital marketing agencies rely on a network of freelancers to get the tasks done that clients expect, rather than having employees to manage. If this is your situation, hold off on these texts until you have people you’re actually managing.
- Pros: Perry Marshall gets a second book on the list because of his superb ability to break down complex concepts easily. Similar to the pros for Advanced Google Adwords, this text will open your world to bells and whistles within the Facebook Ads platform that you never knew existed. I also recommend the online course that pairs with the book, as video is much easier to follow for technical subjects like these.
- Cons: Once again, because the platforms change (practically daily), some of the information in this textbook (and a textbook it is!), some of the information in there is going to be a little outdated. The bones of the Facebook Ads platform haven’t changed, but the screenshots and exact way to implement the strategies found in this book will be a bit different.
He did not want to include his own book in the top 10, but it is a great read for busy executives with children they hope to have outperform them one day. If you’re a busy businessman and want your kids to have a better life than you, it’s worth a look.”