16 Greats of ’16: The Year’s Best Business Books for Marketers

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There’s nothing like well-written book to help clarify goals, inspire action, and improve job performance. Plus, it’s just plain enjoyable to put up your feet and kick back with a good read, whether the words appear on a glowing screen or in print.

We’ve compiled a guide to some of the best business books released in 2016 ‒ books that give practical advice on effective marketing, explain the psychology of persuading and selling, showcase major trends that will shape our jobs in the near and distant future, preview new technologies and developments looming on the horizon, assist us in improving our professionalism, and help us tap into our passions and creativity to benefit both our careers and our daily lives.

Marketing, Sales, and Branding

Marketing is both an art and a science. The best marketers combine creativity, psychological acumen, and solid measurements and analyses to gauge the wants and needs of potential and existing customers. The following books offer a slew of valuable insight into the profession and ways to tap the potential of communication, technology, and sway:

1. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

Author: Robert Cialdini

More than three decades after the release of Robert Cialdini’s Influence, the classic and, well, very influential marketing and sales book, the well-known psychologist is back with another must-read work for anyone who makes a living convincing people to buy certain goods and services. In Pre-Suasion, Cialdini, a researcher in the application of psychology to sales and marketing, discusses the power of swaying consumers to act by capitalizing on the essential window of time before an important message is delivered. This “privileged moment for change” prepares people to be receptive to a message before they experience it; therefore, optimal persuasion is achieved through optimal “pre-suasion.” To change minds, Cialdini says, a pre-suader must also change states of mind. The book offers a revealing look at the human psychology of buying and explains the practices of shrewd, skilled communicators.

2. The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company

Authors: Thomas Barta, Patrick Barwise

Former McKinsey partner Barta and London Business School professor Barwise stress that marketers inhabit an essential overlap area where the needs of a company intersect with the needs of its customers. In this sweet spot, called the Value Creation Zone, or “V-Zone,” marketing leaders’ expertise and connections can have a huge effect on the customer experience. To optimize their performance in the V-Zone, marketers should become proficient in 12 key “powers” ‒ including tackling only big issues, aligning marketing with the company’s priorities, forming alliances and cultivating non-marketing relationships, helping their teams spot trends and maximize revenue based on them, and focusing on goals that will benefit their company’s customers.

3. The Conversion Code: Capture Internet Leads, Create Quality Appointments, Close More Sales

Author: Chris Smith

As the world of sales moves farther away from traditional, in-person contact to the cyberspace realm of Internet transactions, marketers need to rethink and revamp their approach to transforming online customer engagement into revenue. Smith, the co-founder of Curaytor, a social media, digital marketing, and sales coaching company that helps businesses grow faster, provides an outline for converting leads generated on the Web into real-world profit. Smith advises readers on engaging with online consumers effectively; using social media, apps, and blogs to cost-efficiently capture more leads; making connections and using the right words to close more sales; and creating websites that maximize sales by minimizing off-putting informational clutter.

4. Digital Influencer: A Guide to Achieving Influencer Status Online

Author: John Lincoln

Do you believe influencers are born and not made? If so, author John Lincoln believes you are wrong. Lincoln, CEO of the SEO company Ignite Visibility and a digital marketing teacher at the University of California at San Diego, argues anyone can transform into an influencer by taking the right steps. He lays out what is required for people to become authorities in their fields and leaders skilled in directing and persuading others. Digital Influencer guides readers in crafting and adopting strategies for engaging their communities, growing their followings, and building a powerful online persona. Lincoln provides a plan of action on topics including gaining influence through blogging, guest posting “like a pro,” using SEO to drive authority, and using viral marketing concepts for exponential reach.

5. Branding: In Five and a Half Steps

Author: Michael Johnson

One of the world’s leading brand consultants and graphic designers, UK-based Michael Johnson offers a step-by-step visual guide to fabricating a successful brand. Johnson breaks down common brands to reveal their key components and offers case studies that clearly show why consumers select one particular product or service over another. The author demonstrates that a brand originates not with finding a solution, but rather with finding a gap in the market in need of an answer. Ideally, this opening should be identified through comprehensive research and sound strategic thinking. Johnson’s visually striking, illustration-rich guide highlights some of the planet’s most successful corporate identities and provides templates to enable readers to create and improve their own brands.

Technology and Trends

Marketers’ work is never done ‒ and they never get to rest on their laurels. As we all know, the only constant is change, and marketers must keep up with it! Staying abreast of new technologies and incoming trends is all part of this demanding and ever-evolving profession. These “look-ahead” books do an excellent job of aiding that quest by giving marketers a heads-up on the future:

6. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

Author: Kevin Kelly

The key developments that will unfold over the next three decades and profoundly change our lives have already been set in motion by existing and evolving technologies. In other words, they are inevitable. Kelly, the Silicon Valley-based founder of Wired magazine, outlines how advances like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the on-demand economy will have a huge impact on our culture, our daily lives, our jobs, our educations, our communications, our perceptions, and our buying habits. Offering an optimistic view on an amazing and mind-boggling future, The Inevitable provides an insightful look at where we are headed. Such knowledge is extremely useful to those who make their living anticipating customer mindsets.

7. Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends

Author: Martin Lindstrom

Like the Brady Bunch’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” lately it has been “Big Data, Big Data, Big Data” getting all the attention. But what about Small Data? What can it tell us? According to Martin Lindstrom, a global expert on brand building, the answer is … quite a lot. Lindstrom argues that useful, insightful market research calls for a deeper understanding of individuals and how they behave in context. That intimate understanding can only be gained from examining the clues gleaned by studying real people in their native environments ‒ their own homes ‒ and not by crunching numbers in huge, anonymous data sets. Lindstrom spends the vast majority of his time living in strangers’ houses and gets a front-row view of the elements that make up their daily lives ‒ their habits, routines, decors, technology usage, likes and dislikes, and so on. From these observations he derives people’s true desires and turns them into groundbreaking products for major companies.

8. Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, Transform Your Industry

Author: Maciej Kranz Wiley

“The Internet of Things” or “IoT” is a hot buzzword. It’s also a term that describes a somewhat complex subject ‒ the ever-increasing interconnectivity of computing devices and mechanical and digital machines, as well as the system in which everyday objects send and receive data. Wiley’s book describes some of the major impacts the IoT will have on both our personal and work lives and delivers a blueprint for businesses to take advantage of this major development and technological transformation. Building the Internet of Things explains how companies can create IoT strategies that capitalize on certain advances while avoiding disruption from others, and how the combination of people, processes, and data will provide new opportunities for organizational change and potentially huge benefits for businesses.

9. The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future

Author: Steve Case

The Internet’s First Wave began when companies such as AOL ‒ which author Steve Case founded in 1985 ‒ established the foundation for consumers to connect to the Web. The Second Wave involved the creation of online search and social networking capabilities and the smartphone revolution. Now the Third Wave approaches. In this period, entrepreneurs will shape a transformation that will dramatically change the way we use and interact with major sectors such as health, education, transportation, energy, and food. Successfully navigating this unfolding era will require a specific skill set, which case lays out. He also explains how businesses ‒ and, inevitably, marketers ‒ will have to rethink their relationships with customers, competitors, and governments, and how they can craft sound and profitable strategies to prosper in the new age.

10. Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice

Authors: Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, David S. Duncan

For many years business experts have told us that “understanding the customer” is the key to innovation. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and his co-authors, however, the true catalyst for driving innovative success is not understanding the customer, but rather understanding the customer’s job. When people purchase a service or product they are basically “hiring” it to get a job done. If it does this job well, they “rehire” that same service or product. If not, it gets fired and the customers move on to hire something else. When companies truly understand what job their customer is looking to complete, they’re able to see beyond existing solutions. The writers argue that studying and analyzing the factors that prompt customers to hire a product or service is essential for any business looking to improve its performance by creating products that customers truly want ‒ and will pay top dollar for.

Creativity and Productivity

Marketers work in a demanding profession that requires elasticity, openness, forward thinking, imagination, an embrace of innovation, stamina, and a very strong work ethic. In other words, they need oodles of creativity and productivity. Here are five excellent 2016 books that offer great insight into making the most of both essential qualities:

11. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind

Authors: Scott Barry Kaufman, Caroline Gregoire

Launched at the very end of December of 2015, Wired to Create is close enough to being a 2016 release for our purposes. Hey, we’re flexible ‒ and that’s one of the hallmarks of creativity. In this book, cognitive scientist and professor Kaufman and Huffington Post psychology and neuroscience writer Gregoire explore the mysteries of the creative mind. The book highlights research on the qualities and habits of very creative thinkers and takes a look at the lives of such diverse and accomplished figures as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust, John Lennon, and chess champion Josh Waitzkin, among many other well-known artists, musicians, writers, and innovators. Wired to Create gives readers a better understanding of creativity, suggests ways we can bring more of it into our work, and reassures us that a messy, nonlinear path to imaginative output is a-OK.

12. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Author: Adam Grant

Adam Grant, the youngest-ever tenured business professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, explores how “original” thinkers can best change the world by adopting and advocating for unconventional, untraditional, and non-conformist ideas and practices and fighting “groupthink” ‒ but without risking it all. Grant offers insights into tapping our own buried creativity, building cultures that welcome dissent, managing fear and doubt, choosing the right time to act, forming coalitions with like-minded allies, and nurturing originality in kids. Through surprising stories from the worlds of business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant offers lessons in overturning the status quo garnered from a diverse range of people, including an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, an Apple employee who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, and a billionaire financial genius who fires employees who fail to criticize him.

13. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Authors: Bill Burnett, Dave Evans Knopf

“Design thinking” helps people craft remarkable furniture and products ‒ but can it also help them craft fulfilling and meaningful lives? Silicon Valley veterans Bill Burnett and Dave Evans Knopf answer that question with a resounding Yes! Burnett, who is Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford, and Evans, an adjunct lecturer, management consultant, and co-founder of Electronic Arts, propose that it’s entirely possible to envision and shape a life you love, at any age, and no matter your background ‒ and you don’t even have to know your passion out of the starting gate. They discuss ways you can attract joy, constant creativity and productivity, and the potential for surprise. Additionally, the authors identify attitudes that often hold people back, such as assuming there’s only one correct route to an amazing life. Au contraire, say the professors ‒ the path is not narrow, but wide.

14. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Author: Cal Newport

Those of us in developed countries are used to multi-tab web browsing, jumping from smartphone app to smartphone app, and taking in bits and pieces of a constant stream of audio and visual stimuli. In short, our attention spans are short. This sea change in modern humans’ habits severely hinders our ability to complete “deep work” ‒ which Georgetown University computer science professor Newport defines as the act of focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Deep work, he says, is like a superpower in our current economy as “it enables you to quickly (and deliberately) learn complicated new skills and produce high-value output at a high rate.” It’s also an activity that brings meaning and fulfillment to our professional lives. Newport describes how we can improve our ability to work deeply and how we can make deep work a major part of our already busy schedules.

15. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Authors: Jake Knapp, Josh Zeratsky, Braden Knowitz

In business, a question lingers every single day of the year. Leaders and entrepreneurs ask themselves: What’s the most important place to focus our effort, and how do we start? Google designer Jake Knapp created a five-day process ‒ or “sprint” ‒ for answering this question, as well as others, such as: What will our idea look like in real life? How many meetings and discussions does it take before we can be sure we have the right solution? At Google, sprints were used on everything from Google Search to Google X. Knapp joined Braden Kowitz and John Zeratsky at Google Ventures, and together they’ve completed more than a hundred sprints with a diverse range of companies. This practical guide helps businesses solve critical dilemmas and it offers assistance to “anyone with a big opportunity, problem, or idea who needs to get answers today.”

16. Be Obsessed or Be Average

Author: Grant Cardone

Grant Cardone is now a multimillionaire entrepreneur and the creator of five successful companies and a best-selling author ‒ but before all that he was broke, out of work, and addicted to drugs. Although in his youth he’d harbored big dreams of wealth and fame, Cardone was persuaded by friends and family to “tone it down and play by the rules.” That strategy was a disaster. Cardone owes his life’s turnaround to his fierce embrace of one major quality: obsession. Being “unapologetically obsessed” makes you hyper-focused, persistent, creative “to the point of appearing magical,” and insatiably determined to win in a way that attracts great talent and brings out the best in other people. Cardone tells readers how to set crazy goals ‒ and reach them, how to value money and spend it on the right things to bring more money in, and how to use critics’ negativity as fuel for great achievement. After all, argues Cardone, why be average when you can be exceptional ‒ and exceptionally successful?

What do you think of our list? Were there any other outstanding business books that came out in 2016 that we missed? Let us know in the comments section!