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If you’re looking for a standard ‘top 10 books that every product marketer should read’ with the usuals like Positioning (Ries & Trout), Obviously Awesome (April Dunford), and Play, Bigger, this isn’t the post for you.
Instead I want to offer some lesser-known, offbeat titles that I (and others) have read over the years.
Certainly, the books I recommend below have offered me either some unique wisdom that I couldn’t find anywhere else, an unusual approach to common challenges, or anecdotes and stories that have inspired my work.
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In this post:
Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy
Michael Porter is the GOAT of business strategy, with every marketing student around the world learning about Porter’s Five Forces.
But his work goes much deeper, touching on value propositions, how we set our businesses up to have competitive advantages, and ultimately – my favorite line – that strategy is about choosing to make some customers unhappy, not being all things to all customers.
Monetizing Innovation: How Smart Companies Design the Product Around the Price
A few years ago, I was trying to figure out how to price our product for different types of customers, and what features each plan should receive.
This book was recommended, and it changed the game for me.
A must-read for anyone involved in building, planning, and implementing pricing strategy, Monetizing Innovation talks through how we’ve got it all backwards. We build the product, then decide the price… instead of understanding what customers will pay first, and building a product to meet their price-point second.
Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
George Lakoff is “the father of framing”, according to the NYT, and this book doesn’t disappoint.
In fact, I wrote a post summarising it here.
Lakoff talks about “frames”, integrated mental models that we rely on to view the world. These paradigms can’t be built: they must exist as a concept, and can only be activated.
While the book talks about the messaging machine that supports the Republican party in the USA, there are so many parallels to our work as product marketers: the focus on clarity, on understanding our customers, and on activating through messaging and repetition.
Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass In Out-Thinking The Competition.
Dave Trott is a famous copywriter that I’ve been following since I studied advertising. Aside from his slightly annoying writing style, you’ll find a ton of useful lessons on how to stand out from the competition, attract attention, and get creative to overcome your challenges.
Often, we think that advertising is a world full of fun and creative challenges, where anything can be fixed with some out-of-the-box thinking or a sudden shower-initiated brainwave.
But what we don’t see is the hours spent carrying out research, focus groups, huddling around a whiteboard trying to connect the dots, or the frustration when the client doesn’t like the message.
Very similar to our work as product marketers, and a fun read.
Never Split The Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
Whether we’re trying to get internal buy-in for a new project, winning over partners, or supporting sales with objection handling content, negotiation is a core professional skill that product marketers might not think they have.
Chris Voss’s experience as a hostage negotiator is nothing compared to us trying to sell software, but his lessons leave you thinking about core principles you can integrate into your everyday work.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters
So this might be a book you’ve seen recommended before. But it’s worth repeating:if you create any type of strategy work, you need to read this.
Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand why all the failure of strategy you’ve experienced before happened. And you’ll know the simple steps you can take to start structuring your strategy work in a way that sets you up for success from the start.
Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Value
In case you haven’t guessed yet, from all my posts, but I’m big on values. The company values, our principles for specific projects, the considered objectives and choices we set to help guide our process all matter a lot.
Conscious Business is a quick read that builds the foundations for acting with more purpose in everything you do.
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell was an American football player turned marketing exec turned CEO turned advisor to some of the biggest names in software – including CEOs and leaders at Google, Facebook, and Apple.
This book captures many of the key lessons that Bill shared with those around him, many of them set in service-leadership, community, and making the hard decisions.
Many working relationships that we have with PMs, sales reps, and even execs are – like it or not – implicit coaching relationships. We can all benefit from recognising and practicing this skill with purpose.
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
From the author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team, this book covers the four steps to organisational health: build a cohesive leadership team, create clarity, overcommunicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.
While as product marketers we might not have the power to select our leadership teams, we still are responsible for helping to create, communicate, and reinforce clarity in our internal change-management work.
This book is a practical guide with many anecdotes and stories that will help you bring clarity to your business.
Other recommendations from smart people:
Badass: Making Users Awesome
Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value
Recommended by Andrea Saez: “PMM is half product, so knowing how product works is if anything an asset. You can’t have a PMM that’s entirely removed from the product world. The book outlines the typical frustrations many teams have when they focus on ‘building features’ and don’t take a step back to think ‘why’ they are building these features – and PMM happens to be part of helping to answer the ‘why’.”
Product Research Rules: Nine Foundational Rules for Product Teams to Run Accurate Research that Delivers Actionable Insight
Also recommended by Andrea Saez!
Do Less, Get More: Guilt-free Ways to Make Time for the Things (and People) that Matter
Recommended by Ishara Naotunna
Add yours here…
What’s your top product marketing-related book recommendation that most people won’t have heard of? Let me know: comment on this post, or drop me a tweet and I’ll add to the list.
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