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7 Books That Ignited My [Marketing] Career

Books have long been a source of inspiration, education, and information for readers, young and old alike. Today, there are countless other mediums to access information from blogs to vlogs to Ted Talks to Wikipedia and so much more.

As I sat down to write this blog on books that ignited my [marketing] career, I came up with a list of 7. Why 7? I wanted to highlight books across different aspects/stages of my life. Ones that made the biggest impact on me and helped shape and define my thinking and career.

Here are my top 7

Working Without a Net: How to Survive and Thrive in Today’s High Risk Business World by Morris Shechtman

Written in the mid 90’s by a former university professor and psychotherapist, Morris Shechtman, it was one of the first business books I read that helped me navigate and adapt to a rapidly changing culture and business environment. It provided me with strategies to claim my independence in the wake of external forces and helped foster strength from within – or as the book is so poignantly titled, “Working Without a Net.”

This book was timely as I was working at the time for a direct marketing production company where I managed an account services department of 20 people. This was my first big management position, and I took it very seriously. In many ways, I was ill-equipped to take on so much responsibility, but the learning over my 5-year tenure there was invaluable. The insights and exercises in the book gave me a foundation to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

The Pirate Inside: Building a Challenger Brand Culture within Yourself and Your Organization by Adam Morgan

This book was an onboarding gift from the chieftain on my first day of work at, Initial Tropical Plants (now Ambius). This is memorable for two reasons: It was the first time I had been given a book starting a new job with an inscribed message “Michelle, Welcome to the team at Initial Tropical Plants. We are happy to have you join us and look forward to working with you. Enjoy the book. It contains ideas on how to jump start our thinking on how to go to market.”

The second reason it’s so memorable is that (unbeknownst to me at that time) or the chieftain for that matter, it would later serve as a great foundation to lead the company through a global rebranding.

This book was different than any other book on marketing or branding I had read before. The author forwards the idea that “brands are people, and Challenger Brands are driven by a certain kind of person in a certain kind of way.” Being that my role was to market a service-based company, the idea that “our people are our brand” really resonated with me. It was the frontline service technicians that were onsite at our customers’ premises regularly that would make or break our brand. The Pirate Inside inspired me to challenge the status quo and forge ahead with building a culture and brand that clearly put people first, both inside and outside the company.

Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound by Martin Lindstrom

This was one of two books that fueled my thinking during the time of carrying out a global rebranding exercise. The idea of using the five senses as a means to expand our company’s brand beyond our core business (designing, installing, and maintaining interior plants) and offer additional complementary services was, well… simply enlightening.

After reading Brand Sense and being moved by Martin Lindstrom’s ability to capture the reader with facts that were backed by a large-scale study on how the five senses impact brand creation, I had an “aha” moment. This was the single best strategy I could draw upon to leverage the how and why our business would be expanding our service offerings.

Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands by Kevin Roberts

This was the second book that further shaped my thinking about building a remarkable brand globally. In this book, Kevin Robert, author, and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, passionately believes that ‘love’ is the way forward in business. Yes, love. His argument is straightforward. Numbed by the influx of commodification and indifference, brands “simply have run out of juice.” He advocates counteracting this by creating long-term emotional relationships with customers. This approach was revolutionary in its time. He cites three fundamental Lovemark elements: mystery, sensuality, and intimacy.

Much of the strategic work I had done up to this point centered on “customer intimacy.” Finding ways to build a bond with customers that creates loyalty. His point on sensuality being one of the three elements blended well with our brand proposition of touching the five senses. I was so inspired by this book that I ordered copies for each of the area managing directors in Europe as we were in the midst of rolling out a global rebranding. Fortunately, it is one of the few marketing and branding books that was available in multiple languages.

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

Any of the books written by the master marketer, Seth Godin, are worth reading. He has authored roughly 22 books (I’ve lost count), not to mention his blog, videos, webinars and Ted Talks. You simply can’t learn enough from Seth.

For the purpose of keeping within my list of 7 books, I will highlight Seth’s book, Permission Marketing. Written 17 years ago, it remains a relevant, must-read for marketers of all ages.

As marketing has continued to push the boundaries on selling a product or service and getting our brand messages out, this book provides a number of practical tips worth utilizing. It has become more challenging with regulations like CAN-SPAM to reach consumers without first getting their permission. So how do you get “permission?” In Seth’s entertaining and enlightening style, he equates it to dating (in 5 steps). In order to build a relationship (just like in your personal life), it requires doing so over a period of time.

Marketers want to get their messages in front of you. They must get their messages in front of you just to survive. The only problem is – do you really want more marketing messages?” – Seth Godin

StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

This is a more recent nod. Reading StrengthsFinder 2.0 and taking the StrengthsFinder assessment has been transformational for me, not only personally, but has aided in my coaching and mentoring services. If you aren’t familiar with StrengthsFinder, I urge you to make note of it. The simple yet powerful premise is to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, if that were happening on any level of a regular basis there would be no need for a book or assessment. The reality is we all spend far too much of our time, energy, and effort on our weaknesses. How many times have you sat through a performance review where the bulk of the discussion is on what you aren’t doing well versus what you are good at?

The book is based on a 40-year study of human strengths. Gallup created a language of 34 most common talents and developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to help people discover and describe talents. More than 14 million people around the world have taken the assessment. I refer back to this book, as well as the follow-up book, Strengths Based Leadership, periodically as I work with some of my clients and their teams. It has become a valuable tool and resource for me as a marketing/business coach, to focus on their strengths and help them achieve meaningful sustainable success.

Doug the Pug by Leslie Mosier

Technically not a book (yet) although a book titled, Doug the Pug: King of Pop Culture is in the works and scheduled to be released in November of this year. I included it in my top 7 because of the phenomenal marketing and branding success that has come from, well, a pug named Doug.

As a marketer and brander, it’s worth taking notice of how Doug the Pug took the internet by storm and became a monumental success.

Doug first grabbed my attention as I, too, was a pug owner and devoted lover of all things pug. Reading about the genesis of how his owner, Leslie Mosier, began marketing her pug, initially unintentionally, was fascinating. She went on to quit her day job to become Doug’s manager for his fast-growing social media accounts, which collectively have more than 3 million followers. 3 million!

Admittedly my initial reaction to their unprecedented success was – envy. I would often say to myself (and my pug), “Why didn’t I think of this?!” As a marketer, we ALL know that using babies, puppies, or kittens in your marketing is a surefire tactic to grabbing attention. At the peak of Doug’s fame, he was not a puppy, but a 3-year old, adult dog.

At the tipping point of Doug the Pug’s success, our pug, Bamboo, was already 8 years old. Long before Doug made dressing up pugs cool, we would dress up Bamboo for any and all occasions. I, too, would post pics of her on my social networks, which would inevitably guarantee lots of likes, comments, and shares.


Bamboo even starred in her own home video created in celebration of her (human) sister’s 25th birthday, titled “Let the Dreads Fly” as a salute to her sister, who sports dreadlocks with both style and expression.

Video credit: Michelle Mariola (Bamboo’s mom)

Bamboo became a ‘brand’ in her own right. The difference being that her brand was limited within my network of friends and family, although there were countless adoring strangers that would notice her on her walks around Chicago. Many would stop and want to pet her and on quite a few occasions take pictures. Never did it cross my mind to turn her popularity into a marketing phenomenon. Doug the Pug became a celebrity, built a brand empire, and broke through the viral barrier. Impressive!

I continue to marvel at Leslie’s ability to take something we all do and turn it into something that will go down in history. My hope is that this first book release will not only share some of the funny adventures and stories of Doug the Pug but also give us admiring marketers some tips on creating a transformational social media and merchandising revolution.

With virtually thousands of business, marketing, and branding books available, it ‘s hard to narrow it down to a short list. Hopefully one or more of the ones I highlighted will pique your interest to read or re-read. If you want to access a fantastic round up of 50 of the best marketing books out there, I invite you to check this one out!

I’d love to hear about some of the books you’ve read that have inspired you. Comment below to share yours!


Michelle Mariola is co-founder of Mariola Unlimited, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.