Even if email can sometimes seem “old fashioned,” you’ve probably heard that it remains one of the most effective marketing channels. But hearing astounding numbers about the ROI of email marketing is a big step away from actually putting together successful email marketing.
If you set out to learn more about email marketing, you might be surprised that there aren’t well-known email marketing experts the way there are experts in other areas of marketing.
Content marketing has The Content Marketing Institute. Social media has Gary Vee. All of marketing has Seth Godin. Who does email marketing have?
There isn’t a clear answer. So when you go looking for books to learn more about email marketing, you might not find an answer that satisfies you.
In this article, I want to highlight 10 books that can help make you a better email marketer—even if they aren’t explicitly about email marketing.
Sure, I could Google “email marketing books” or check Amazon for books with “email marketing” in the title. But having “email marketing” in the title doesn’t mean a book is actually going to be useful.
So instead, these books cover some important fundamentals that you can apply to email marketing. For each book, I give a brief overview of the topic and how it connects to email marketing.
Here are the 10 best books for email marketing:
- You Should Test That: Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing, by Chris Goward
- Finding The Right Message: How to turn voice of customer research into irresistible website copy, by Jennifer Havice
- Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene Schwartz
- Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt
- Duct Tape Marketing Revised and Updated: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, by John Jantsch
- Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (Voices That Matter), by Steve Krug
- Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising, by Ryan Holiday
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout
- Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers Paperback, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
1. You Should Test That: Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing, by Chris Goward
Do you know if your marketing works? You should really test that.
Conversion optimization is the process of systematically testing your marketing to find changes that create an increase in conversions—whether that means opens, clicks, downloads, or sales.
In You Should Test That, Chris Goward lays out the process of conversion optimization. He covers how to test, what to test, how to prioritize tests, and how to analyze test results. He also provides specific suggestions to optimize around factors that are known to affect conversions.
What does all this have to with email marketing? Email marketing is testable.
You can test subject lines. You can test email content. You can test calls to action. You can test offers and landing pages that emails lead to. Most aspects of your email marketing can be tested.
If you send emails designed to convert, You Can Test That can help you avoid common mistakes like boring subject lines and multiple calls to action—and, ultimately, increase your conversions.
2. Finding The Right Message: How to turn voice of customer research into irresistible website copy, by Jennifer Havice
What should you say to your audience?
Email marketing lets you say almost anything you want. That’s part of its power—email lets you have direct, one-on-one conversations with people who want to hear from you.
But that isn’t the same as sending the right message.
In Finding the Right Message, conversion copywriter Jennifer Havice lays out a process that uses the language of your audience to craft more compelling messages. The book is designed to help people write web copy—but the same lessons apply to email copywriting.
When you find the right message for your emails, your opens, engagement, clickthrough rates, and conversions all increase. Too often, marketers underestimate the impact of copywriting—this book will show you why it matters.
3. Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene Schwartz
This book is the copywriter’s bible.
Ask any top copywriter what copywriting books you should read, and Breakthrough Advertising will top the list. It’s allure is magnified by the fact that legitimate copies are expensive—at the time of writing, the only copies available on Amazon cost $395.
For email marketing, the major insight that comes out of Breakthrough Advertising is the concept of stages of awareness. There are five.
- Unaware: A person doesn’t know they have a problem, and it’s usually not worth marketing to them.
- Problem aware: A person knows they have a problem, but doesn’t know there are solutions to that problem.
- Solution aware: A person knows there are solutions, but hasn’t chosen one and doesn’t know about your product.
- Product aware: A person knows about your product, but isn’t totally sure it solves their problem.
- Most aware: A person knows a lot about your product. They are on the cusp of buying, but need to know the specifics.
Understanding stages of awareness is powerful because it tells you when you should be sending which type of email. It teaches you how to organize your funnel.
Should you send a sales email, or a nurture email? Should you highlight your product, or your audience’s pains? The prospect’s stage of awareness gives you the answers to those questions.
4. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt
Part of the power of email marketing is that it lets you build your own platform. Ryan Holiday (who appears later on this list) calls a platform, specifically an email platform, is your most valuable career asset—because there’s no substitute for an audience you own.
Platform, by Michael Hyatt, is a guide in building your own platform. In five sections, Hyatt walks you through the process of:
- Having a product to build a platform around
- Laying the groundwork for a strong platform
- Building your platform
- Expanding your platform
- Engaging with the people on your platform
Platform doesn’t specifically cover building your email list. But the lessons it covers apply to any platform you build.
5. Duct Tape Marketing Revised and Updated: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, by John Jantsch
It’s tempting to jump into a million different marketing tactics. Email marketing is one of those tactics. But you shouldn’t necessarily be doing tactics because they’re “best practices.” You should do them because they’re right for your business.
That’s what Duct Tape Marketing covers. In it, John Jantsch talks about how to find the heart of your message. How to find the right audience for that message. And, ultimately, what kind of marketing is going to help you spread that message to that audience.
If you aren’t sure you should be doing email marketing, this is a good book to read. It will cover how each tactic helps you achieve your ultimate business goal.
6. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (Voices That Matter), by Steve Krug
Don’t Make Me Think is a classic of web design and usability.
Most of the time, Don’t Make Me Think is referenced in the context of web design—but really it applies to all marketing. The book, by Steve Krug, covers how to design for scanning vs. reading, how to write for the web, and how to create site navigation.
But overall, it’s guided by the principle highlighted in its title—don’t make people think.
Don’t make people think. That principle applies to all of your marketing, and your email marketing is no exception. If you make people think, what happens? They don’t read your emails. They don’t click. They don’t buy. They might not even open!
The advice in Don’t Make Me Think can help you design emails that get results.
7. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising, by Ryan Holiday
“Growth hacking” might seem like a buzzword, but it ultimately boils down to this: growth hackers use marketing techniques that can be tested, measured, and scaled without massive budgets.
You can see where this is going.
Email is a great example of a growth-hacker friendly marketing tactic because it’s easy to test, easy to measure, and easy to scale. It’s just as easy to send an email to 10,000 people as it is to send an email to 100 people.
Hotmail is even used as an example of growth hacking in the book. By including a CTA to get a free Hotmail account in the signature of every email, Hotmail was able to achieve viral growth.
Growth Hacker Marketing covers all of this and much more. Ryan Holiday discusses product-market fit, viral growth, and scalable marketing techniques—all of which you can apply to email marketing.
8. Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger
Growth hacking is all about scaling and going viral. But what kind of messages go viral in the first place?
Contagious, by Jonah Berger, is a book about why people share things.
When most people review this book, they think of sharing on social media. And understanding how to craft an emotional, story-driven message can definitely help you content spread on social.
But people underrate how important it is to spread through email.
Being shared via email is powerful. If someone likes your email enough to forward it to their friends, their friends are going to read it and hear about you, maybe for the first time. People open emails from people they trust.
A 2018 report by Steve Rayson of Buzzsumo showed that this type of private sharing is on the rise—and public social sharing is declining. If you can get people to share your emails, you can spread.
9. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout
How should you talk about your products and brand? How should you differentiate yourself from your competitors? How can you become a leader in your industry, or create an entirely new category that you can lead?
Al Ries and Jack Trout are widely considered the experts on positioning. In their aptly-named book, Positioning, they answer each of these questions—and show how you can embed your brand into your audience’s head.
What does that have to do with email marketing?
Email marketing is a powerful tool as you build your positioning, because it helps you speak directly to your audience.
Refining your positioning can also help you do better email marketing. When your audience gets an email from you, do they get excited and stop everything to read it? Or do they delete it without ever opening? Your brand can make the difference.
10. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
What drives your business?
Business Model Generation is a slightly different book from the others on this list. It relies heavily on illustrations to explain core concepts of creating a business from the ground up.
Who are your customers? What segments are you targeting? Where does your revenue come from? What are your key resources and partnerships? Business Model Generation helps you ask these kinds of questions to get a better sense of what you need to prioritize in your business.
What does that have to do with email marketing? If you want to be effective in your email marketing, or marketing in general, you need to understand your business model.
You need to understand how your email marketing ultimately leads to increased revenue, so that you can take the right strategy for your business.