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Must-read books for marketing researchers

Article ID:
February 2013
Quirk's Staff

Article Abstract

Drawing on feedback from LinkedIn members, Quirk's has compiled a list of must-read books for marketing researchers, ranging from best practices in business to how practitioners can avoid the data dump.

Last year, Quirk’s asked the members of its Marketing Research & Insights LinkedIn group, “What books should a marketing researcher be required to read?” And researchers, you answered! We received over 75 recommendations for must-read books – from how to master PowerPoint to how to decipher the human brain.

Below is the compiled list with the titles grouped broadly by topic. Additionally, if the LinkedIn member who suggested the book provided reasoning as to why it’s a must-read, we’ve included that as well.

We realize this list is not exhaustive! To suggest additional books, e-mail us at We’ll post periodic updates to keep up with new and noteworthy titles. For more information or to make a purchase through Amazon, just click on the title!

Qualitative toolbox

Qualitative Research: Good Decision Making through Understanding People, Cultures and Markets (Market Research in Practice) by Sheila Keegan
Keegan outlines the history of qualitative research; its purpose and role; its relationship to quantitative research; ethical issues it provokes; and how to analyze, interpret and communicate research results.

The Mirrored Window: Focus Groups from a Moderator's Point of View by Judith Langer
The author, a seasoned moderator, guides the reader step-by-step to success using real examples.

Dominators, Cynics, and Wallflowers: Practical Strategies for Moderating Meaningful Focus Groups by Robert W. Kahle
This book aims to help identify potential problem participants in focus groups and provides tools to respond to their misbehavior.

Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods by Michael Quinn Patton
This book serves as a current review of the qualitative methods available.

Moderating to the Max: A Full-tilt Guide to Creative, Insightful Focus Groups and Depth Interviews by Jean Bystedt, Siri Lynn and Deborah Potts
rovides focus group leaders with detailed instructions for more than 20 techniques that will deepen findings and bring life to qualitative discussions.

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz and Linda L. Shaw
Using actual unfinished notes as examples, the authors illustrate options for composing, reviewing and working field notes into finished texts.

Hitting the Sweet Spot: How Consumer Insights Can Inspire Better Marketing and Advertising by Lisa Fortini-Campbell
“It’s a quick read and a good overview of basics and the psychology for qualitative research. It's an oldie but goodie!” – Nancy Schankerman

Ethnography for Marketers: A Guide to Consumer Immersion by Hy Mariampolski

Learning From Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies by Robert S. Weiss

Quantitative toolbox

How to Design and Report Experiments by Andy Field and Graham J. Hole
This is a textbook and guide to the world of experimental design and statistics. It provides a map of the entire process, beginning with how to get ideas about research, how to refine your research question and the actual design of the experiment, leading to statistical procedures and assistance with writing up results.
“It reminds me of Monty Python meets statistical theory. It is both a funny and accessible yet highly competent read.” – Greg Timpany

The Psychology of Survey Response by Roger Tourangeau, Lance J. Rips and Kenneth Rasinski
Drawing on classic and modern research from cognitive psychology, social psychology and survey methodology, this book examines the psychological roots of survey data, how survey responses are formulated and how seemingly unimportant features of the survey can affect the answers obtained.

Say it with Figures by Hans Zeisel
For researchers conducting data analysis, this book offers insight into how to use crosstabulation to analyze market research.

Surveying the Social World: Principles and Practice in Survey Research by Alan Aldridge and Kenneth Levine
“Start here and follow their sources.” – Mike Carlson

Handbook of Marketing Scales: Multi-Item Measures for Marketing and Consumer Behavior Research by William O. Bearden, Richard G. Netemeyer and Kelly L. Haws

The Art of Asking Questions by Stanley L. Payne

Consumer psychology

Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways.
Other recommended titles from Ariely: Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics

Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth About Consumers, and the Psychology of Shopping by Philip Graves
The author reveals why the findings obtained from most market research are completely unreliable. The idea that questions answered on a questionnaire or discussed in a focus group can provide useful insights on which to base business decisions is the cause of product failures, political blunders and wasted billions.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory” and creating “curiosity gaps.”

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Duhigg takes his readers through scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed.

The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark, Carol Pearson and Carol S. Pearson
The authors show that the most successful brands are those that most effectively correspond to fundamental patterns in the unconscious mind known as archetypes.

Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature by Mark Earls
Earls uses different sources, anecdotes and evidence to show that we are a “we” species suffering from the “illusion of I.” Earls challenges some of our deepest ideas to reveal the truth about who we are and what marketers, managers and governments can do to set about influencing mass behavior.

The Strategy of Desire (Classics in Communication and Mass Culture) by Ernest Dichter and Arthur Asa Berger
This book counters the argument that motivational research amounts to manipulation and shows how the understanding and modification of human behavior is necessary for progress.

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Iyengar asks the difficult questions about how and why we choose: Is the desire for choice innate or bound by culture? Why do we sometimes choose against our best interests? How much control do we really have over what we choose?

How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman
This title provides practical synthesis of the cognitive sciences. Zaltman provides research tools –metaphor elicitation, response latency and implicit association techniques – and demonstrates how innovators can use these tools to get clues from the subconscious when developing new products and finding new solutions.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
This book offers a social critique of our obsession with choice and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Readers will learn the six universal principles of persuasion, how to use them to become a skilled persuader and how to defend against them.

How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gilovich
Gilovich documents the cognitive, social and motivational processes that distort our thoughts, beliefs, judgments and decisions. The biases and stereotypes that help us process an overload of complex information inevitably distort what we would like to believe is reality. Awareness of our propensity to make these systematic errors is the first step to more effective analysis and action.

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow
The author demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness.

Communication and Persuasion: Psychological Studies of Opinion Change by Carl Iver Hovland, Irving L. Janis and Harold H. Kelley

Research in general

Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning by Jon Steel
Steel criticizes research practices that drive a wedge between agencies and the people they aim to persuade. He suggests new ways of approaching research to cut through the BS and get people to show their true selves and he shows how the right research, when translated into a motivating and inspiring brief, can be the catalyst for great creative ideas.

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries, Jack Trout and Philip Kotler
“This was the first marketing book I read that wasn’t required and it had a profound impact on my professional life. Although first published in the early 1970s, I was surprised to find it still in print.
It took my inquisitive mind to unexpected directions. It exposed Madison Avenue and brought me to a world where brands trumped and how consumers’ minds can be and are manipulated. Ultimately, isn’t that much of what marketers try to accomplish? On his way to college, I gave my son a copy.” – Peter R. Steriti
“It is a classic but every market research person should read it to better serve his/her marketers.” – Martha Guidry

How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don't Know by Byron Sharp
This book provides evidence-based answers to questions asked by marketers every day. It tackles issues such as how brands grow, how advertising really works, what price promotions really do and how loyalty programs really affect loyalty.

Empirical Generalizations about Marketing Impact: What We Have Learned from Academic Research by Dominique M. Hanssens
This book surveys academic research to determine what we know about the impact of marketing activities on product and company performance.

Leading Edge Marketing Research: 21st-Century Tools and Practices edited by Robert J. Kaden, Gerald L. Linda and Melvin Prince
In this compilation, multiple authors examine new tools to measure and analyze consumer attitudes, combined with existing databases, online bulletin boards, social media, neuroscience, radio frequency identification tags, behavioral economics and more.

Quality in Market Research: How to Implement the MRQSA Standard by Peter Jackson
This is a practical guide to meeting the Market Research Quality Standards Association standards. It provides a background to the concept of quality and how it relates to market research.
“This is the only book on the market to give a full analysis of BS ISO 20252:2012.” – Julia Helmsley

Marketing Management by Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller
This classic text reflects the latest in marketing theory and practice.
“I think a marketing researcher should understand how research fits into marketing strategy. You don't need to read the book cover to cover, just become familiar with its contents and use it as a reference.” – Bonnie Eisenfeld

The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research: Tools and Techniques for Market Researchers by Ray Poynter
“Super useful handbook to get someone up to speed with both quantitative and qualitative tools and techniques of online research.” – Larissa Acosta

The Effective Use of Market Research: How to Drive and Focus Better Business Decisions (Market Research in Practice) by Robin J. Birn

The Consumer Market Research Handbook by Robert M. Worcester and John Downham

All about the brain

The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind by A. K. Pradeep
This book offers an in-depth exploration of how neuroscience is having an impact on how we make, buy, sell and enjoy everything. It also probes into how this new knowledge can enhance customers' lives.

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom and Paco Underhill
Lindstrom presents the findings from his neuromarketing study that peered inside the brains of 2,000 volunteers from all around the world as they encountered various ads, logos, commercials, brands and products. The results shatter much of what we have long believed about what seduces our interest and drives us to buy.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences, takes his readers on a tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities – and also the faults and biases – of fast thinking and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
Eagleman navigates the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate its surprising mysteries.

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow

Trends/Looking to the future

End of Marketing as We Know It by Sergio Zyman
Zyman, formerly of The Coca-Cola Company, shows why old approaches to marketing have lost their fizz and how to get a jump on the strategies that will work in the 21st century.

The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge by Doc Searls
While marketers look for more ways to get personal with customers, including new tricks with big data, customers are about to get personal in their own ways, with their own tools. The author describes an economy driven by consumer intent, where vendors must respond to the actual intentions of customers instead of vying for the attention of many.
“This book by Doc Searls imagines a near future where consumers are in control. He feels CRM will be replaced by VRM where it's now consumers who manage relationships with their chosen vendors. It has implications for those of us in MR as the trick will be to forge a mutually beneficial relationship between consumers and their favorite brands. Part of that will be providing a forum where consumers can interact and communicate directly to their chosen brands.” – Kevin Lonnie

Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World's Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan
Women are the engine of the global economy. They hold the purse strings and when they’ve got a tight grip on them as they do now, companies must be shrewder than ever to win them over. Just when executives have mastered becoming technology-literate, they find there’s another skill they need: becoming female-literate.

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes by Mark Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne
The authors take the reader into the worlds of polling, targeting and psychographic analysis.

Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 by Neil Howe and William Strauss
The authors posit the history of America as a succession of generational biographies, beginning in 1584 and encompassing everyone through the children of today. Their theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern.

Dealing with data

Drinking from the Fire Hose: Making Smarter Decisions Without Drowning in Information by Christopher J. Frank and Paul Magnone
This book focuses on learning how to ask the right questions at the right time. Asking smarter questions will expose you to new information, point you to connections between seemingly unrelated facts and open new avenues of discussion with your colleagues. The authors explain the seven questions that can help you bring a big-picture perspective to problems that often leave others buried in irrelevant details.
“This should be required reading for MRX folks. One of the co-writers is VP of research at American Express (Christopher Frank) and he basically sketches out a blueprint for how research should be presented, using case studies and real-world examples. You might find that it's laid out a bit like a textbook but I actually didn't have a problem with that. Each chapter tackles a different topic which I found made it easily digestible and a rather quick read. Anyway, I can't recommend enough – it's one of the few recent books I'm aware of that focuses on how to approach/present/work with market research.” – Laura Sigman

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff and Irving Geis
Statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from gee-whiz graphs that add nonexistent drama to trends to results detached from their method and meaning to statistics' ultimate bugaboo: faulty cause-and-effect reasoning.

Here's Looking at Euclid: From Counting Ants to Games of Chance - An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through the World of Numbers by Alex Bellos
Too often math gets a bad rap, characterized as dry and difficult. Bellos argues that mathematical thought is one of the great achievements of the human race and arguably the foundation of all human progress.

Research reporting

ThinkStoryline: The Art of Developing and Delivering Convincing Presentations by Alexis Puhan
“A great book for defining the appropriate layout for your story and avoiding the data dump!” – Alex West

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte
“The basic premise here is that statisticians know little about the visual arts and visual artists know little about stats. A must-read for anyone who builds and presents charts and data.” – David Allan Van Nostrand

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds
Garr combines solid principles of design with the tenets of Zen simplicity to help readers along the path to simpler, more effective presentations that will be appreciated, remembered and acted upon.

Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business by Bruce R. Gabrielle

Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations that Inform, Motivate, and Inspire by Cliff Atkinson

Not research-focused but still worth a read

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins
The book aims to describe how companies transition from being average companies to great companies and how companies can fail to make the transition.
“The book is about transforming a business. Marketing research information is used to make business decisions and I think the book provides guidelines on what some of the business decisions should be.” – Annetta Moses
“The value of this book is the quality of the authors research and some original and thought-provoking ideas.” – Tony Trigwell

Marketing Imagination by Theodore M. Levitt
The author, editor of the Harvard Business Review and Edward W. Carter Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, offers his take on modern marketing practices.

The Logic of Failure: Recognizing And Avoiding Error In Complex Situations by Dietrich Dörner
Dörner identifies what he calls the “logic of failure” – certain tendencies in our patterns of thought that prove disastrous for today’s complex world.

Competing for the Future by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad
The authors develop a coherent model for how today's executives can ease the tension between competing today and clearing a path toward leadership in the future.

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This book is about luck and how we perceive and deal with luck in life and business.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random and more predictable than it was.
“Taleb’s books are no easy reads but quite essential for a good understanding of the many pitfalls of the trade. Both books changed my views on research and intelligence completely.” – Pascal Mignolet

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon
Moon identifies the outliers, the mavericks, the iconoclasts – the players who have thoughtfully rejected orthodoxy in favor of an approach that is more adventurous. Different shows how to succeed in a world where conformity reigns but exceptions rule.

Connections by James Burke
Burke examines the ideas, inventions and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological advances of today. He untangles the pattern of interconnecting events: the accidents of time, circumstance and place that gave rise to the major inventions of the world.

Borrowing Brilliance: The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others by David Kord Murray
The author shows readers how new ideas are merely the combination of existing ones by presenting a simple, six-step process that anyone can use to build business innovation.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there's a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there's no rule book.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink
Pink outlines the six fundamentally human abilities that are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment – and reveals how to master them.

The Decision Loom: A Design for Interactive Decision-Making in Organizations by Vincent Barabba
A guide for any public, private, government or non-profit organization that needs a system for making better decisions. The book sets out to change our analytical habit and encourages seeing the bigger picture.

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey and Rebecca R. Merrill
Covey shows how trust – and the speed at which it is established with clients, employees and constituents – is the essential ingredient for any high-performance, successful organization.
“We, as researchers, need to always build trust internally with our employee base as well as with our clients.” – Michael Vigeant

Delivering and Measuring Customer Service: This Isn't Rocket Surgery! by Richard D. Hanks
This book focuses on the practicalities and common sense of taking care of customers, measuring their experiences and taking tactical actions to improve.

City: Rediscovering the Center by William H. Whyte and Paco Underhill
With a group of young observers, camera and notebook in hand, Whyte conducted studies of street life, pedestrian behavior and city dynamics. City is the result of that research – a humane view of what is staggeringly obvious about the urban environment but seemingly invisible to those responsible for planning it.

Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company by Andrew S. Grove
The author reveals his strategy of focusing on a new way of measuring the nightmare moment every leader dreads: when massive change occurs and a company must, virtually overnight, adapt or fall by the wayside.

Winner Take All: How Competitiveness Shapes the Fate of Nations by Richard Elkus
This book addresses why the U.S. has lost dominant market positions in various industries, why this is a major problem for American living standards and what we can do about it.

Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan
Other recommended titles from Maxwell: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You and The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard

Speaking in Public WITHOUT Sweating in Private (How to write and deliver powerful presentations for the conference, sales pitch, team meeting, or board room) by Stevie Ray

Recommended authors: Peter Drucker, Regis McKenna, Steven Pinker

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