Marketing 101 @ Google U

 The best books, blogs and more from four years studying marketing at Google

Will Houghteling
3 min readNov 12, 2013

“I want you to run a direct marketing campaign reaching five million small businesses across emerging markets — you pick the countries. You’ll have a budget of $XM dollars and the campaign needs to have at least a 5x ROI. I’ve scheduled meetings for you tomorrow with creative, print and postal management, and data agencies.”

This was how my first meeting with my first boss on my first day at Google started four years ago. I was a recent college grad without a single marketing course under my belt and had (somehow) just joined Google as an Associate Product Marketing Manager. This two-year rotational program was meant to train hungry recent grads to be effective Google marketers with an onboarding ‘process’ that entailed throwing us in the deep end and trusting that we’d learn to swim, fast.

I was 22 and naive enough to be falsely confident, but even I was struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Oh, and your homework tonight is to read these two books [drops books on my desk] — let’s talk later this week when you have question on the books and your first marketing campaign.”

I strongly believe that we all learn best by doing, but also that an intellectual foundation and framework complements hands-on learning—reading and research provides inspiration for strategic and tactical plans to test.

Over the course of my four years at Google, many mentors, managers and fellow marketers suggested countless blogs, books and more to complement my on-the-job training. A friend emailed recently asking for advice on learning marketing, giving me the opportunity to scan through the resources that have been most helpful in my own process. My advice to him (and to you):

Understand people — effective marketing relies on an understanding of what makes people tick (how they make decisions, what intellectual shortcuts they make, etc), so social psych / science is a critical foundation.

  1. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions by Dan Ariely (for the slightly more academically inclined, I’d suggest Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which is a bit denser but more extensive coverage of the same ideas).
  2. Nudge by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
  3. Influence: Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini (this is slightly more applicable to sales than marketing, but still valuable)

Understand YOUR people (i.e. customer research) — this is industry-specific so there’s no general advice, but endlessly comb the latest industry reports / blogs, case studies / white papers written by competitors. As Steve Jobs once said, creativity is about connecting the dots (bad paraphrase, right idea).

Build a plan to reach them — (strategy — what are the goals of my campaign and how do I achieve them?) Having never taken a marketing course in college, this is where I learned most by doing and not reading and thus have fewer personal suggestions. A few that come to mind —

  1. — great blog, largely focused on digital marketing and “growth hacking”
  2. The Purple Cow — the author, Seth Godin, also is an immensely popular blogger worth reading (and wrote another book people love, All Marketers are Liars). This is the only item on the list I’ve yet to personally read, but have heard many swear by it.

Execute on that plan (tactics)

  1. On Advertising, David Ogilvy — This is an oldie but goodie written by one of the godfathers of the industry. It’s a great 101 on writing effective copy and headlines, which is at the core of effective marketing.
  2. LittleBigDetails.comA lot of marketing is about delighting customers, which can be done for free on-site not paid outbound (this falls under product marketing often), and this blog collects the best.
  3. Study your favorite brands and analyze what they’re doing — what makes Apple ads effective? How do Nike ads get you pumped to work out?

There’s also a ton of great general entrepreneurship writing, much of which applies to marketing as well (e.g. Lean Startup, Made to Stick). For a more extensive list of such sources, I’d suggest this excellent Quora thread.

Ultimately I think it matters less exactly what you read and research as that you’re reading and researching at all. Whether you pick up a book or blog from this list or another of the many lists curated online, inevitably it’s the process of pursuing one’s curiosity that inspires new ideas and sustained improvement.

This is my first Medium post. If this article was helpful, I’d appreciate it if you hit Recommend!



Will Houghteling

Bridging school and work @ Strive, x-Minerva, Google/YouTube, Harvard