A bookshelf for marketers in lockdown

Harish Bhat | Updated on April 03, 2020 Published on April 03, 2020

What books can stimulate your thinking, during these unprecedented times?

We are living through an unusual period, locked down at home, with deep concerns about the future of humanity. Yet this is also a period to stay optimistic, to contribute wherever we can, to learn and prepare for a post-coronavirus future. The dialogue from which I take inspiration, during these difficult times, comes from JRR Tolkien’s memorable series The Lord of the Rings.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time”, said Frodo. “So do I”, said Gandalf, “and so do all who live and see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

So indeed, it is. We have to decide what to do usefully with this time that is given to us. If you are a student of marketing, one of the best things you can do when you are in lockdown is to read extensively, choosing books that stimulate your thinking, imbibing new concepts and reflecting on what these mean to your work.

Here are my reading recommendations for everyone who has interest in brands, marketing and consumer behaviour. These six titles are not marketing textbooks, but interesting books that are relevant to the craft of marketing.

Most of these titles are available as e-books or Kindle editions.


This is by far the best recent book I have read on human behaviour, an understanding of which is fundamental to good marketing.


 It talks to us about how humans are not always rational creatures, how we bring along behavioural biases to decisions we make, and how we end up being error-prone in our choices. You will read in this book engaging stories of how consumers behave in real life, and why — whether it is choosing wine, or blankets, or saving for old age. The author, Richard Thaler, won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017, and writes in a breezy, hilarious style that is delightful to read.

Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles

Here is a beautifully written story of Indian advertising, authored by a veteran of the industry.


 As this story evolves, you also get to reflect on the evolution of Indian society, and how this has shaped advertising — or indeed, in some cases, how iconic advertising has shaped culture too. Iconic Indian brands such as Dalda, Amul, Fastrack, Surf, Cadbury and Air India march happily through this simple-to-read treatise. Ambi Parameswaran has studied over a hundred advertisements, to distil some powerful lessons in marketing communication, which you will discover in this wonderful book.


This book, by David Epstein, emphasises why marketers, indeed all professionals, should have a range of interests, to excel.


 The author takes us through stories of some of the world’s most successful inventors, scientists, artists, musicians and managers, to reveal to us why gaining a breadth of experiences is so important to real, sustained success. To develop such range, we often have to move off our routine paths, bring new interests into our lives, tinker around with new concepts and things — all of which add wonderfully to our own areas of specialisation. This book inspires us, as marketers, to develop breadth across relevant areas such as psychology, behavioural economics, art and literature, sports, music and cinema. No wonder the book was a New York Times bestseller.

Decoding new consumer mind

Here is a title that comes close to being a sort of marketing Bible for the new tech-age.


The author, Kit Yarrow, is a renowned consumer psychologist, and she takes us deep into the mind of the modern consumer, how and why we shop and buy. For instance, you will read about our growing obsession with gadgets and technology, and therefore why “technovation” — integration of new technology with everything we do — is so important for all marketers. The book outlines practical methods for marketers to tap into this new consumer mind.

Talking to strangers

Malcolm Gladwell, in this book, his latest, tells us what we should really try to know about people we do not actually know.


Through a series of stories, he reveals to us why we so often get other people wrong, while thinking that we have actually understood them right. This book will make you think about how to best assess another person’s need or intent. For marketers, this can translate into methods to know your consumers better, and being wary of the pitfalls of superficial but seductive consumer insight, peddled to us by consultants of all hues.

Swami and Friends

Storytelling is such an important part of a marketer’s arsenal. I was in two minds here, on which book to recommend. A brilliant, scholarly tome would be The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. But the book I am urging you to read is the most endearing story I have ever read, Swami and Friends, by RK Narayan, a story of loveable characters, young and old, from the fictional town of Malgudi. It is simple, quintessentially Indian, makes us smile, and touches our hearts. Marketers need look no further to learn the craft of storytelling.


Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of “The Curious Marketer”

Published on April 03, 2020

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