5 Books That Will Help You Think Like a Global Director of Brand Intelligence

As head of Sonar, the in-house research unit of J. Walter Thompson, Mark Truss has pioneered a new kind of brand research that allows the marketing communications firm to produce insights about the fast-moving consumer environment. His work has earned him coverage in Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Ad Week, and beyond.

Recently we asked Truss, faculty for the Programs in Strategic Communication at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, his media recommendations for those eager to learn more about the field.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize, draws upon decades of clinical research to reveal the secret flaws and strengths of how we think. He explains how thought operates in dual operations: System 1—fast and emotional—and System 2—slow and logical. The book shows the limits of intuition, pinpoints the biases humans are prone to, and delivers big insights about how we make choices.

How Customers Think

Gerard Zaltman argues that 95% of consumer decision-making occurs where standard marketing does not reach: the unconscious. How can marketers and advertisers reach them there? Zaltman synthesizes neurology, sociology, and cognitive science, create a new toolbox to help you understand the customer’s psyche.


Nobel Prize laureate Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein set out to prove a point: our decisions are illogical, subject to biases, and often wrong. There’s more to the book than just pointing out our flaws, however. The authors present a new form of ‘choice architecture’ to nudge people to make their best decisions.

Descartes’ Error

The title of this book is a reaction to Descartes’ famous dictum ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Science followed Descartes and focused on thought, doubt, and cognition, missing out on the central importance of emotions to our everyday lives. Antonio Damasio takes readers through new case studies and scientific advances to show that emotions are not the byproducts or luxuries, but essential to decision making, social interactions—and even logic.

The Advertised Mind

What elusive factors count most towards an ad’s success? Visibility? Entertainment value? Trustworthiness? Using research, Erik du Plessis answers conclusively: what matters most is how much people like it. He brings together a number of disciplines to explore why our emotional fondness for ads is paramount and how it can be achieved.

Bonus Recommendations: Podcasts

In addition to reading, Truss also keeps up with the dizzying advances in psychology and technology with podcasts. He has a couple of recommendations in that arena, too:

Data Skeptic

This podcast by Kyle Polich looks at the emerging edge of data science, AI, robotics, through the lens of scientific skepticism to evaluate what’s real and what isn’t what it seems.

Hidden Brain

NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast uses science and storytelling to dig underneath the surface of human behavior. Host Shankar Vedantam links diverse fields to entertain and create bolder understandings about the unconscious and unknown.

Learn more about Columbia’s Programs in Strategic Communication.