A Brand-Builder’s Bookshelf: Created By You

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Last week, I posed a simple question:

Assume a colleague tells you that he or she has limited knowledge of branding, but is looking to learn more. What ONE book would you recommend to get that person started? As importantly, why would you recommend that book?

In addition to posting it here at That Branding Thing, I listed it in LinkedIn Answers and discussion groups. In less than 4 days, I received no fewer than 73 thoughtful replies.

Reis, Neumeier, Godin, Olins and Aaker seem to be the names you trust most. Below, you will find all 45 books that were recommended, followed by Zagat-style quotes from those who recommended them. In a decision that’s sure to drive my market-research friends crazy, I’ve ranked them by the number of mentions they received in this unscientific sampling; that’s the number in the parentheses immediately following the name of the author(s).

This exercise also yielded a number of books on personal branding, which I held out of these results. Watch this space on May 29, when I’ll present my take on personal branding.

Thanks so much to everyone who provided recommendations. There are far too many to list by name, but please know that I greatly appreciate your time, thinking and energy for this question.

Here’s the list:

“The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,” Al Reis and Laura Ries (9). Probably the most widely referenced book… For someone who knows very little about branding, this book is fantastic. You should keep in mind however that this book was written in a time when social media did not exist… This book was published some while ago which is a good thing, since it deals with the actual basics of branding and provides an unfettered picture which can be applied to any area… Pretty much the Bible of branding. It’s substantially longer and more in-depth than any of the Godin stuff.

“The Brand Gap,” Marty Neumeier (9). Great for designers and creatives… It’s short, simple and to the point. Good read for everyone, particularly beginners… The best and simplest, really NOW compared to ‘The 22 Immutable Laws’… a snapshot and quick reference guide to creating a solid brand.

“Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” Al Ries & Jack Trout (7). This is Branding 101, for a person with limited knowledge of branding… An absolute classic… New media or old, branding is still about owning a position in your target customer’s mind. Everything else is just communications strategy. Trout & Ries bias toward consumer product brands, but savvy marketers can adapt their concepts to B2B and even services… This is the book that lit the fire in me as a young man for branding.

“On Brand,” Wally Olins (4). An excellent and well-articulated book written by arguably the most successful brand builders!… It’s a great read. And if you know anything about Wally — it’s VERY Wally, who himself has a very distinctive brand… Easy for the layman to understand with plenty of good working examples. You can apply his theory to pretty much any company.

“Building Strong Brands,” David Aaker (3). The most worn and has the most Post-Its in it on my shelf, so I guess that’s a pretty good indication… To go in-depth you can start with this.

“Made to Stick,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath (3). Not a traditional branding title, but its analysis of what distinguishes “sticky” ideas from those that quickly fade from memory applies equally well to brand. And the book itself is easy to read, accessible to the layperson and compelling in its argument… They delve into the reasons some brands make it and some don’t. It’s not a primer or tutorial on branding or marketing. It’s more about anthropology, humanism, psychology and studying why people do what they do and why they do it. Applying it to marketing in a smart way is up to you.

“Brand Leadership,” David Aaker (2). For a beginner it offers lots of “how to” tools as well as sound theory. The Trout/Reis series of positioning books are excellent, but I think Aaker offers a deeper understanding of branding.

“Brand Simple,” Allen P. Adamson (2). It is about why differentiation and relevance should be made simple to understand.

“Branding Only Works on Cattle,” Jonathan Salem Baskin (2). One of the best books on what’s wrong with our industry today… A very provocative book that draws attention to the fallacies of a lot of branding exercises and strategies.

“Designing Brand Identity: A Complete Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining Strong Brands,” Alina Wheeler (2). If you’re discussing brand development, it’s considered by many to be the ‘textbook’ of choice.

“Eating the Big Fish,” Adam Morgan (2). Forget what you already don’t know about branding and read this. It’s engaging, original and true.

“Kellogg on Branding,” the marketing faculty of the Kellogg School of Management (2). It is thorough, and it starts off by defining what branding is (a promise that is woven through any communication or interaction a company has with customers, prospects and the public), and what it is not (graphic standards or company stationery).

“Purple Cow,” Seth Godin (2). Because it’s so simple and obvious…. It’s a great read about developing brands that stand out from your competition.

“The Designful Company,” Marty Neumeier (2). Very good inspiration!

The following received a single mention each:

“A New Brand World: Eight Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership,” Scott Bedbury.

“Accidental Branding,” David Vinjamuri. Tells the stories of Clif Bar, Columbia clothing and Burt’s Bees. It shares their first-hand experience on how they built their brand and how they came about it by accident or chance.

“All Marketers Are Liars,” Seth Godin. Can’t go wrong with his books and it shows the true colors of what companies do to create a solid brand; create a story.

“Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell.

“Brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time,” Matt Haig. An excellent book with a ton of examples.

“Brand Harmony,” Steve Yastrow. It is rich in ideas and is presented well. The book teaches that everyone in the company is in marketing and explains why branding matters and how your customers are the key to your brand.

“Brand Management: A Theoretical & Practical Approach,” Rik Riezebos; H. J. Riezebos; Bas Kist; Gert Kootstra.

“Brand Mindset” by Duane Knapp. Reinforces the idea that everyone in the organization needs to be focused on creating and maintaining value.

“Built to Last,” James Collins and Jerry Porras. Okay, it’s not a branding book per se. But it should be. It’s a discovery and analysis of 18 companies and what makes them so special and enduring. Nearly all the insights can be related to solid brand-building, though perhaps from an operational perspective. But that shouldn’t keep you away. After all, branding isn’t marketing… it’s everything you do!

“Connective Branding,” Dr. Claudia Fisher. At the risk of not being modest and right after all the above great books have been suggested, I would recommend my own book, since it will give a good overview of what branding is all about and make you think about all necessary connections in the context of your own business and brand. (submitted by Dr. Fisher herself)

“Differentiate or Die,” Jack Trout. One of the best books that I have ever read for marketing and business. A classic!

“Focus,” Al Ries.

“From Brand Vision to Brand Evaluation,” Leslie de Chernatony. Explains the different interpretations managers have of brands and therefore why both an internal and external approach to brand management is needed. Then explains a strategic approach to building and managing brands. Each chapter has marketing action checklists so the reader can then start to apply the frameworks within their corporation. (submitted by Mr. de Chernatony himself)

“How Brands Become Icons,” Douglas B. Holt.

“Juicing the Orange,” Pat Fallon and Fred Senn. Not a “branding” book per se, but they delve heavily into how brand equity factors into the success of any initiative. They also talk about how business needs can be creatively transferred into a consumer language that can be shared and advocated.

“Lovemarks,” Kevin Roberts.

“Maxi-Marketing,” Stan Rapp. Though he ought to do an update, what with the consumer getting even more power with social media and blogs.

“Never Cold Call Again,” Frank Rumbauskas.

“Strategic Brand Management,” Richard Elliott and Larry Percy. An easy to read brand management start-up book. Interesting case studies so the reader won’t be bored.

“The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” Reis & Trout. An oldie but a goodie. Basic fundamentals – backed up by good stories – that stand the test of time.

“The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” C.G. Jung. All consumers are people, driven by emotional needs and connecting at a powerful, primitive level with images, words and messages that represent more than the mere features and benefits of a product. Verbal and visual identity are simply the manifestation of the core values and meaning that a brand should bring to the life of the consumer who engages it. All the case studies and biz-speak in the world won’t prepare you as well as this work.

“The Brand Promise,” Duane Knapp. Contains definitions, strategies, roadmaps, and implementation examples.

“The Dictionary of Brand,” Marty Neumeier. Published in collaboration with the AIGA, Neuemeier’s collection of branding terminology is the basis for any creative discussion of branding. After reading this simple guide to the language of brands, knowledge would be limited no longer. Then of course it would be time to pick up “Brand Gap” or “Zag”!

“The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes,” Karen Pearson and Margaret Mark.

“The New Strategic Brand Management,” Jean-Noel Kapferer.

“The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell.

“Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom,” Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta. It provides a B-E-L-L framework (branding, engagement, leading, learning) that puts branding in a whole new context with regard to Web 2.0.

“Tribes,” Seth Godin. I’ve listened to many branding and marketing books in the last four months and Tribes packs a punch that the others don’t have, with many exciting examples. It makes you excited to realize that one guy on a PC with the right idea can have big results.

“Well Written and Red,” Alfredo Marcantonio. As a designer who is looking for inspiration, this is not a conventional branding publication; it focuses on the fantastic Economist poster campaign which has effectively set the TOV for the brand.

“Why Johnny Can’t Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea,” Bill Schley and Carl Nichols, Jr. Points out some of the biggest common mistakes that companies make with their attempts to brand.

“Zag,” Marty Neumeier.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2009 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

7 Replies to “A Brand-Builder’s Bookshelf: Created By You”

  1. Matthew – what an excellent list! Thank you.I’d like to contribute another prospective “read” for your list that I found enjoyable to read, and shares excellent insight that all facets within an organization can benefit … it’s all about building a culture surrounding the brand so that it truly matters in the hearts (not just minds) of our customers. Title: “Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company” Author: Russ Hall.My favorite chapter title: “Your brand is not your logo” (the whole book is an easy/quick read and packed with valuable insight.Best Regards,Nannette DePraeter

  2. Nannette -Always nice to hear for you, and thanks for your contribution to the discussion! This has been an enjoyable little project.As you note in your recommendation, brand is organizational and culture is a key determinant. Another good add to the list!Matthew

  3. Thank you for mentioning Marty Neumeier in your post. I thought you and your readers would like to know that he just released his very first video, INNOVATION WORKSHOP: Brand Strategy + Design Thinking = Transformation.The 45-minute video presents concepts from his bestselling “whiteboard” books – THE BRAND GAP, ZAG, and THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY – plus downloadable exercises that will help you and your team work through brand innovation questions. Overall, this video expands to fill a one-day workshop (an $800 value!) for an extremely affordable price. Check it out below:http://su.pr/2iE1k5

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