One of my favorite stories about Apple (one that is actually applicable to building out a brand) is how Steve Jobs came up with the idea for Apple store layouts.
Think about a traditional computer store, or any store for that matter, what do you see? Boxes, boxes, and boxes. Boxes on shelves, boxes on the floor, boxes everywhere. In short, the place is packed with product and no matter how neatly arranged and organized, it treats products like cattle for slaughter.
True to his rebellious nature, this concept didn't sit well with Jobs so he sought out inspiration. But he didn't look at other stores, he looked at museums. Museums that house priceless works of art and marvels of nature like dinosaur fossils. These items are treated with so much respect and given ample space to let viewers bask in their presence. You feel awestruck staring at them.
Now think about an Apple store. There is one variant of every product they have placed on single metal stand for a shopper to interact with. There is minimal product storage happening in the consumer facing end of the store. Apple treats their products like the works of art seen in museums and it makes them special.
When applying this to brand identity, it opens up the door for magic. Where can you find a name that starts a story? Where can you find a symbol to represent your company? In whom can you find a personality to best characterize your brand? Where can you find patterns and imagery to reflect who you are? Lastly, how can you mix it all together to become something novel?
This applies to everything. From experience design, brand naming, visual identity, collateral, packaging, whatever. Seeking and stealing creates magic.
"Our target persona is the mid-market."
What this really means is that the founder is looking to acquire the most marketshare possible. Understandably. Mid-market means you've leaped the chasm between early adopters and innovators into the realm of the masses. More buyers, more cash, more power to do amazing things with your product.
Here's the problem: no one gets there as a first step.
The innovation curve starts with innovators and early adopters for a reason, because the mid-market is scared of anything new and exciting.
Even Jesus had early adopters (a small focus group of 12 disciples). It wasn't for centuries that His mission finally reached the masses.
The point? Start with a small group of innovators in a niche market, understand what problems they have, who they admire, and build things for them. They will give you grounds to prove yourself so that the mid-market will eventually trust you.
Mid-market is not a user persona.
The beauty of being literate is that it opens up the door to improve... always. That being said, a lot of startup founders and creatives overlook the fact that marketing masters and branding savants have put their thoughts on paper for the whole world to access. When it comes to differentiation and being rebellious, these are my top three choices:
Zag by Marty Neumeier
Neumeier is the granddaddy of all branding brooks. His cornerstone guide, The Brand Gap, set the record straight on what branding actually is and why it matters in business. He followed up with Zag to hyper-focus on differentiation. The significance of Zag lies in the step-by-step structure that walks readers through how to be different. Granted, he does not dive extremely deep into every step (i.e. crafting a logo or a name), but you'd be foolish not to follow the principles listed in these pages.
Positioning by Ries and Trout
An oldie, but a goodie. Nearly every 21st century marketing book I've read has referenced Ries and Trout's strategies within Positioning. A word of caution, this book is super heady and can seem boring at times, but the examples provided from actual companies within this book are eternally applicable. Expect to learn a lot of great terminology and systemized thinking that will explain all of the marketing efforts you see everyday.
This is Marketing by Seth Godin
This was the first Seth Godin book I had ever read, needless to say it did not disappoint and I rated it as one of my top five books read in 2019. Marketing has almost become synonymous with spammed advertising, clickbait laden emails, and down right annoying. Seth's definitions of service-oriented marketing and the frameworks for niching down are the most clear and articulated I've ever seen. Furthermore, he uses real-world examples to demonstrate how it is the most generous brands that win, not the ones with the sexiest ads or the most keywords.