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.
As the glue-sticks, scissors, and magazine cut-outs were thrown about, my friend Hayley called my name.
"Zach, I found your word."
She held up a magazine page to show me the word REBEL in all caps and in black and white nonetheless.
Now, here is what's flattering: that is my word, and I've been using it since I started working for myself in late 2017. It's a small thing, but that fact that I did not have to claim that as my word and instead had someone else claim it for me means that I've become synonymous with it.
Why does this matter?
Building a brand is about making people feel a certain way about your business. If you're lucky, you can get the same emotional response from different people that interact with your company. So when someone says the exact word I want them to feel about me, it shows that I'm on the right track.
If I had tried owning all the words, there's no way Hayley would've made that comment yesterday. But because I've invested and gone all in on the word REBEL, she made the connection instantly.
Find your word.
It's astonishing the amount of business owners and sales people who want to be better. They want more customers, they want higher value customers, more of anything that will help them get to the next level. Where this gets interesting is how few of them are willing to do something different to make an impact.
They repeat the same message they have for years, fear to break the mold, but expect that things will change. They pour countless amounts of dollars into marketing, expecting that somehow the same old message will get through.
It's like running on a treadmill. No matter how fast you go, you stay in the same place. If you want to go somewhere you have to run in unconfined territory. You have to break free of what's already there.
Applying this to your brand: say something different, look different, act different, be different. Change.