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.
When it comes to design and startups, a common misconception is if everyone in your industry looks terrible and has unpleasant experiences, it's ok for follow suit.
This has been disproven time and time again by the companies we all love. Design-driven companies yield a greater emotional connection with their customers and are an all around better company to work with. Even something as simple as having an easier website to navigate makes a big difference.
The difference? A customer being stuck with you instead of sticking with you. If given the chance, they will leave and pay a premium to someone who can treat them better. You have to design an experience that makes you irreplaceable.
Don't use the excuse, "everyone does it that way," when surrounded by mediocrity. Take it as an opportunity to be a diamond in the rough.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” -Einstein
What does this mean?
It means that to create an effective solution, you have to have a deep understanding of the problem. Otherwise you fall back on to predictable solutions that don't always work. It's similar to the hammer and nail concept. If you're a hammer, you look around for nails. But if there are no nails in sight, you're SOL.
In design and branding, an hour of solid planning saves countless hours of revision and allows for projects to run smooth.
Point being, take the time to think. Plan. Be strategic. Good solutions come easy to those with skill, but if the wrong skill is put into play then you're in trouble.