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.
Almost every startup has a difficult time honing in on a specific target audience. True to their nature, founders of companies believe so much in the success and impact of their product that they believe everyone could benefit from it. They probably could, but it is impossible to build a brand and targeted a message to someone that doesn't exist.
"But won't I be limiting the amount of people I could help by picking someone so specific?"
YES! That is the point. And I'll give you an example using a YouTube channel I came across recently.
This channel has over 90,000 subscribers and each video now boasts 500,000 or more videos. What is it a channel about?
A Scottish dude who trims the hooves of cows. Yep. He crushes it. All because he makes videos specifically for dairy cow farmers.
Here's the thing, I guarantee that not everyone who watches his channel is in need of his services, but if even 1% of his 90,000 subscribers need his services, he is set for life with a solid base of customers.
If this guy, who targets dairy cow farmers can get this many people to buy into what he's doing, so can your amazing startup. You just have to pick someone who needs your services and cater your message to them.
I recently deleted several apps from my phone, ones that I had previously used on a daily basis (Gmail, LinkedIn, Slack, etc). Apart from not being bothered by the constant slew of information or feeling the need to satiate a hunger for attention, something else happened after deleting these apps:
I could critique and analyze them more effectively.
Akin to seeing the forest through the trees, opening an app after not using for a bit gave me a new perspective. I could examine each step in their onboarding, I could observe their interactions with a keen eye, I could look at their layout and better empathize with someone who hadn't seen it before.
Using these apps or obsessively critiquing them daily wouldn't allow me to do that.
In the interest of getting good ideas and understanding what makes these products great, delete them... for a bit.