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.
I spoke with a digital marketer yesterday and he had expressed concerns working with designer on websites. He'd seen the results go haywire in the past from an SEO perspective because most designers use tools like Squarespace and Wix without considering how their pretty site will play into the overall digital strategy.
When I pushed for specific problems, the only answer I got was, "you need an SEO partner," which is pretty convenient considering that's what he does.
Here's the thing: if there is truly a better way to do something, it is your job to articulate those details to someone in need of your help, especially if they are willing to learn.
If you're a chiropractor and you don't share your method for making others feel better or coach them, how will they trust you?
What about a SaaS startup that doesn't educate users on how to use their platform?
A designer that doesn't articulate why a design is flawed and coach better design practices?
There is no trust built up keeping your knowledge behind closed doors. If you are an expert, prove it. Better yet, teach it.
I was the best man in my cousin's wedding yesterday. I'd spent weeks trying to write a speech for this occasion, but found myself tearing up when I would start writing introductions. The memories I share with my cousin are that powerful.
Needless to say, the attendees of the wedding felt something when I was speaking with plenty of "awws," laughs, and, of course, tears responding to the speech.
Whatever the audience was feeling, the strange thing was that I felt it too. I was reminded of this quote from Robert Frost, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."
Here's the thing:
When coming up with the personality of your brand, its values, mission, and purpose, YOU need to feel something. If you don't, how do you expect anyone else to?
No heart in the founder, no heart in the buyer.
In a cluttered market where people buy on emotion, it's the safest bet you have against becoming a commodity.