I tend to read a lot of business and marketing books (stop laughing at me) and over the past few years, I’ve noticed one important group that I don’t think is being served well by the existing books out there: small business owners.
Some branding books are too theoretical or philosophical, with little in the way of practical tips or tangible projects. You end up nodding your head a lot, but have no idea what you should actually do when you are finished. Other brand books are too technical or jargon-y and require you to already have an MBA and twenty years of marketing experience to understand them.
Yet branding and positioning are critical tools for anyone with a small business to master. If there are 10 other dry cleaning chains in your town, how do you ensure yours stands out? If you are about to open the fifth Mexican restaurant on the street, what makes you different or better than your competitors?
I believe that the rise of Groupon and other deep-discount social coupon services are a direct result of small businesses grasping at straws because they are struggling in tough times, looking for answers, and don’t understand the basics of branding and positioning that could really help them stand out without destroying their margins.
The Ad-Free Brand was a direct response to this dearth of branding books that spoke to small business owners. My goal was to write a book that provided a clear, simple process that anyone could follow, filled with plenty of tips and the absolute bare minimum of marketing jargon. My hope was that it would be just as understandable and useful to someone with no marketing experience as it is to a brand professional (if you’ve read it, let me know how you thought I did).
Out of all of the branding books out there, I have seven that I recommend regularly to small business owners who are interested in going a little deeper into branding issues. I thought I’d share the list with you here.
1. The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier: This is probably my favorite simple branding book of all time. It is very visual, can be read in an hour, and is great for sharing and discussing with colleagues.
2. Zag by Marty Neumeier: Another great book by Marty Neumeier, Zag is also a quick read with plenty of ideas that will help you think about how to differentiate your business from your competitors.
3. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries: This is the book that defined the art of brand positioning, still just as relevant as it was when first published 30 years ago. In fact, in The Ad-Free Brand, I drew inspiration from the thinking of Trout and Ries, just updating the way positioning is implemented for a post-advertising era.
4. Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout: Another classic, in my view the best of several other positioning-related books published by Jack Trout over the years. An easy read.
5. Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler: This is the guide to building out the brand identity for your business. It is an elegant and beautiful book, filled with useful case studies—you may be able to find an example in here that you’d like to emulate for your business.
6. Brand Atlas by Alina Wheeler and Joel Katz: Alina Wheeler’s newest book is an overview of many of the most important issues in branding today. Simple descriptions of the key concepts, featuring quotes and insights from leading practitioners, are paired with simple, beautiful diagrams and illustrations by Joel Katz.
7. Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller: When you are ready to move beyond the basics and want to attempt a graduate-level curriculum in branding, head directly for this book. It is the textbook used on college campuses around the world for brand management courses, and it is about as comprehensive a guide to brand management as I have ever encountered.
I’ve also compiled these books into a guide on Amazon here in case you want to buy the whole library (just for convenience, I don’t get any commission since Amazon doesn’t like North Carolina, my home state).
I believe almost all great brands are built on a foundation of great positioning.
I feel so strongly about positioning that one of the core elements of this blog is a series of brand positioning tips I learned over the years as an eager student of classic brand positioning.
Sometimes great positioning is led by a branding genius such as Scott Bedbury (who helped grow the Nike and Starbucks brands); sometimes a great leader and communicator with a very clear vision (like Steve Jobs at Apple) drives it into the organization; sometimes people stumble on great positioning by pure luck; and more and more often, organizations are developing positioning by collaborating with the communities of people in and around the organization who care most passionately about the brand.
This last way is the ad-free brand way of developing brand positioning.
1. Great positioning helps people understand the brand
The best brand positioning is always simple and clear. The greatest product or organization in the world won’t be successful if people can’t or don’t bother to comprehend why they should care about it. Your story must be able to break through the clutter.
2. Great positioning helps people value the brand
Getting people to understand the brand is the first step, but no less important is ensuring they value the brand. The best brands stand for things people care about or desire.
3. Great positioning helps people identify with the brand
Once people understand and value the brand, they must also understand how they fit in and how they can engage with the brand. They need to see some of themselves in it.
4. Great brand positioning helps people take ownership over the brand
It may sound like a brand’s worst nightmare to lose control and have the brand community take over. But the most self-actualized brands of the twenty-first century allow the communities of people surrounding them to take some ownership of and responsibility for the brand. Essentially, the brand owners become in command and out of control of the brand.
In 1981, when Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (the book that really defined the discipline of brand positioning) traditional advertising was still a dominant force. In fact, as you glance through their book, you’ll notice that most of the examples they use to illustrate positioning concepts are classic advertisements or advertising campaigns like the Avis “We’re #2, so we try harder” or the 7-Up “Uncola” campaign.
In the book, Trout and Ries define positioning as follows:
“…positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”
The Trout and Ries definition is a perfect way to achieve the first three of the four benefits above; it helps people understand, value, and identify with the brand.
Where the Trout and Ries model of positioning is all about what you do to the mind of the prospect, ad-free brands are less interested in creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds and more interested in creating meaning for a brand with the help of people’s minds.
By giving the communities of people who care about a brand some ownership over its future direction, we begin to build relationships based on trust, respect, and a mutual exchange of value.
Where 21st century brands will really shine is by mimicking the open, collaborative, meritocratic model of the open source software movement (and the Internet itself) in their positioning work. In my view, without beginning to engage the communities of people who care about a brand as co-owners, classic brand positioning by itself will continue to be less and less effective as traditional advertising and PR continue to be less and less effective.
The secret? Marrying those classic brand positioning principles to a 21st century way of collaborating with the communities of people who care about a brand. By doing both together, we’ll be able to build stronger, more resilient brands than ever before.
Over the last few months, the battle to define the meaning of the word “open” has intensified into one of the more interesting brand positioning exercises I’ve seen in the technology industry (if you aren’t familiar with brand positioning and would like to learn more, consider starting here).
Google Goes on Offense
Think back to 2009 and the state of the smartphone industry. The iPhone had completely redefined the entire market, while Google was just beginning to see traction with Android and looking at a long struggle to catch up with Apple.
While most other smartphone makers were attempting to catch up playing by Apple’s rules in the market Apple defined (usually a losing strategy in the long term when the leader has a solid head start), Google took a different approach—they tried what now looks to me looks like a classic repositioning strategy.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
In the classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Jack Trout and Al Ries, there is an ongoing thematic—the overwhelming value of being #1 in a market. The reasoning? It is extremely hard to dislodge the company that captures a position in the minds of target customers first.
Think about how long Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola (since the 19th century) or Hertz has been the #1 car rental company (since 1918) and you’ll get a sense for how difficult it is to displace the top brand in a market.
As we’ve learned in previous brand positioning tips, a key part of the brand positioning process involves deciding on the competitive frame of reference or references in which you’d like to position your company or brand. I emphasize references because one thing to consider is whether, in addition to positioning your brand in an existing market (where you may not be #1), you should be creating a new market in which you can be #1, because there is no one else in it yet.
Some leading business strategy thinkers refer to this as a “blue ocean strategy” where you choose to create or grow a new market rather than fighting in a competitive one that already exists (a “red ocean”).
From a brand positioning perspective, I often return to a similar principle I call the 1-2 punch.
The 1-2 punch is simple:
Punch 1: Grow the market
Punch 2: Lead the market you grow
Punch 1: You may compete in a frame of reference where you are not #1, but throwing punch 1 means putting your energy into creating or growing a different competitive frame of reference that didn’t exist in the minds of your audience before.
Punch 2: This is where you must really capitalize on the benefits of being an early mover in a market. If you throw punch one (grow the market), but do not effectively land punch 2 (lead the market you grow), you may find yourself in a world of hurt. Let’s look at a few examples:
For today’s tip, I thought I’d compile a list of my five favorite brand positioning books in one place. I’ve tried to put them in some semblance of an order, with the must-reads at the top.
1. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries: The original book about positioning from the folks who coined the term. I’ve linked here to the 20th anniversary edition, which has some more modern examples than the original. Jack Trout and Al Ries have gone on to milk the positioning meme with about a zillion other books. I’ll link to some more of the best of these below.
2. Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller: Not only a great book on positioning, but on every other aspect of brand management as well. I use Kevin Keller’s model every time I run a positioning exercise. If you have already mastered the intellectual side of the positioning concept, consider this book the how-to manual. Expensive– it is a business school textbook– but worth way more than five lesser branding books.
3. Zag by Marty Neumeier: He calls it “radical differentiation,” but this is at heart a book about brand positioning from the guy that wrote The Brand Gap, one of my favorite branding books. It’s short, well-designed, inexpensive, and easy to understand. What more could you want?
4. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout: I have a soft spot for this book because it introduced me to the concept of positioning– I actually didn’t read the original Trout and Ries Positioning book until later. This is billed as a more general marketing book, but is still a positioning classic from the guys who invented the term.
5. Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout: Another classic from the usual suspect. Sure, by the time you read this, you’ll probably start feeling like you’ve heard it all before. After all, positioning is a fairly simple concept– just hard to execute well.
These books should set you on your way to a clear understanding of brand positioning. One last link: Jack Trout has a new book on positioning that just came out last fall called Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis, and it is being billed as the 30th anniversary update of the original positioning concept. I haven’t read it yet, but have it on my Kindle ready to go and will write a post about it when I am finished.