Are you in search of an insightful read to enhance your understanding of brand building? Look no further. In this article, we have curated a list of 18 exceptional brand strategy books and comprehensive guides that cater to both beginners seeking actionable insights and branding experts hungry for tactical tools.
While courses and articles have their merits, there’s a unique charm in a well-crafted brand strategy book. These literary works offer a balanced blend of practical advice for newcomers and advanced techniques for seasoned professionals. Covering a diverse array of topics ranging from positioning and storytelling to purpose-driven branding and effective processes, this collection has been instrumental in shaping my journey as a brand strategist.
List of Top 20 Brand Strategy Books
Below, I present my top picks for the best brand strategy books in 2023 and beyond.
Building A Storybrand – Don Miller
Don Miller, a former fiction writer turned marketing consultant, delves into the art of brand storytelling in “Building A Storybrand.” This book advocates the idea that the customer is the hero of the brand’s story, while the brand itself assumes the role of the guide. Miller draws on timeless storytelling frameworks, including The Hero’s Journey, to create engaging narratives that captivate the audience from beginning to end. By adapting the Hero’s journey, Miller provides a framework for brand storytelling that hooks customers into the brand’s message. The book offers a fresh perspective, encouraging branding teams to view customers as protagonists, laying the foundation for building successful and compelling brands. StoryBrand’s impact has grown beyond this book, extending into titles like “Marketing Made Simple” and “Business Made Simple,” as well as a top-rated podcast where Miller and the StoryBrand team share invaluable branding, marketing, and business insights.
The Brand Gap – Marty Neumeier
I begin with this groundbreaking book authored by the renowned figure in branding, Marty Neumeier. The significance of this book in my personal journey lies in two aspects. Firstly, it initiated my exploration into the realm of brand strategy, an exploration that continues to unfold. Secondly, Neumeier’s work brilliantly bridges the gap between business strategy and design.
“The Brand Gap” functions more as a manifesto than an exhaustive guide, allowing readers to grasp its essence within hours. It delves into the profound concept that a brand is more than the sum of its parts. While it may not delve into intricate details or techniques, its panoramic perspective provides an excellent starting point to comprehend the overarching principles of modern branding.
Start With Why – Simon Sinek
In his groundbreaking 2009 book, Simon Sinek introduced the concept of “starting with why,” which has now become widely recognized as a brand purpose. Through his Golden Circle concept, Sinek illustrates that while many brands know what they do and how they do it, very few truly understand why they do what they do. He emphasizes that people don’t just buy products or services; they buy into the beliefs and values behind them. Sinek explores how influential leaders throughout history had a clear and passionate “Why,” which was the foundation of their strong following. While having a strong why is essential, it serves as a foundational pillar for building a brand.
Branding In Five And A Half Steps – Michael Johnson
For those stepping into the realm of brand strategy, especially visual designers working with visual identity, Michael Johnson’s book, “Branding In Five And A Half Steps,” provides an ideal starting point. Johnson divides branding into investigation, strategy, and narrative, seamlessly transitioning to design, implementation, engagement, and revitalization. Richly visual, the book is replete with hundreds of images and graphics, offering a basic framework to craft strategic brands from scratch. It presents a practical and comprehensive guide to brand strategy, making it accessible for beginners yet deeply insightful.
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
“Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight provides a captivating journey through the birth and evolution of Nike, one of the world’s leading brands. Knight shares his story of founding the company, initially named Blue Ribbon, based on his passion for track and field and a trip to Japan in his early 20s. The book vividly portrays the struggles faced by startups, such as financial challenges with banks and negotiations with suppliers. An intriguing anecdote within the book reveals Knight’s initial desire to name Nike “Dimention6” and the creation of the iconic Nike swoosh logo by a young designer from Portland for a mere $30. These stories offer valuable insights into the challenges and decisions faced by one of the most significant brands in the market.
Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind – Al Ries & Jack Trout
“Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind,” written in the early 80s, remains incredibly relevant in today’s brand landscape. This groundbreaking book emphasizes the importance of defining a brand’s unique position in the minds of consumers. It introduces the concept that a brand’s position is not a physical place but an idea residing in the audience’s mind. The book references iconic brands from the ’60s and ’70s, including the Avis “We try harder” campaign, providing historical context while emphasizing the critical role of positioning in brand strategy. Co-author Al Ries also contributed to another influential branding book, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,” delving into the secrets of establishing brands on the internet before it became widespread.
Purple Cow – Seth Godin
“Purple Cow” by Seth Godin revolutionizes brand management with its bold perspective. Godin challenges the traditional approach of creating safe and average products, asserting that remarkable and outstanding offerings are the key to capturing market attention. The metaphor of a “purple cow” signifies products or services that stand out and are worth talking about, contrasting with the dullness of a brown cow. This book advocates for groundbreaking innovation and delights customers, urging brands to create remarkable experiences. Although geared toward large corporate brands, it offers valuable lessons on differentiation for brand consultants working with businesses of all sizes. Godin’s fresh perspective and innovative ideas make “Purple Cow” a must-read for marketers and brand strategists alike.
Zag – Marty Neumeier
Zag has earned its place among the top 100 best business books and has been a source of inspiration for notable figures like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. The brilliance of its title gives you a hint of what lies within its pages. The central idea of the book is simple yet profound: when others follow a straight path (Zig), your brand should take a different route (Zag). In essence, to stand out and become a breath of fresh air in the market, your brand needs to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. While “The Brand Gap” provided Marty Neumeier’s foundational perspective on branding, Zag delves deeper into the crucial aspects of differentiation and crafting a distinctive experience across all touchpoints. It’s a guide that emphasizes the significance of being unique and defying the norm to create a lasting impact in the market.
How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp
How Brands Grow challenges conventional wisdom in the realms of branding and marketing, making it a challenging yet enlightening read, especially for those rooted in the creative world. This exceptional book is grounded in buyer behavior, presenting a perspective that starkly contradicts traditional marketing and branding theories. Byron Sharp’s insights are supported by solid data, compelling readers to reevaluate their understanding of consumer behavior. While it might ruffle the feathers of those deeply entrenched in traditional branding ideologies, the book’s reliance on empirical evidence demands attention. Whether it jolts you awake or prompts contemplation, this book is essential for a well-rounded specialist, offering a fresh perspective grounded in data-driven realities.
Scramble – Marty Neumeier
Scramble offers a delightful departure from the norm, providing readers with an engaging narrative in the form of a “business thriller.” Set in the corporate world, the story follows a CEO tasked with revitalizing the company’s fortunes within a tight deadline. To achieve this, the CEO employs Agile Strategy, incorporating the 5 Qs of strategy and the 5 Ps of design thinking. Through the narrative, readers gain valuable insights into high-level strategy workshops, collaborative team dynamics, and strategies for managing challenging participants. Beyond its engaging plot, Scramble serves as an instructional guide, offering practical lessons on effective strategy execution, team collaboration, and handling obstacles to success.
Ogilvy On Advertising – David Ogilvy
In the realm of advertising, David Ogilvy stood as the original adman, serving as the inspiration for the character Don Draper in the series Mad Men. During his era, advertising, not branding, took center stage, focusing on immediately influencing consumers’ buying decisions by providing essential information for on-the-spot choices. Despite the shift towards modern marketing and branding, Ogilvy’s timeless principles have permeated these fields. As a junior in one of my early agencies, I was handed this book, skeptical about its relevance. However, much of what I learned about agency management, client acquisition, and capturing consumer attention had its roots in this book, making it a foundational read for anyone in the advertising and branding world.
The Brand Flip – Marty Neumeier
The Brand Flip delves into a crucial transformation: the shift from a brand-centric world to one where consumers wield significant influence, amplified by social media. This concept is pivotal in today’s branding landscape where a simple meme can reshape public perception despite elaborate graphic designs. Neumeier emphasizes the need for modern brands to adapt to this consumer-driven environment to remain relevant. The book not only provides profound insights into contemporary branding but also equips readers with practical tools like the Brand Commitment Matrix and the Brand Commitment Scale. These resources facilitate the transition, ensuring brands thrive amidst the changing dynamics.
Win Without Pitching Manifesto – Blair Enns
Win Without Pitching Manifesto tackles the fundamental aspects of positioning and pricing creative work, offering valuable insights applicable to various creative agencies, including those focused on brand strategy. Blair Enns advocates for value-based pricing, where agencies charge based on the value they deliver to clients, challenging the prevalent practice of providing ideas for free to secure projects. The book delves into critical areas such as “Niching,” “Pricing,” and “Diagnosing,” offering concise yet impactful guidance. Highly recommended, this book serves as an indispensable resource for creative businesses, shedding light on key strategies essential for sustainable growth and success.
Built To Sell – John Warrillow
Built To Sell is a compelling case study, narrated through a fictional story about Alex, a creative agency owner. This tale resonates with freelancers and small business owners who find themselves trapped in businesses heavily reliant on their personal interactions. When Alex seeks advice from his friend Ted, he learns to view his business from an external investor’s perspective. This shift in perspective sparks essential changes, emphasizing the importance of implementing systems and hiring the right people. The core message underscores the necessity of building a business capable of functioning independently of its owner. While the challenges in the story might be simplified, the book serves as a catalyst, urging readers to reevaluate their businesses and establish systems that allow them to operate autonomously.
Good Strategy Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt
Good Strategy Bad Strategy delves into the world of strategy, applicable not just to brand strategy but to any business endeavor. Although the writing style might pose a challenge, the book offers profound insights into the value of strategic thinking and its effective application. Rumelt addresses the prevalent issue of vague, goal-oriented strategies lacking actionable plans. He introduces the concept of “The Kernel Of Strategy,” consisting of Diagnosis (defining the challenge), Guiding Policy (establishing the approach), and Coherent Actions (implementing the policy). Despite its complexity, the book provides invaluable lessons on crafting strategic initiatives, making it a worthwhile read for those seeking a deeper understanding of strategy’s role in business success.
Brands & Bullsh*t – Bernard Schroeder
Brands & Bullsht* critiques modern digital marketers for their shallow understanding of branding beyond buzzwords and metrics. Authored by marketing expert Bernard Schroeder, the book serves as a guide, distilling widely known concepts into accessible chapters. Although Schroeder’s tone might come across as assertive, the book offers valuable insights for branding enthusiasts. While experienced professionals might not encounter groundbreaking concepts, the book serves as a refresher, emphasizing essential branding principles. Schroeder positions himself as a mentor, simplifying complex branding concepts and making them understandable for a broader audience.
Grow – Jim Stengel
Grow by Jim Stengel delves deep into the intricate relationship between financial performance, engagement, loyalty, and advocacy within brands. Drawing from comprehensive studies of over 50,000 brands across a decade, Stengel explores the subconscious attitudes and feelings consumers have towards brands, tapping into the realm of neuroscience. The book emphasizes the profound impact of emotions and subconscious neural connections on consumers’ brand preferences. Stengel reinforces his points using real-world examples from renowned brands like Pampers, Zappos, and Jack Daniels, offering readers a compelling exploration of the subconscious factors that drive consumer behavior and brand choice.
The Coaching Habit – Michael Stanier
While not directly a brand strategy book, The Coaching Habit proves incredibly effective in the realm of brand strategy development and client interactions. This unconventional coaching guide challenges traditional advice-based methods, advocating for the power of asking questions over providing answers. The premise is simple: saying less and asking more can lead to profound coaching outcomes. This concept seamlessly translates to brand development and client relationships. By encouraging clients to discover their answers within, there’s a higher likelihood of genuine buy-in since these ideas stem from their own thoughts and insights. Whether you’re on a discovery call or facilitating a brand strategy workshop, the principles from this book are applicable. Upon reading, you’ll grasp the seven fundamental questions of the coaching habit, empowering you to implement them immediately in your professional interactions.
Final Thoughts on Brand Strategy Books
For branding professionals, the pursuit of specialization is a continuous journey. Learning from industry icons, as exemplified by the books mentioned, is a valuable approach to honing your expertise. While these selections provide a robust foundation, it’s essential to note that they aren’t the sole branding books worth exploring. Works like David Airey’s Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding and Alina Wheeler’s Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team are excellent additions to your library, especially if you’re transitioning strategy into design. In the vast sea of content available, these books serve as sturdy stepping stones, offering you a solid platform on which to build your knowledge. Remember, investing in your professional growth, one book at a time, is an invaluable investment in yourself.