It all started with Vance Packard and The Hidden Persuaders. Which music genre do they belong to, you may well ask. And is this about my formative music influences. What formative influences!!! cry colleagues, who despair that my musical heroes belong to the golden vinyl age of LPs (long play records) and EPs (extended play records).
The Vince Packard in question, famously exposed the methods of the Mad Men of the 1950s, with his book The Hidden Persuaders. Born into a Methodist farming family, Vance became a celebrated New York magazine writer with strong views about the excesses of the new age of consumerism. He believed brands should stand for purity and quality, rather than preying on the ‘psychological weaknesses and needs of ordinary folk’, people like his childhood neighbours. His defence of traditional values made him a household name, with three books in the best seller lists within four years. How, or why I read The Hidden Persuaders I can’t say, but it led to a brand addiction, fuelled by the torrent of brand books that have appeared ever since. So, for this Book of the Month I’m going to break the rules, “well there’s a surprise” murmur the same dissenting colleagues. I’m going to nominate the 3 books that stopped me in my tracks and fed my addiction.
The first has to be Positioning; the battle for your mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It was the first book to deal with the increasingly sceptical ‘consumer’, at a time when competing advertiser claims were starting to cancel out each other. It changed the thinking of ‘the collective mind’ of the ad business, mine included and continues to be central to brand strategy over 60 years on.
Book number 2 is The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier, billed as the first unified theory of branding. Very much for the brand practitioner, it sets out five disciplines to bridge the gap between brand strategy and brand execution. If you’re serious about putting brand theory into successful brand practice, this is required reading. Book number 3 is Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan. Its cover proclaims it’s about ‘how challenger brands can compete against brand leaders’ but it’s far more than that. It’s 311 pages are a blueprint for any brand with the will and ambition to stand out from the crowd. Morgan coined the phrase ‘challenger brand’, that has spawned not just a new way of thinking, adopted by brands such as Apple, Innocent, Virgin, Air B’n’B and Uber, but also a different way of doing business in the digital age. At a time when the ‘Maths Men’ seem to be taking over from the ‘Mad Men’, it’s worth remembering that whatever the medium, it’s still the brand message that matters most.
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