Commercial: A branding reading list
Following some requests, below are some titles which I’ve found useful to further my knowledge and thinking about brands, and the practice of branding. The list is available to download from Scribd. Enjoy.
1) Various – The Economist: Brands and Branding
This should be your starting point. It’s the best comprehensive textbook and primer for the field. It has solid introductions to all the basic concepts, and in the second half touches on the key issues that brand managers and marketers are facing. The basic concepts described are pretty much the same wherever you come across them, so don’t be thrown if words you see used aren’t familiar – they’re just different ways of describing the same thing.
2) David Aaker – Brand Portfolio Strategy
Brands are about ideas and reputations. If a product brand gets its reputation right, it can extend into other product niches or services (line extensions). This is sometimes called a ‘brand portfolio’. Corporate brands often need to decide how to present the brands that they own or control – whether they acknowledge a link, or make sure everything looks the same and is recognisably from the same family. Aaker’s book is a good introduction to these issues, and some of the strategies that can be used.
3) Wally Olins – On Brand
Olins is founder of the practice of branding as we understand it in the UK, and as such is a hugely influential figure. ‘On Brand’ sums up his career, and is useful for some of the detailed case studies of clients and projects he has worked on, in particular the strategy he set for the Volkswagen group, which is still broadly followed. His thoughts on why branding will only grow in importance for public and civil sector organisations, including charities and NGOs, are useful as well. And there’s a refreshing lack of jargon in his writing too.
4) Robert Jones – The Big Idea
Jones is head of consulting at Wolff Olins (the agency that Wally Olins co-founded). The book was first released on 10 September 2001, and partly because of that, it didn’t get the attention that it deserved. A recent re-reading suggested that is quite undervalued, as Jones has some interesting things to say about brand essences, the central organising principles or ideas that underpin all brands. It’s a touch fluffy in places, but is a great insight into how genuinely innovative companies use their big ideas to help stand out from their competitors.
5) Various – Great Brand Stories
Published by Cyan, this an ongoing series of short books which tell the stories of some brands that you know, and some that you don’t. Mixing history, case study and lessons, they’re nearly always a good read, well designed and packed with a lot of insight. The most interesting titles are nearly always those which are about companies or things which you don’t think of as being brands: Harry Potter and David Beckham being good examples. My favourites in the series are the ones about Ikea and Arsenal.
6) Douglas Holt – How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding
Holt is a professor at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, and is one the key thinkers about brands and branding. His work, of which this book is a good summary, focuses in part on the way in which brands can becomes part of societies’ wider cultural myths, and what they can do to further that process.
7) Kevin Roberts – Lovemarks
Included as an example of thinking and writing which can give branding a bad name, Roberts is CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide, and is on a self-proclaimed mission to show “how brands can take the next step up the evolutionary ladder.” It’s nothing if not passionate, but when it means that he’s invited to start giving advice to the US Department of Defense as to how to make the War on Terror into a lovemark, then you fear that his brand of non-analytical thinking might have gone too far.
8) Alex Frankel – Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business
This is a fabulous little book which tells in-depth the stories of four brand names and one phrase, and how companies, outside agencies and employees came together to make, create and popularise them. ‘e-business’, BlackBerry, Viagra and Accenture all come under the spotlight, and what strikes is the serendipity that surrounds finding the best and brightest brand names. For a more practical guide to brand naming, have a look at Neil Taylor’s recently published ‘The Name of The Beast’.
9) James Collins and Jerry Porras – Built to Last; and Jim Collins – Good to Great
These are classic business and management textbooks, and not about branding per se. But they’re useful, because a brand needs to align with underlying business strategy if it is to work properly, and these books give some insight into the sort of thought processes that companies need to undertake if they are great. I’m proud to say that I’ve often cribbed from these, in trying to assess a brand or an organisation’s ambition.
10) Marty Neumeier – The Brand Gap: How To Bridge The Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
‘Design’, as a philosophy and thought process as well as an aesthetic discipline, is going to be the next big thing that helps brands to differentiate themselves. So a book that purports to shed some insight into that is in theory a good thing. Unfortunately, this book might not be it. It looks lovely, but is a bit shallow. You can get a slide-based summary of its key arguments here.