Branding isn’t as straightforward as it once was. Remember the good old days when all you needed to brand your product was Jack Smithy to fire up the bellows and prod your heifer with a hot-lettered iron? Neither do we. But we do remember the principles of marketing, which like many of the ways that business is conducted, have changed over the years. And what we know about these changes is that as the years go by, the practice of creating a calling card that people can not only trust, but also come to love, value, and identify with your product, company, or organization over all others is as complicated as boiling down an ocean of information into a single word as easy to swallow as a glass of water. And that’s especially true in the era of Internet marketing, where we are constantly bombarded with wave upon wave of branded content every time we open our web browser.
Branding our own business can seem even more difficult when we consider the odds we’re up against: (1) the fact that all the best brands are simple, and (2) the fear that all the simplest ideas are taken. (Spoiler alert: they’re not).
So to give our audience an idea of how many ways there are to brand a product; to demonstrate that there are as many simple brand ideas out there as there are people on the planet; and to reassure marketers everywhere that some of the best brands have yet to be created, we’ve assembled this ranking of the 11 Best Branding Books Of All Time. And we say 11, because in this competitive run-off, three books tied for 9th. But using this reading list, we think anyone can learn how to brand under any circumstances.
Our methodology for compiling this ranking was to sift through the nearly 650 books shelved under “branding marketing” on the popular reader review site, Goodreads. We then handpicked the only 128 with at least two ratings, and scored them according to the average number of stars that readers have given them; the total number of ratings each book has received; and the relevance of their author to developing an understanding of the branding discipline. Only the highest rated, most rated, and most authorially relevant books rose to the top of our list. See if you recognize some of the titles. If you’ve been one of the many entrepreneurs who’ve branded your own business, we bet you’ll recognize at least one title, and perhaps even several that you’ve read yourself.
1. Marketing Management by Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller
Marketing Management is a textbook in its 15th edition published by Pearson Education and written by two of the most honorable American marketing authorities, Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller. In what has been called the “gold standard” of books for both graduate and undergraduate marketing students today, the two authors add to their ever-growing collection of scholarship on branding and brand management, delivering on their own brand promise to be the first to reflect changes in marketing theory and practice. First published in December of 1987, Marketing Management has kept up with every trend in the field of marketing for nearly 30 years. A veritable work of marketing history, the text is written for those who look to stand on the helm of the future of brand management by enabling themselves to communicate knowledgeably with some of the best minds in marketing. Indeed, it provides a clear window into concepts both past and present that have dictated how marketers interact with each other and their audiences, exploring the underlying theory of brand management, and providing a thorough glimpse of into the core principles of marketing today. Although the authors cannot predict the future, each of their editions provides a basic, well-researched foundation of knowledge necessary for any individual to reasonably speculate on and create brand strategy for their product, company, or organization. As this foundational reference work continues to grow with each edition, the reader experience is one of a steady and constant enlightenment, an awakening we definitely need if we’re going to understand the ever-changing complexity of branding, which Marketing Management makes simple.
2. Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Management by Alice M. Tybout and Tim Calkins, with a Foreword by Philip Kotler
Kellogg on Branding is a comprensive review of the most up-to-date strategies for building, leveraging, and reimagining brands. Co-authored by professors at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Alice M. Tybout and Tim Calkins, along with a Foreword by Philip Kotler, Kellogg on Branding became a go-to resource upon its 2005 release, since which time a second edition was published in 2011. In creating and updating this resource, Tybout and Calkins became became global voices in a global discussion about the importance of developing a unique and optimal branding strategy for each and every product, company, and organization that needs one. As a testament to the marketer’s time-tested method of operating on the principles of product, place, promotion, and price, the book condenses the art of branding into its most attractive form: the science of solving old marketing problems and seizing new marketing opportunities. Indeed it teaches us not only how to launch new brands, but how to leverage existing ones and manage a large brand portfolio. With practical advice like this, Tybout and Calkins understand that in order for a brand or batch of brands to succeed, marketers should build a brand-centered organization. A fine example of how keeping abreast of current trends can revolutionize a brand’s place in the marketplace, Kellogg on Branding is an excellent read for anyone interested branding, management and how the two can work together to place almost any organization in the spotlight.
3. Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing by Alex Wipperfürth
Brand Hijack is a business book written by professional brand consultant, Alex Wipperfürth. As a thought leader at the head of one of the biggest moves in recent brand history to transform brands into cultural symbols, Wipperfürth draws on his own personal and professional experience as a brand manager to reveal the subtleties of branding in a modern marketplace: a space which is not only a place for monetary trade, but a network for the exchange of ideas that should be driven by the consumer. To build his case, Wipperfürth dives deep into the process of what happens when a brand becomes hijacked; that is, commandeered by consumers and steered in the direction they envision it going. Taking for example cultural movements as diverse as those surrounding Red Bull, The Blair Witch Project, and even the presidential bid of Howard Dean, Wipperfürth spells out how many of the brands and names we remember most fondly (or not-so-fondly) emerged from obscurity by virtue of a young, populist push for accepting their offer over those of traditional names or brands. Published in 2005, Brand Hijack became very popular during this important time in the history of branding, especially because it is explained why so many movements in American culture are motivated by an attempt to subvert convention and that is rooted in a valuation of the underdog over the alpha dog. It also became popular because it is written in a way that is highy accessible to marketing newcomers and latecomers, especially startup junkies who could use advice on some of the best-kept secrets in the branding industry.
4. Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing by Douglas Van Praet
Unconscious Branding is a business psychology book written by Douglas Van Praet, founder of his branding company by the same name, Unconscious Branding. Published in 2012, it is one of the more recent branding books to provide a beginner’s guide to the practices and principles of consumer behavior from the perspective of a brand manager. By emphasizing the importance of paying attention to the “human strategies” that consumers engage in before buying something instead of their own explanations for why they buy something, Van Praet draws our eye toward the importance of studying consumer behavior toward a given brand. Unconscious Branding is intended to appeal to those engaged with branding across the spectrum, from startup to multinational corporation, and Van Praet works to ensure he covers every aspect of the branding process, from brand ideation to marketing execution to audience feedback. Although targeted primarily at those who have developed some understanding of the concepts of neuromarketing, the book’s thoughtful campaign examples from brands such as Nike, Wendy’s, and Volkswagen are indispensable in terms of providing us with a psychological explanation for why certain brands succeed where others fail. It’s this degree of industry currency and awareness of what makes our minds tick that helps Unconscious Branding rise above the rest and land at the top.
5. Brand Against the Machine: How to Build Your Brand, Cut Through the Marketing Noise, and Stand Out from the Competition by John Michael Morgan
Brand Against the Machine is a business book written by serial entrepreneur and marketing author, John Michael Morgan. Published in October of 2011, Morgan’s book focuses on answering the question of how to brand a business without the big budget of a traditional corporate brand? As a culmination of Morgan’s several years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies, TV stars, churches, and other entrepreneurs, Brand Against the Machine much of the guide is directly connected to taking newcomers through the steps necessary for creating, setting up, and marketing a new brand. Of course, first-time entrepreneurs, online marketers, and brand managers interested in reaching a broader audience will find the book riveting. Morgan wrote it with them in mind. But its many practical, step-by-step guides for taking a principled stand that positions brands in relation to competitors will be attractive to business owners at all stages who want or need a refresher on some of the basics of oppositional marketing. On these basics, Morgan hits the nail on the head: “We have to stop marketing to people the way we hate to be marketed to.” Inasmuch as this message applies not only to beginners but also to seasoned professionals, it’s no surprise Brand Against the Machine earns a seat at the table among the great books for brands to crack open, again, and again, and again.
6. Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld by James B. Twitchell
Branded Nation is a marketing and sociology book written by former English professor and advertising author, James B. Twitchell. First published in December 2004, the book focuses on answering why branding has become so successful and so pervasive that even cultural and religious institutions like colleges, museums, and churches embrace it wholeheartedly? The book spends ample time explaining how megachurches have come to resemble shopping malls; universities have come to rely so heavily on brand management that they hire more business administrators than professors; and museums have even turned into franchises so as to pad their shoestring budgets. As lifelong expert in the arts of writing and communication, Twitchell is a seasoned, academic professional who is dedicated to art of explaining how, in one way or another, the most respected institutions of society have not only taken notes from the marketplace, but bowed to their rules. And in a move that would surprise many English professors, Branded Nation offers no simplistic condemnation of this trend toward a culture driven by consumption of goods, services, and ideas. Indeed, it extends an open-armed embrace of the trend due to the possibility that comes with it—increased accessibility to some of the most valuable cultural products and ideas available for as many people as possible. And it’s funny. Indeed, because Twitchell is not given to morbid reflection on the decline of culture but celebratory of its spread, his commentary comes across with a sense of humor that only the wisest students of branding could muster.
7. Professional Services Marketing: How the Best Firms Build Premier Brands, Thriving Lead Generation Engines, and Cultures of Business Development Success by Mike Schultz and John Doerr
Professional Services Marketing is a business book written by brand management and business development strategists, Mike Schultz and John Doerr. First published in 2009 and with its latest edition published in 2013, Professional Services Marketing is dedicated to demystifying some of the most technical aspects of building a brand via marketing of professional services, or how a firm can make use of powerful marketing engines and hard data to produce leads and sales. Having a combined 40+ years of experience leading in both business and academic areas of management, Schultz and Doerr are well-suited to explain the art and science of professional services marketing in plain English. They are also well-equipped to tease out the differences between various types of marketing in the professional services, including referral, promotional, and content marketing. Professional Services Marketing is a sprawling work of explanatory branding, delving deep into the data to determine which branding techniques will aid service firms in managing dozens of portfolios while thriving in their own right. And indeed, despite the fact that the book risks wading fairly far into the weeds, Mike Schultz and John Doerr manage to have written a quite accessible branding handbook that remains relevant to this day for the research it brings to the table.
8. How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding Generation Y by Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer
How Cool Brands Stay Hot is an award-winning business book co-written by Belgian market researcher, Joeri Van den Bergh, and Swedish brand manager, Mattias Behrer. First published in 2011 to generally positive reviews, How Cool Brands Stay Hot won the American Marketing Association’s Book of the Year Award for 2012, and has been praised for its timing, value, and translation of issues that matter most to Generation Y. Based on interviews with over 5,000 Generation Y consumers, these issues include which marketing and advertising strategies have become innocuous, which brands have pushed the envelope in terms of revamping these strategies, and how these findings apply to understanding the consumer behavior of that newest and largest generation in recorded global history: Millennials. The 3rd edition, published in 2016 and like those before it, explains the importance of creative positioning, developing, and promoting brands to this demographic, as well as how businessmen and businesswomen can use the branding methods deployed by international companies like Nokia, Nivea, Coca Cola, Red Bull, and Volkswagen in order to drive innovation of their own. With their friendly, strong, and direct voices, Van den Bergh and Behrer draw on greater than 20 years of experience as entrepreneurs to impart researched advice well worth our time. In these respects and many more, How Cool Brands Stay Hot is an excellent explanation of how old and new brands alike can innovate for new audiences.
9. Online Brand Communities: Using the Social Web for Branding and Marketing by Francisco J. Martinez-López, Rafael Anaya-Sánchez, Rocio Aguilar-Illescas, and Sebastián Molinillo (tie)
Online Brand Communities is a work of academic research about online branding by longtime marketing professors, Francisco J. Martinez-López, Rafael Anaya-Sánchez, Rocio Aguilar-Illescas, and Sebastián Molinillo. Published in 2015 as a study of the content boom of the last decade, which saw a large number of online brands come to rely on social media for marketing and advertising, Online Brand Communities lays the foundation for understanding how this recent history has changed branding into a social network. The four authors use this solid foundation in web science to explore the implications of developing a classification system for online branding communities, especially one that takes into account recent trends in brand management. This classification system accounts for questions about the motivating factors for consumers to join, participate, and stay within a particular branding community or social network, and inasmuch, offers answers to questions about how to create value and loyalty among both businesses and consumers. Students of brand management will find the book’s conclusion on the state of online branding and the process of creating online communities quite beneficial to their bottom line. As both a conceptual and practical reference tool—one might even call it a branding handbook for scholars of the trade—Online Branding Communities is an excellent companion piece to any introductory or advanced book on the topic of branding and social networking.
9. Brands in Glass Houses: How to Embrace Transparency and Grow Your Business Through Content Marketing by Dechay Watts, Debbie Williams, and Said Baghill (tie)
Brands in Glass Houses is business book written by three serial marketing authors and online branding experts: Dechay Watts, Debbie Williams, and Said Baghill. Published in 2013 by Content Marketing Institute, the book is dedicated to helping young companies embrace the principle of transparent operations, uncover their real brand story, and share it with the world. Drawing on their careers of extensive experience branding for companies all over the world, Watts, Williams, and Said explain that across the marketing spectrum, from business-to-business to business-to-consumer, users and consumers are leading our way. They describes the immense importance of engaging with the user instead of at them, of interacting with consumers honestly, and of stepping aboard the revolutionary movement toward selling the complete and total truth with transparency. They explore what this movement means for brand messaging, which needs to connect with its audience on an emotional and intellectual level, not only in order to succeed financially, but also ethically. They even goes so far as to outline in detail the major components of a marketing lifecycle for new brands: creating a brand (and ideally new) story, using content marketing to tell that story, and following an editorial calendar to build brand loyalty. Even seasoned brand managers will find the three authors’ advice a goldmine of information, especially as it pertains to audience education, storyteller marketing, and even PR strategies to adopt for dealing with bad press with competence and honesty. And because so much of its detailed advice is distilled through the lens of authors who understand they are aiming at a moving target,Brands in Glass Houses remains evergreen at a time when a brand content and context are twin kings.
9. Brand Mascots: And Other Marketing Animals by Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe and Stephen Brown (tie)
Brand Mascots is an edited collection of academic research essays assembled by British marketing and communications professors, Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe and Stephen Brown about company mascots that have made many of the biggest brands most memorable. Published in 2014 as a study of the relationship between brands, animals, and other anthropomorphic figures that consumers have come to associate with popular franchises like Kellogg’s, Michelin, and even Toy Story ,Brand Mascots asks the question why, if these companies are so globally popular, do many corporations turn up their nose at the idea of using animals for their branding strategies? The editors use this collection of essays to explore the idea of raising brand mascots’ profile, from both academic and business perspectives, so that they might be considered for more lucrative branding strategies around the world and in the future. Topics also include Hello Kitty and Angry Birds. Students of brand management will find the book’s speculation on future directions in mascot marketing to be potentially beneficial to their bottom line, especially as that bottom line, at least as far as modern marketers are concerned, increasingly revolves around content and storyteller marketing. And what better subject about which to tell a story than a humanized animal? A quite thoughtful reference tool—one might even think of it as a “call-to-action” for scholars of brand management—Brand Mascots is an excellent collection of authoritative information on the state of animals in branding today, a state in which both animals and branders are slightly better off than when animal branding ruled the day.
Josh R Jackson is Contributing Editor of BestMarketingDegrees.org, a growing resource for online learners, educators, and marketers in between. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.