Top 18 Brand Strategy Books For Ambitious Branding Pros In 2021

There is no shortage of content in the world, especially when it comes to branding.

As much as I love a good course, program or well-researched article, it’s hard to beat a good brand strategy book.

From positioning to storytelling, from purpose to processes, this collection of books was the foundation for my growth as a brand strategist.

Here are my favourite brand strategy books for 2021 and beyond.

There is no shortage of content in the world, especially when it comes to branding.

As much as I love a good course, program or well-researched article, it’s hard to beat a good brand strategy book.

From positioning to storytelling, from purpose to processes, this collection of books was the foundation for my growth as a brand strategist.

Here are my favourite brand strategy books for 2021 and beyond.

18 Best Brand Strategy Books in 2021
(For Ambitious Strategists)

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The Brand Gap – Marty Neumeier

I start with this ground shifting book by the godfather of branding Mr Marty Neumeier for two reasons.

First, this was the book that set me on a journey of brand strategy discovery that doesn’t look like coming to an end anytime soon.

Second, this book is such a great primer for strategy that closes the distance between business strategy and design.

More of a manifesto than a comprehensive book that you could get through in hours rather than days, The Brand Gap brings words to the idea that a brand is an entity that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Although this book doesn’t get down to any nitty gritty details or techniques, the 50,000 foot view is a great starting point to understand the high level concept of modern branding.

Buy The Book

Branding In Five And A Half Steps – Michael Johnson

If you’re wading into brand strategy waters for the first time, Branding In Five And A Half Steps by Michael Johnson is a perfect place to dip your toe in the water (especially if you’re a brand designer).

He separates branding into investigation; strategy and narrative, before bridging the gap to design, implementation then engage and revive.

This book is highly visual with hundreds of images and graphics to illustrate his points and provides you with a basic framework to develop strategic brands from scratch.

If you’re looking for a practical and applicable entry-level to strategy, you can’t go wrong with this easy to digest, yet comprehensive book.

Buy The Book

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Start With Why – Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek introduced the concept of starting with why in 2009 with this industry-leading book. His idea is focused on what is now more widely known as brand purpose.

Hey uses his Golden Circle concept to illustrate that mist brand know what they do, some brands know how they do it but very few brands know why they do what they do.

He goes on to state that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it and what you do simply proves what you believe.

Now I have to say I really enjoyed this book as he illustrates how the world’s most influential leaders all had a clear and passionate “Why” which was the reason they had such a strong following.

Now my opinion, a strong why is not enough, but it’s a really valuable foundational pillar.

Buy The Book

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Building A Storybrand – Don Miller

This book is the go-to when it comes to brand storytelling.

Before he became a marketing consultant, Don Miller was a factional writer and he studied the best storytelling frameworks including The Hero’s Journey and he’s used these frameworks to hook readers into a story so they stay engaged from start to finish.

In Building A Storybrand, he promotes the idea that the customer is the protagonist and hero and the brand plays the role of the guide. Using an adaptation  of the Hero’s journey, he provides a framework for brand storytelling designed to hook the customer into the brands message.

A really interesting read and a great perspective on how you should look at the customer.

Buy The Book

Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

I found this book such an enjoyable read because it’s a chronicle of the birth and growth of one of the biggest brands of all time Nike.

Phil Knight tells the story of how he stumbled on the idea of building a shoe company through his passion for track and filed and a trip to Japan in his early 20’s.

Through Blue Ribbon, which was the brands original name, you see the same struggles that you would see throughout any small business today with banks chasing payments and suppliers playing hardball.

My favourite part of the book was the story of how Phil Knight wanted to call Nike Dimention6 instead and how the famous swoosh was created by a young designer from Portland for $30… Which Phil also wasn’t a big fan of in the beginning.

Buy The Book

Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind – Al Reiss & Jack Trout

Although this ground-breaking book was written in the early 80’s it’s never been more important than it is today.

This book pioneered the idea that in order to be remembered, brand’s need to define their “position” as to what they should be remembered for.

It also took branding into the realm of science with the idea that a brand’s “Position” wasn’t a physical place but an idea that lived in the mind of the audience… Hence the title; “The Battle For Your Mind”.

When you read through this book you hear references and examples of brands from the 60’s and 70’s including the well-told Avis “We try harder” campaign. Although this is a reminder of just how long ago this idea was presented, this book is an absolute essential when it comes to understanding the role of positioning in brand strategy.

Buy The Book

Purple Cow – Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a marketing genius and his unique perspective makes him a breath of fresh air in a world of marketing gurus.

The overarching premise of the book is that the old way of creating products and services that lean towards “Safe and average”, no longer works.

Instead, the only way for a brand to gain traction in the market is to create products and services that are remarkable in order to delight the customer and entice them to spread the word.

Or in other words, A brown cow is boring and isn’t worth talking about. A purple cow on the other hand is worth sharing.

This book was an important one for me when I was diving deep into the important topic of differentiation.

I would say this book is written more for the big corporate brands of the world as ground-breaking innovation is a constant theme though you shouldn’t be put off if you’re dealing with smaller businesses…

There’s still plenty to learn on the topic of differentiation from one of the best marketing authors out there.

Buy The Book

Zag – Marty Neumeier

Zag has been named one of the 100 best business books of all time and has informed and influenced the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates & Elon Musk.

I would argue that this is one of the best-named books of all time and provides you with an insight (if you read between the lines) of what you’re gonna get inside.

The premise of the book is that when everyone Zigs, you Zag. Or to put it another way, your brand needs to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing to be that breath of fresh air and unique alternative in the market.

While “The Brand Gap” was Marty’s overarching position on the idea of a brand, Zag gets into much more detail about the importance of differentiation and designing an experience across all touchpoints.

Buy The Book

How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp

This book is not for the feint of heart, especially if you’re coming from the right brain world of design and creativity.

This book in a nutshell is based on buyer behaviour and the idea that consumers actually behave very differently to how traditional marketing and branding texts will have you believe.

Now I’ll be honest, this book flies in the face of what most people believe about branding and marketing and if that’s the world you’re coming from, it might put your nose out of joint because it contradicts the most popular branding theories.

That said, everything Byron Sharp writes is backed up by hard data that you can’t ignore.

And it’s probably this constant reference to hard data that will either make you sit up straight and pay attention, or roll over and fall asleep depending on how you’re built.

Either way, if you’re want to be a well rounded specialist, this is a book you need to read.

Buy The Book

Scramble – Marty Neumeier

This book was a joy to read and an absolute breath of fresh air.

I’m one of those people who only allow myself to read books that will help me progress, which is a bit regimented and something I want to change because I really enjoy some fiction books.

And that’s what this is… It’s a fiction book. A “Business thriller”.

It tells the story of a CEO who is given 5 weeks by the board to produce a plan to change the fortunes of the business or he’s out.

The CEO brings in a few strategists who run the team through a workshop of Agile Strategy made up of the 5 Qs of strategy and the 5 P’s of design thinking.

As the story unfolds, you get to see how teams operate together at a high level in a strategy workshop, how exercises are run and how to handle difficult participants who try to sabotage success.

Buy The Book

Ogilvy On Advertising – David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy was the original adman and who the character Don Draper was largely based on in the series MadMen.

Back then everything was about advertising not branding, and influencing the immediate buying behaviour of the audience. Yet so much of what Ogilvy held dear back then has been transferred in one way or another to modern marketing and branding.

When I was a junior at one of my first agencies the director gave me this book to read. When I was reading the chapter about how to get a job in advertising based on 50 years earlier I though it was going to be a waste of time…

But much of what I learned about how to run an agency, how to get clients and how to get the attention of the consumer, I first heard in this book.

Buy The Book

The Brand Flip – Marty Neumeier

This book is all about transformation.

The transformation of a world where brands held all the aces and controlled the narrative, to a world where the consumer is in the driver seat.

This is a really important concept to understand for the modern world of branding. The consumer has so much power because they have a voice fuelled through social media.

The premise of the book is that in order to stay relevant, modern brands need to make the leap to this consumer-driven environment or risk being left in the dirt. 

Along with being an insightful window into modern branding, it also provides applicable tools such as the Brand Commitment Matrix and the Brand Commitment Scale to help the transition for lasting success.

Buy The Book

Win Without Pitching Manifesto – Blair Enns

This book is all about positioning and pricing creative work, which is directly translatable to any creative agency work including brand strategy.

In this hugely insightful book, Blair Enns promotes the widely popular idea of value based pricing, which is the idea that a creative agency should charge based of the value they provide the client.

The book pushes back on the concept of “Pitching” for work, which Enns describes as “The attempt to sell or win approval for one’s idea by giving them away for free”.

This book gets to the point on some really important issues for any creative business including “Niching”, “Pricing” and “Diagnosing”.

Well recommended.

Buy The Book

Built To Sell – John Warrillow

Just like Scramble by Marty Neumeier, this book is written as a fictional story following the business owner of a creative agency.

For just about any freelancer out there, this book will resonate with the struggles of being a small business owner whose business relies too heavily on their interaction.

Alex, the business owner turns to his old friend Ted for advice who helps him to look at his business from an external investor’s point of view, which sets in motion a number of fundamental changes to develop a business that can operate with or without him.

 

And this is the premise of the book. Unless you implement systems and bring in the right people to implement those systems, your business will always rely too heavily on you.

Although some of the real life challenges in the story are over simplified, this book will shift how you look at your business and hopefully guide you towards building systems to operate without you.

Buy The Book

Good Strategy Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt

This book isn’t about brand strategy but any strategy. It focuses on application from a business point of view, which is directly translatable to brand strategy.

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t the easiest read in the world and it took me a few stabs to get through it, just because of the way it’s written.

Having said that, it’s a really insightful book that will give you a solid understanding of the value of strategy and how to use it effectively.

Rumelt tackles the growing problem of goal strategies that are all about loosely defined aspirational statements that drive no action.

My key takeaway from this book was “The Kernal Of Strategy” broken up into three distinct phases, which are 

Diagnosis: to define the challenge

Guiding Policy: for the overall approach

Coherent Actions: How policy is carried out

Although it’s not the most riveting read, there’s great value in getting through it.

Buy The Book

Brands & Bullsh*t – Bernard Schroeder

Bernard Schroeder knows a thing or two about marketing and branding

He built one of the first integrated marketing powerhouses with over 25 offices around the world and staff upwards of 2,500 people with clients such as Amazon and Yahoo.

In his book Brand and Bullsh*t, Schroeder has a bone to pick with modern digital marketers and where they’re going wrong. He calls them out for their lack of understanding of anything beyond modern metrics and buzzwords.

I have to say, although the author is quite pompous, I actually quite enjoyed this book. He positions himself as the big brother guiding the little brother on his marketing career and distils some wider known concepts into easy-to-understand chapters.

If you’re quite experienced, you might not come across any new concepts here, but if you love branding, you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.

Buy The Book

Grow – Jim Stengel

Jim Stengel is the former CMO of Procter & Gamble & one of the world’s most respected marketing minds.

In this book, Stengel uses comprehensive studies of over 50k brands over a 10-year period to track the connection between financial performance, engagement, loyalty and advocacy.

He dives into the world of neuroscience to better understand the black-box that is the consumers mind and measure subconscious attitudes towards brands.

This book leans towards a strong branding philosophy of mine about the impact of feelings and subconscious neural connections that impacts the brands we do business with and uses top brand examples such as Pampers, Zappos and Jack Daniels.

Buy The Book

The Coaching Habit – Michael Stanier

Ok so this isn’t and brand strategy book. It isn’t even a branding or business book. But when it comes to working with clients to develop a brand strategy it’s a very effective book.

The coaching habit is, as you probably guessed, a book about coaching but it flips the switch on traditional advice-based coaching methods. The premise of the book is about the value of saying less and asking more to produce great coaching results.

When the answers come from within, we’re far more likely to buy into them because they’re our own ideas.

This is directly translatable to brand development and client relationship processes whether you’re on a discovery call or a brand strategy workshop.

Once you read this book, you’ll be armed with the coaching habit’s 7 fundamental questions which you can and should begin to use immediately.

Buy The Book

Over To You

If you’re in the field of branding, then your goal should be to become a specialist.

To know as much as you possibly can about the field you’re dedicating your professional life to in order to become the best you can possibly be.

Although there is no shortage of content out there, these books will give you a solid platform to build upon.

Invest in yourself, one book at a time.