Oh, For the Love of Brands

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

I find brands fascinating. When I go to the grocery store and look at product after product on the store shelves, I find myself wondering why I am drawn to certain ones and not to others. What makes me believe one product is better than another?

Why does one product seems to be worth its price tag and another doesn't? Where do my beliefs on value and quality come from?

What creates perceptions in our minds? And once created, are these perceptions locked in forever, or can they be modified?

I love analyzing brands.

This all started years ago. Back in the day, two friends and I created a company called Hecklers Online. To use the parlance of the time, it was an "edgy" website that focused on interactivity, community, comedy and fun. No one had seen anything like it. It became the number one comedy site on America Online in the 1990s, and that was a really big deal at the time.

We went on to launch ANTAGONIST Games Network, which dominated the video games category on AOL. We launched ANT for Kids, and it became the number one kids video game site. Without any real business training, three guys from a small town in Alabama created the leading brands in three online categories. But we used to spend countless hours working on our brand names and image.

During this time, I read a book that completely changed my life. Even though I first read it over twenty years ago, I still think about it and apply its concepts to this day. This book is Al Ries' "22 Immutable Laws of Branding." It forever changed the way I look at products. It's the most important business book I have ever read.

This led me to other of his works. "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" is a classic, as is "The Origin of Brands." For anyone curious about brands and marketing, they are foundational. I recommend anything and everything Al Ries has ever written. His books will change your view of the world.

Other great books and authors touch more on human psychology. We humans are not robots (at least not yet), and while we think we make rational decisions, lots of times we don't. How does our human emotional nature affect which products we select and what we believe about them?

In these areas, the books by Dan Arielly are wonderful. "Predictably Irrational," "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty" and "Dollars and Sense" are must-reads.

Here's something that blows my mind: Wine in a proper wine glass actually tastes better than the exact same wine in a paper cup. Why? How can this be? It's the exact same liquid either way. But there is more to it than chemicals hitting your taste buds. There are beliefs and perceptions and pleasure centers in your brain at work. Even the color of a product label affects the way you think a product tastes. If this blows your mind like mine, books by Martin Lindstrom like "Buy-ology" will enlighten.

And then it comes to persuasion. The Dilbery Guy, Scott Adams, writes books and blogs about this subject. He delves often into politics, but the analysis of human behavior behind his works are outstanding.

And, for true aspiring brand tyrants, the "48 Laws of Power, "The Art of Seduction" and other works by Robert Greene are essential.

I recommend starting with Al Ries' "22 Laws of Branding" and go from there. It'll open your eyes to a whole new world, and you'll never shop at the grocery store the same way ever again.

You can often find these books for free at your local library, or if you'd like to own your own I have provided Amazon links below.