With powerful tools like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, we don’t need to concern ourselves with dusty concepts like ‘branding’ anymore do we? That’s soooooo old school. Think again. Now more than ever we need to build strong brands to stand out against the deafening noise. A new book not only makes the case for branding but offers a prescription for success in our rapidly evolving and ever-crowded new media world.

The Elevator Pitch

This concept is at the very heart of Brand Against the Machine by John Morgan. Regardless of the media shifts around us, brands have the potential to be strategically advantageous, long-term assets. Pricing, customers, and databases can easily be stolen or copied. Building a strong brand is really the only option for true differentiation. As Morgan says, “Having a strong brand beats the heck out of selling.”

The Big Ideas

The short chapters in Brand Against the Machine (about 3-4 pages each) are built around stand-alone concepts that make the book a quick and easy read. While there are too many points to summarize completely, here are a few key take-aways.

John Morgan

Your Brand Needs an ‘Anchor Belief’
Passion in your work begets passion in your audience. That’s why the strongest brands have an Anchor Belief. An easy exercise for thinking of this is exploring why you do what you do outside of monetary goals. For example, Virgin has anchored their brand around being a dissident voice in a world of followers.

Personal Brands Can Be Components of Bigger Brands
Think about Oprah and Richard Branson. Both are powerful personal brands but they are also part of bigger brands OWN and Virgin respectively. Personal brands can impact company brands of all sizes.

Visibility Matters More Than Ability
Increasingly, as we build brands in the online space our conversations center around the concept of being seen. While people will initially find your brand because of your visibility they will buy more over time because of your ability (the order is important — remember, only one in five who encounters your brand becomes a customer). Your brand has to be seen first. As Morgan asserts, there’s no room for passive brands today.

Definitions Matter: Marketing vs Branding
This is an important distinction that’s often glazed over. These two words are not interchangeable. How you market comes and goes while your brand is forever and built over time. Morgan also examines the concepts of ‘Attention vs. Trust’ and ‘Interrupting People vs. Involving People’ as well.

Borrow Authority to Build Authority
Consumers look for authority when exploring brands, thus establishing an authoritative beachhead online is critical in positioning your expertise. Interviews are great tools for building authority via association. To be honest, I do that with the interviews here on this blog.

Beware of Brand Dissonance
Brand damage can occur when you lack transparency — when the real ‘you’ doesn’t match the brand you’ve created. Tiger Woods is a great example of this. So is the athletic apparel brand Lululemon that I’ve discussed here. Both got caught being off-brand and suffered the consequences.

Create Brand Ambassadors
As the media landscape continues to evolve it’s easy to forget that our employees are among the most effective brand touch points if they are empowered to do so.

Tips for Professional Services Brands
While a good fit for any brand architect, there are a few treats in the book especially for personal/professional service brands. Tips such as ‘fire bad clients’ and ‘avoid the free lunch to pick your brain’ are valid as Morgan ties their impact directly to effects on your brand over time.

Passion & Confidence
Brand Against the Machine also takes an interesting turn and relates one’s passion and confidence to the brand as well. As a brand leader, you have to believe your story first if you want anyone else to.

The Best Advice Is the Least Sexy
Early on and again at the conclusion, Morgan makes a case for a thing that can impact your brand significantly — a calendar. A simple, low-tech calendar. And by that, he means making the time to work on your brand and build a body of content that positions your expertise.

Ultimately, Brand Against the Machine asserts that we have to take action. We shouldn’t accept conservative timelines or axioms like “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” You should stay on it and build your brand for awesomeness as fast as you can without limitations and timelines imposed by others.

So, Should You Read It?

Are you charged with being your company’s brand steward? Or are you an entrepreneur looking to create a unique brand that stands out from the crowd? If so, then Brand Against the Machine is a must read. It’s also an enjoyable read. Morgan’s tone keeps the book light with jokes about kidney punches and mothers-in-law. At the end of the book, you feel like you know the author pretty well.

Moreover, Morgan’s background as a realtor (talk about an industry where stand-out brands are a must) keeps the book grounded in action. What some might call odd tangents in a book about branding — such as charity, leadership, and email marketing — are precisely the types of holistic, new-school tools we need to be focusing on.

Most of all, the book makes the case for the “squishy” concept of branding in a world that’s been redefined by new media. Branding used to be tied to traditional advertising’s billboards and TV ads. Morgan helps us see branding in a new light.

If you’re responsible for building a stand-out brand in our noisy, new media-driven world, Brand Against the Machine deserves a spot on your bookshelf.