A man of discerning tastes

In 1986 my mother brought home two boxes: one full of envelopes, the other full of papers. She had a job for me, I was to stuff the envelopes with the papers/brochures (I can’t remember which), and lick them shut. I would be paid a penny for each, and there were literally thousands of them. I toiled away over many days that summer, eventually finishing the job. Weeks later, my mom brought home my pay, $20.00. A princely sum for an 8-year-old in 1986.

I was far from a tastemaker or influencer when I was eight. I always seemed to be behind the curve on whatever was coming down the pipe for kids my age, whether it was Airwolf or trading cards. I was even blindsided by Nintendo, not realizing that was a thing until way too late.

A friend’s brother had this t-shirt, and it was easily the coolest thing ever for a kid in the third grade.

While I wasn’t on the cutting edge of pop-culture at the time, I did have an appreciation for quality when I saw it, and Garbage Pail Kids was an instant must-have for me. Cabbage Patch Kids was a huge thing in 1986, and Topps created this parody of the dolls in response to the doll’s too-expensive licensing fees.

I begged my mother for some, but she steadfastly refused to spend money on such rubbish. “They’re disgusting,” she admonished me.

The only place you could get them was at a shady, dirty, arcade/candy store. In hindsight, it should have been a second home for me, but a lack of disposable income held me back. But not so, when I had all of that envelope money in my hand.

I quickly made my way to the store, money in hand, and Garbage Pail Kids stickers in mind. My disappointment that they were sold out was short-lived. As was the $20. I wasted no time in changing it in for a soda, some candy, and about 72 quarters. 20 Minutes later I walked out, worried what my mother would say about my squandered fortune (she was not impressed).

But 34 years later, I get the last laugh. For just $28.95, I get to own all of them. All things come to he who waits.

Now I just need to keep my kids away from this trash.

Making Meaning

This book was a little more focused on large corporations than I was expecting (eg: they discuss hiring ethnographers to roll out new services to foreign markets), but it had some ideas that really resonated with me. This passage describes my philosophy about brand development nicely:

Experience branding is a company’s effort to be consistent in its value proposition and its expression in every connection to the consumer.

I also marked the comprehensive – but not exhaustive – list of universally valued experiences. Of the 15 presented, I really think wonder, accomplishment, and community have the best potential for my future work.

Buy this book.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk

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While it’s not a long read, this book really does offer up the laws of marketing. This read dovetails nicely with just about any book on branding, I wish more designers and creatives read it. The ideas in the book aren’t especially novel, but they do provide a certain foundation of understanding for this kind of work. The laws in the book just make sense. A few favourites:

2. The Law of the Category
If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.

5. The Law of Focus
The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.

13. The Law of Sacrifice
You have to give up something in order to get something.

18. The Law of Success
Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.

Buy this book.

Conversational Capital: How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk about

The real payoff in this book is the explanation of the ten “engines” of remarkable products. This is light-years beyond the fumbling attempts to explain why certain companies are the favourites that some “branding experts” roll out. Going beyond shallow statements about branding, this book gets into the mechanics of the experiences that people talk about.

Buy this book.

The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People around the World Buy and Live as They Do

bibliography - 17If you haven’t seen Rapaille’s appearance on Frontline, it’s well worth a look. He has some fascinating and insightful conclusions about the way people think and feel about some everyday topics, but it’s his view about focus groups that really stands out in my mind: No one is giving you honest answers, they’re too busy showing you how smart they are.

Buy this book.

The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance between Business Strategy and Design

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Possibly the best overview of practical corporate branding I’ve ever seen, this book takes your typical “a brand is a promise” lines and gives them real meaning. The exercises in this book are a great starting place for any company wanting to examine its brand. Marty Neumeier has also published Zag, a similarly brilliant look at differentiation, which should also be compulsory reading for anyone thinking about brands.

Buy this book.