The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier
You could say that <em>The Brand Gap</em> is a concise, insightful primer on the fundamental theories behind building solid brands. Or, if you think about it, it's the unified field theory. It's a cheap, fast read, and worth reading and rereading again and again.

Estimate time to read this page: 3 – 4 minutes

Edition Reviewed: 2nd Edition Paperback
Recommendation: Read it. Love it. Tell someone. Repeat.

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier
If there is a place on the path to Brand Strategist that is better to start from than any other, The Brand Gap is it. It’s full of blessedly concise nuggets of wisdom that made so much sense that it kind of hurts your brain to see them all in one place and arranged with such precision.

The author divides building a brand into five strategic disciplines:

  1. Differentiate
  2. Collaborate
  3. Innovate
  4. Validate
  5. Cultivate

Differentiation is something designers seem to get instinctively. We’re deeply interested in being stimulated (you’ve never met so many early adopters as at the annual HOW or AIGA conferences) and gravitate toward novelty. Because of that, this chapter might seem like common sense, although Mr. Neumeier does attack it with a series of thoroughly cogent arguments that go well beyond my instinctive understanding.

Collaboration is a thing you’d think we’d all be comfortable with, but this is something different. He’s talking about collaborating not only with the people you work with, but other agencies and specialists; and their customers. Not in the sense of focus groups or user testing, but more in the sense that a brand isn’t a thing you can create, but a thing that lives in the mind of your audience. Designers create the artifacts of the brand, but the brand itself lives “out there” somewhere.

Innovation is the flip side of the Differentiate coin. In short, brands need to innovate in order to maintain novelty, and they need to innovate in a non-linear manner (I don’t even know if there can be such a thing as linear innovation. Sorry tech companies. A processor bump isn’ what we’re talking about here) because people need something to get excited about.

Validation is the process of getting, listening to, and synthesizing feedback from your audience. Marty feels that same that I do, that data can be valuable, although it can also be misleading. He eschews focus group research for market-based research (in-store testing), ethnographic research, and some good ole common sense self-tests.

Cultivation is the care and feeding of your brand. In short, Mr. Neumeier treats your brand like a constantly evolving piece of improv theatre that runs constantly…but that your audience only sees during the brief periods of time when they interact with your products, employees, or marketing materials.

This all sounds like a ton of information, and it is. Thankfully the last 30 pages of the book are a handy summary and glossary, followed by a list of recommended reading…many of which will be making an appearance on this site.

BONUS: Marty released a PDF presentation to accompany the book that is publicly available. You can download it here: There’s also info about getting discounted bulk copies for your group. See if you can get your boss to buy you some books.