Today's Reading

These are the brands that people obsess over. Consumers become obsessed when they feel a personal connection to a brand that goes beyond the product itself. Customers follow these brands on social media, eagerly awaiting their next offering. A word that used to imply a troubling, perhaps dangerous level of preoccupation has now become part of the consumer and editorial vernacular: "I'm obsessed with my new [jeans, candle, AirPods, meditation app]." "Meet our latest obsession." There are over ten million posts on Instagram that use #obsessed, and in addition to puppy photos (duh), they include pictures of mugs, jewelry, couches, makeup, sneakers, you name it. And people are not just gushing about these brands to their friends and enthusiastically posting about them; they incorporate the products into their own identities. Ultimately, their alignment with these brands says something about themselves.

Of course, the catch is that if you're going to build a brand that is rooted in principles, those principles need to be upheld. It's totally possible that by the time you're reading this, one or more of these businesses will have been called out for some shady practice or offensive tweet or immoral investor, something that flies in the face of what they purport to stand for. Consumers have begun to hold businesses accountable for their behavior, which is more evidence of the new set of expectations that companies need to meet through and through. People aren't making choices based on what their parents always bought—they're seeking out companies that align with their core beliefs and to which they can relate on a human level. That's why brand today is so much more than an aesthetic layer, and why it plays such a key role in a startup's trajectory. Brand needs to be ingrained in a business's very reason for being, which is why it's so important to get it right from the beginning.


Q: Are you going to tell us the secret to creating the next great hit?

That's why we're here! Keep reading, and you'll find deep firsthand knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes of successful startups, pre- and post-launch. You'll learn about how consumer psychology has evolved in the past decade, and the role of brand in this new Wild West consumer landscape. And armed with this intel, you'll never look at what it means to launch a business—or at your personal product obsessions—the same way again.


CHAPTER 1

FEAR OF DEATH


The other day, my wife, Jess, wandered through our apartment opening kitchen cupboards and medicine cabinets, looking at product after product from brands that had all launched within the past few years. From our Goby electric toothbrushes to our Colugo stroller to multiple pairs of Allbirds shoes lined up by the door, our house had become a showroom for new business (not to mention a who's who of Red Antler clients).

Jess turned and asked, "Is there an end to all this? Will people at some point just run out of startup ideas?"

"Let's hope not," I said, "if we want Red Antler to stay in business!" But I'm not worried. After all, think about every purchase you've made in the past year. Was everything as affordable as it could be? Convenient as it could be? Was the packaging as innovative and sustainable as it could be? Was the experience as delightful as it could be?

As long as there are shortcomings or pain points, there's space for disruption. There's always a better, smarter, more humane way. The companies that are succeeding today are the ones who identify these issues and see them as opportunities. They recognize the blind spots, shortcomings, and failures of the old guard, and they're finding new, creative ways to solve problems for consumers. Problems are the most effective springboard for innovation.


Q: What does a book about branding have to do with "fear of death"?

Don't worry, this chapter is not about getting crushed under a mountain of Amazon boxes. It's about the most fundamental principle of building a beloved brand today, which is tapping into a real need for your consumers. I'll get to the death part in a bit. But first, a bit of background on how we got here.
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