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Summary: Branding That Means Business: How to Build Enduring Bonds Between Brands, Consumers and Markets by Matt Johnson and Tessa Misiaszek

  • “Branding That Means Business: How to Build Enduring Bonds Between Brands, Consumers, and Markets” by Matt Johnson and Tessa Misiaszek is a book that delves into the world of branding, exploring the strategies and principles that can help businesses create lasting connections with their target audience.
  • If you’re interested in learning how to build and maintain strong brand relationships, delve into the pages of this insightful book to discover the secrets of successful branding and its impact on businesses and consumers alike.


Marketing and psychology experts Matt Johnson and Tessa Misiaszek describe brands as if they were people. They advise firms to create brands that have strong personalities, purpose and meaning. Digitization and commodification, they warn, direct consumers toward generic products. To compete, brands must inspire customers with emotion and forge links based on values and identity. Johnson and Misiaszek offer clear explanations of marketing concepts, grounding them in fascinating stories of contemporary brands that have flourished by connecting with consumers.

Summary: Branding That Means Business: How to Build Enduring Bonds Between Brands, Consumers and Markets by Matt Johnson and Tessa Misiaszek


  • Brands succeed by understanding and appealing to human nature.
  • Successful brands create functional value – a real difference in consumers’ lives.
  • An identifiable purpose can enable brands to thrive amid digital disruption.
  • A brand’s values and story should reflect its audience’s identity.
  • A brand’s size should inform its strategy.
  • Create consumer trust by underpromising, overdelivering and building community.
  • For many brands, exclusivity and social signaling differentiate their products.
  • Take a stand with your brand.


Brands succeed by understanding and appealing to human nature.

Great brands succeed by connecting with people at a deep level. Today, brands matter more than ever because online, people can easily purchase whatever catches their attention. Consumers have to make an effort to seek out brands amid the digital cacophony. Often, a company’s brand makes more difference to its success than any other asset – but if a brand doesn’t matter to consumers, it doesn’t matter at all.

“While the brand has a business purpose, the mechanisms that enable it to be a business asset are about connecting with human beings.”

A brand must have meaning to consumers that differentiates it from all the similar options consumers face. A brand has meaning in the same way a home is more than a house: It offers a personal connection replete with belonging, comfort, positive memories and strong associations. You can’t simply decide, however, that your brand has meaning. Customers make that decision, just as you might feel at home in some houses but not others.

Successful brands create functional value – a real difference in consumers’ lives.

To many consumers, the Nike swoosh means excellence and effort. For some, this meaning literally changes their experience of using the product – such as giving ball players extra confidence that could help them perform better when they wear Nike shoes. This element is functional value: the actual boost a brand can give to performance or some other aspect of the consumer’s experience. Experiments have shown golfers, for example, hit the ball more accurately when they believe they’re using Nike drivers. For digital products – which tend to have more copycats than physical products – functional value can erect barriers to cutthroat competition and provide protection from commodification. Just seeing an Apple logo can increase a person’s creativity, experiments show.

“Building a brand is about instilling specific beliefs into the minds of customers.”

The functional value of a brand translates into financial value by driving demand and loyalty, permitting premium pricing for the product and reducing marketing expenditure. A powerful brand can also make it easier for a company to introduce adjacent businesses thanks to the halo effect, where consumers’ trust in a brand extends to new products.

An identifiable purpose can enable brands to thrive amid digital disruption.

Like the dinosaurs that were rendered extinct after an asteroid smashed into Earth 66 million years ago, travel agencies, bookstores and retailers of all types have been obliterated by Amazon and other digital platforms over the past two decades. Yet just as small mammals survived the asteroid’s impact and eventually thrived, many bookstores, niche agencies and other retailers have survived competition with Amazon by building resilient brands that tap into consumers’ elemental needs and desires.

“Against the swift tides of commercial inertia, brands need more magnetism than ever to draw people in.”

Independent bookstores have thrived by delivering a promise and purpose that Amazon can’t. They create an experience for book lovers, which resonates through sensory, emotional and intellectual interactions with books. Zappos, the online shoe seller, competed head-to-head with Amazon and won thanks to its brand built on a promise to “deliver happiness.” Zappos embodies that purpose in every aspect of the customer experience.

Thus, brand managers should consider why their product matters to consumers. Ask “why?” repeatedly to dig to the root reasons. Airbnb, for example, offers an alternative to generic, pricey hotel rooms. People care about that because they want real experiences in new places. They travel to enhance their lives by feeling connected to the wider world. They seek that connection because they desire authentic belonging. Airbnb built a world-class brand on the tagline “Belong anywhere.” By knowing their brand purpose – their customers’ “why” – companies can forge a powerful brand strategy based on an emotional experience that the multitude of generic products online can’t hope to offer.

A brand’s values and story should reflect its audience’s identity.

No brand can appeal to everyone. If you attempt a one-size-fits-all approach, you’ll likely end up with a brand that means little or nothing to anyone. Obviously, branding that works in the United States probably won’t resonate with consumers in China or Germany, but the same principle applies to the different consumer segments within cultures. Identify the target segment for the brand, learn what matters most to it, and fully commit to serving it. For example, Toyota markets its Prius to professional, environmentally conscious consumers, its Tundra trucks to blue-collar workers and its Highlander SUV to families. These three brands might have niches within them, such as urban professional young people who are drawn to pickup trucks. Good brand managers discover the social identities among consumers and target their messaging accordingly.

In the soft-drinks industry, beverages offer little intrinsic value; the brand counts for everything. Red Bull took on Coke and Pepsi with a beverage that even its makers agreed tasted awful. Yet by branding Red Bull the “extreme” drink, and making a virtue of the beverage’s medicinal taste, the company appealed to all-night partiers, late-night studiers, extreme sports enthusiasts and hard-charging young professionals. Despite many copycat competitors, Red Bull sells billions of dollars of product worldwide each year at a premium price, almost solely on the basis of niche brand appeal.

“Brands must show a deep commitment to brand identity and consistently serve up experiences that allow the consumer to connect to the brand’s core.”

Brands rise and fall as social patterns and values change. Brands that fail to adapt decline, while others – especially those that invite consumers to help shape the brand – reinvent themselves. After Harley-Davidson recognized shifting attitudes meant there would be far fewer grizzly rebel types to buy into its classic brand, it developed electric motorcycles and bicycles to capture a younger, hipper demographic. The luxury sports car manufacturer, Aston Martin, has survived by building a close relationship with its customers, asking for and acting on their advice and feedback. Aim to spot shifting social norms before they go mainstream. Procter & Gamble moved early to capitalize on men’s participation in more household chores, creating laundry products that would appeal to men.

KitKat offers an example of the way brands can co-create their identity along with their audience. On the island of Kyushu, Japan, students were giving one another KitKat bars as a way of wishing good luck on their exams – the name KitKat sounds similar to the phrase kitto katsu, which means “Never fail.” When the company learned about this custom, the marketing team embraced it and modified the marketing message to incorporate images and phrases that suggest good luck and success. Across Japan, KitKats have become a common way for students to communicate support to one another.

A brand’s size should inform its strategy.

Small brands tend to succeed by focusing, specializing and taking a personal approach. When three friends in Seattle conceived of the Tommy Bahama clothing brand, they aimed for a brand personality that would reflect its line of relaxed, easy clothes for the leisure set: young retirees enjoying the good life in resort settings. The founders invented a persona, “Tommy Bahama,” a 40-something early retiree who lived on the islands, drinking rum cocktails on the beach and loving life. They filtered every decision after that through this persona: Would Tommy do this or like that? This strategy helped the partners find a profitable niche within a market dominated by larger players and connect with target consumers in a very personal way.

“A company with a great brand gets to play the game of capitalism on easy mode. Everything it does is easier, costs less and has a greater margin for error.”

Large brands do things differently, often because their markets cut across many demographics, and they have other strengths to leverage. They might promote their history, reliability and multigenerational associations. For example, Mercedes has produced lengthy commercials that tell the firm’s story all the way back to 1888, evoking trust and dependability. Other big brands, such as Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, leverage their decades-long records of social and environmental responsibility.

Create consumer trust by underpromising, overdelivering and building community.

Though loyalty programs worked well initially, they’ve proliferated to the extent that people can barely keep track of the differences. Moreover, their transactional nature – “If you buy this, I’ll give you that” – detracts from the qualities that typically endear a brand to its followers. Research shows brand loyalty derives from perceptions of competence – trusting the brand to deliver – and warmth: positive, familiar feelings that forge an emotional connection.

Brands can earn trust and connection by going the extra mile: by underpromising and overdelivering. Rather than punch a card toward a free sandwich every time a customer buys one, surprise loyal customers with unexpected value. Pret a Manger, the British sandwich chain, gives frontline employees discretion to convey customer appreciation in concrete ways, such as offering an item free of charge now and then. Work to create connections among your customers as well. Jeep owners, for example, attend gatherings all over the United States each year based entirely on their passion for the brand.

“The brands that have successfully built community are the brands that people mutually obsess over, and this shared obsession creates a bond among strangers that is felt even if it can’t be seen.” (Red Antler co-founder Emily Heyward)

Segment your marketing efforts. Given the explosion of media channels, brands can no longer expect to reach large, broad audiences by advertising on a network nightly news show, for example. By using AI and specialty media, you can now reach retired female curling enthusiasts in the Dakotas if you wish. Leverage this potential for precision. Enlist macro-influencers who command the attention of tens of thousands of followers on a social media platform, or better yet, find micro-influencers who have highly segmented followers in the hundreds.

Like it or not, most people report they’ll buy based on the recommendation of a trusted influencer as much or more than a recommendation from a friend. By trusting your brand to a social media influencer, you might lose some control, but your branded product sitting on a shelf behind a popular Tik Tok dancer will probably convey more authenticity than a glossy ad in a popular magazine. The era of building your brand hand-in-hand with your customers has arrived.

For many brands, exclusivity and social signaling differentiate their products.

When King Frederick William III needed to raise funds to defend Prussia from Napoleon during the 1813 War of Liberation, he asked citizens to trade their gold for valueless iron medallions with his likeness embossed. Before long, the medallions signaled greater status than gold. Everyone who wanted others to recognize their wealth and patriotism willingly handed over their gold.

“A strong brand can impact all aspects of your business in a positive way. It drives consumer demand, reinforces financial value and aligns corporate values with the social values of its markets.”

For similar reasons, people will pay outrageous sums for a luxury-branded bag or watch – a Rolex over an equally serviceable Timex – because luxury brand managers have mass-marketed those brands as aspirational. Luxury brands that appeal to a truly wealthy segment take an opposite approach: They hide their brand from the masses to achieve deep exclusivity. Those who carry a Birkin bag, after all, only care to signal their status to other wealthy people.

By advertising Gucci bags, Rolex watches and the like to the masses, these brands make sure everyone knows what they stand for. Without that common perception, consumers would have no reason to flaunt them. But social signaling doesn’t stop at status. Brands can appeal also to those who want to signal their commitment to environmental responsibility, animal rights, veganism and other causes. Prius became the brand of choice for environmentalists, not because it was the first or only high gas mileage car, but because it cleverly built the brand to give environmentalists a visible means of signaling their values – creating a “social currency.”

Take a stand with your brand.

Brands used to get away with taking no stand at all on social issues, but consumers today expect more. The pressure has been growing for decades, starting with the corporate social responsibility movement of the 1980s. Today, most employees and consumers expect corporate leaders to speak out and take action on social issues. This expectation creates real dangers for firms and brands that don’t know exactly what they stand for. Stances must remain consistent, and leaders must accept that taking a controversial stand might alienate a large segment of their customers.

“When a brand takes a position, it’s held to a higher standard and a premium is placed on consistency.”

When a brand comes under fire, as Trader Joe’s did for the way it named some of its products – Trader Ming’s Chinese Stir-Fry – a solid knowledge of its own values and principles can allow it to respond firmly and authentically. Trader Joe’s refused to change its product names and explained why. It suffered no ill consequences. Nike sponsored Colin Kaepernick after he kneeled while the US national anthem played, and the company visibly supports Black Lives Matter. This action costs Nike some customers, yet its leaders stand by Nike’s “social justice” brand.

About the Authors

Matt Johnson is a professor of marketing psychology at the Hult International Business School and head of NeuroScienceOf, a neuromarketing firm. Tessa Misiaszek is head of research at the Korn Ferry Institute, co-founder of the Happy at Work podcast and an instructor in Harvard’s Continuing Education Division.


Business, Marketing, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Communication, Leadership, Management


The book is a guide on how to create, maintain, and grow a brand that connects with consumers and stands out in a competitive market. The authors draw from their experience and expertise in psychology, neuroscience, marketing, and business to explain the science and art of branding. They cover topics such as:

  • The definition and purpose of a brand
  • The psychological and emotional aspects of branding
  • The elements and principles of brand identity
  • The strategies and tactics of brand positioning
  • The methods and tools of brand research
  • The challenges and opportunities of brand innovation
  • The best practices and examples of brand storytelling
  • The metrics and outcomes of brand performance

The book is filled with case studies, anecdotes, insights, and tips from various industries and sectors, such as Nike, Apple, Starbucks, Airbnb, Netflix, Tesla, Coca-Cola, Lego, IKEA, and more. The authors also provide exercises and questions at the end of each chapter to help readers apply the concepts and techniques to their own brands.

The book is a comprehensive and engaging resource for anyone interested in branding, whether they are students, entrepreneurs, managers, marketers, designers, or consultants. The authors combine theory and practice in a clear and accessible way, using relevant examples and evidence to support their arguments. They also offer a fresh and holistic perspective on branding, emphasizing the human and emotional aspects of it. They show how branding is not only about logos, slogans, or colors, but also about creating meaningful and lasting relationships with consumers.

The book is well-written, well-structured, and well-designed. It has a logical flow and a consistent tone throughout. It uses simple language and visual aids to explain complex concepts and ideas. It also has a nice balance between breadth and depth, covering a wide range of topics without sacrificing details or quality. It is informative, practical, and inspiring.

The book is suitable for readers of different levels of experience and knowledge in branding. It can serve as an introduction for beginners who want to learn the basics of branding or as a reference for experts who want to refresh or update their skills. It can also be used as a textbook for courses or workshops on branding or as a handbook for professionals or practitioners who work with brands.

The book is one of the best books on branding that I have read. It is a valuable addition to the literature on branding and a must-read for anyone who wants to create a brand that means business.

Summary: Branding That Means Business: How to Build Enduring Bonds Between Brands, Consumers and Markets by Matt Johnson and Tessa Misiaszek

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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