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Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits

By Debbie Millman


We live in a world with over one hundred brands of bottled water. The United States alone is home to over 45,000 shopping malls. And there are more than 19 million customized beverage choices a barista can whip up at your local Starbucks. Like any concept that dominates markets and public consciousness, “brand” is a challenge to define. Does it refer to a simple differentiator of the cereals in our cupboards, a manipulative brainwashing tool forced on us by greedy corporations, or a creative triumph as capable as any art form of stimulating our emotions and intellects? Maybe it’s a little of each, and maybe it’s something else altogether.

Whatever the answer is, Debbie Millman’s BRAND THINKING elevates the discussion to a stratospheric level. Millman, herself a design visionary whose ideas have shaped the branding of Pepsi, Gillette, Colgate, Campbell’s and many more, has compiled twenty-two interviews she personally conducted with the world’s top design executives, strategists, and critics. The result is an unprecedented forum on the state of branding today, what “brand” truly means, and how companies and consumers can best embrace the future.

In the turbulent world of design, BRAND THINKING is the perfect brainstorm. Each chapter is an extensive dialogue between Millman and a different leader in the field, with no time wasted getting to the core issues faced by all designers—and consumers. Asking questions informed deeply by her own expertise, Millman coaxes lucid, prescient answers from her interview subjects on a diverse range of topics:

  • Malcolm Gladwell on the brand value of hospitals and the overuse of the word “brand” itself.

  • Seth Godin on whether hope or fear provides better leverage for a brand, and what the Catholic Church can teach us about branding.

  • Dori Tunstall on how the process of design can define what it means to be human.

  • Virginia Postrel on how our brains are becoming hyperlinked, and the fundamental branding difference between Madonna and Lady Gaga.

  • Brian Collins on how he revitalized the Dove brand by attacking the traditional stereotypes of beauty in the media.

  • Wally Olins on whether market research perpetuates mediocrity.

  • Stanley Hainsworth on how Starbucks got us to pay $4 for a cup of coffee and come back for more.

Slowly but surely, branding has become the umbrella under which advertising, marketing, and PR all reside. In the fluid, dynamic landscape of contemporary business, every forward-thinking person must speak the language of brands. BRAND THINKING cuts through all the empty jargon and buzzwords to expose the underpinnings of how people respond to the ideas of designers, and how the best brands can open avenues for cultural dialogue and be positive presences in our daily lives.

"In each interview, Millman cuts through all of the empty jargon and buzzwords to show the underpinnings of ways people reply to the information of designers, and the way the very best brands open avenues for cultural change in our daily lives-whether we’re acutely aware of it or not."


"Brand Thinking offers 22 short interviews with an astounding array of heavy hitters in branding, identity design, and related disciplines. It’s a fascinating and invigorating read. Millman coaxes the likes of Tom Peters and Karim Rashid into moments of almost shocking candor; Dori Tunstall and Alex Bogusky unflinchingly address issues of social and environmental responsibility; Brian Collins’ insights into Apple’s brand left me literally open-mouthed."


"In Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits master interviewer Debbie Millman talks to 22 branding world personalities to get to the bottom of it all."


"Whether you’re in advertising, marketing, an entrepreneur, or just want to better understand our relationship with brands as people, this is a helpful read. You get a variety of perspectives, with themes that develop yet each retain their own character, making this an insightful and useful book."


"Brand Thinking, at its core, is a book about human nature, the need to belong, and a philosophical exploration into the reasons we behave the way we do. Brand Thinking is a powerful look at the role brand plays in society, politics, economics, psychology and technology."


"Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, by designer extraordinaire Debbie Millman, contains twenty interviews with the world’s leading designers and thinkers in branding. The interviews contain spirited views on how and why humans have branded the world around us, and the ideas, inventions, and insight inherent in the search. The style and format of the book make this an interesting, informative, fun and thoroughly thought provoking read that design and branding lovers, newbies, and information junkies alike are sure to find enjoyable."


"Millman’s interviewing style is, as always, sparse, capable and insightful. She provides ample room for her subjects to speak freely, only interjecting to continue the dialogue rather than demonstrate her personal knowledge. The interviewees are remarkably self-aware."


"To gain insight into why we telegraph our affiliations or our beliefs with symbols, signs, and codes, Millman interviews twenty world leading designers and thinkers in branding. The interviews contain spirited views on how and why humans have branded the world around us, and the ideas, inventions, and insight inherent in the search."


"There can be no more passionate advocate for the pursuit, practice and parlance of branding than Debbie Millman."


"Not just anyone can sandwich folks like Wally Olins, Brian Collins and Joe Duffy between hard covers without a single headshot among them. It takes a shape-shifter. It takes a snake charmer. It takes a Debbie Millman. There’s only one."


"In her new book, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, Debbie Millman sits down with others who work around brands to try and figure out the lay of the land."


"Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits is valuable primarily for those particularly interested in what the gurus of the branding industry have to say about where branding was in the past, where it is now, and the directions it could go."


"Brand Thinking rounds up 22 of the most knowledgeable and diverse people in the industry, from marketing guru Seth Godin, cultural critic Malcolm Gladwell, designer Karim Rashid, and branding legend Wally Olins for a series of interviews on the subject of branding."


"Millman talks to a veritable who’s who of branding pros, including Seth Godin, Wally Olins, and Malcolm Gladwell, about what a “brand” means today. We, and most likely you, have been fans of Millman’s for years, so this seems like almost necessary reading."


"In each interview, Millman cuts through all the empty jargon and buzzwords to expose the underpinnings of how people respond to the ideas of designers, and how the best brands open avenues for cultural change in our daily lives-whether we’re aware of it or not."


"Debbie Millman interviews 20-plus design, marketing and advertising big thinkers about all things branding."


"An insightful examination of the state of branding today."


"An engaging collection of dialogues between Debbie and different leaders in the field."


"You may know Debbie Millman, who recently completed her two-year tenure as national president of AIGA, as the high-spirited host of the radio show-cum-podcast “Design Matters.” She brings her signature form — the design dialogue — to the printed page in Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits."


T"his book isn’t a systematic discussion of the word branding. The term is both too established and too squishy for that. Even so, branding has been far more durable than many other business buzzwords. And one of the great virtues of Millman’s book is that it acknowledges the term’s combination of mushiness and descriptiveness."


"Debbie Millman’s visionary ideas have shaped global brands like Pepsi, Gillette, Colgate, Nestle and many more. In her new book Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, she brings the insights she’s gained in her work to conversations with top brand thinkers, strategists and critics….and shares what she learned in these searching, memorable and above all entertaining discussions: the lessons, the surprises and why brand thinking is ultimately a noble pursuit."


"The word “brand” is “a challenge to define in our hyper-consumer economy: marketing differentiator, manipulative sales tool, creative triumph, all of the above. But Debbie Millman tackles the issue, or rather elevates the discussion."


"In Brand Thinking And Other Noble Pursuits author and president of the design division at Sterling Brands, Debbie Millman gathers Olin’s and a host of other success stories from a wide variety of fields, roping in everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to Karim Rashid, to opine on what makes a successful brand and what branding means on a socio-cultural level."


"No one today is talking and writing about branding more knowledgeably, open-mindedly, and charmingly than Debbie Millman, or doing so with so many of the world’s most interesting and influential thinkers and designers. Brand Thinking is jam-packed with intelligence and insight.”


"These wonderful interviews remind us why, in this age of infinite choice, brands remain more essential than ever. It doesn’t matter if you love brands or hate brands or simply want to understand how brands work—Debbie’s conversations with leading thinkers will give you plenty to think about."


"I arrived at the end of [Brand Thinking] having learned quite a bit. You will, too. Because this book is no rote anthology of boilerplate lectures. It’s more like a buzzingdinner party, where you never know who is going to say what."


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