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Accidentally Branding Accidental Branding: Book Review

One time, I was reading Accidental Branding on the subway and two twenty-ish European women sitting by me paused to check out the book. "It's an interesting title," said the brunette.

The next day I was at UPS and a 30-something mother entered with her three-year-old. She asked to see the book, as it turned out she had Thanksgiving dinner with the author.

Later, I went to The Art of Shaving. This wasn't so accidental, as the company is prominently featured in the book as one of seven "accidental brands," which means it fits three criteria, according to author David Vinjamuri:

  1. It was created by someone not trained in marketing.
  2. The creator must experience the problem the brand solved (eg the co-founder of Art of Shaving experienced nasty razor burn).
  3. The individual must control the brand for at least 10 years.

I was so captivated by the story of Shaving founders Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka and so troubled over my own inability to get a decent shave that, as I was finishing the book, I took the subway to the nearest Art of Shaving store on East 62nd Street, the original store they opened. As the book hadn't been released yet, the store manager Angelo wasn't aware of it, but he was excited to glance at the chapter featuring his store. Fifteen minutes later, I learned enough from Angelo to attempt to try a new way of shaving at home, spending more than I ever have in my life on skin care products in the process.

Now, that has much more to do with the brand than the book, but it also gets to what makes the book so compelling. Vinjamuri tells seven stories of accidental brands: J. Peterman, craigslist, Clif Bar, The Art of Shaving, Columbia Sportswear, Baby Einstein, and Burt's Bees. Perhaps more than any individual brand's story, I'll remember the storytelling. Each story's told with affection, and the tone shifts ever so slightly for each one, from the wilderness of Peterman to the trailblazing Clif Bar to the high class shaving to the bucolic Burt's Bees.

And then again, I'm just falling for a trap. The brand's founders are the stars of nearly every page of the book, and their personalities, as captured by Vinjamuri, shoot of this magnetism.

This is not a how-to book. Yes, there is some advice up front to tie it all together, six characteristics of accidental brands and their creators. While that's necessary in a business book and the book would feel lacking without it, one can understand why he puts it up front and keeps the afterward brief. You get your formal education out of the way, and then you get to really learn from experience - the experience of the accidental branders.

Entrepreneurs will find the most inspiration here, as will most in the marketing field. The storytelling merits an even wider audience.

You won't need this to complete your MBA or successfully run a marketing department, but you may well find some added inspiration to keep doing what you're doing, or perhaps pursue a passion of yours with more zeal than you've had before.

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