• Follow Curiously Persistent on WordPress.com
  • About the blog

    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
  • Subscribe

  • Meta

The Brand Gym: A Practical Workout to Gain and Retain Brand Leadership

the brand gym coverI’ve just finished reading the second edition of The Brand Gym: A Practical Workout to Gain and Retail Brand Leadership by David Taylor and David Nichols.

DISCLOSURE: The book was a free copy I received after responding to a request for reviewers on their blog. I have no affiliations to the brand gym, and the below is my honest opinion.

The book positions itself as a guide to brand building, where the ultimate goal should be becoming market leader. Thus the book is a counterpoint to Eating the Big Fish.

However, this goal isn’t as focused or didactic as it might appear – since market leader can refer to audience segment, price point, situation or any other differentiating factor, rather than overall category leader.

The book is structured around eight “workouts”, that flow from one to another. The solutions to branding issues are:

  • Follow the money
  • Use insight as fuel
  • Focus, focus, focus
  • Build big brand ideas
  • Grow the core
  • Stretch your brand muscles
  • Amplify your marketing plan
  • Rally the troops

Overall, I’d recommend the book. It is short but breezy, with the key points well signposted. Being picky, it could have done with having an editor, but the overall content of the book is very strong. It flows very nicely, with headlines, case studies and practical exercises well-integrated alongside the core content.

The messages of the book are common-sensical, but worth re-iterating. The authors warn against preoccupation with fame or awards, and remind that the core objectives of marketing should always be business-based. This, ultimately, comes down to increasing sales.

This book was very relevant to my studies, since my current module focuses heavily on branding. But with a chapter on insight, it also piques my interest as a researcher.

The authors define insight as “the discovery of something enlightening about your customer that leads to action”. It should display the FIRE properties

  • Fresh
  • Inspiring
  • Relevant
  • Enduring

Although there is nothing directly covering uniqueness or competitive advantage, I like this mnemonic.

The authors also list a range of sources that should be used for insight generation across the company. In addition to qualitative and quantitative research, they suggest using the following methods of collection across the different aspects of branding


  • Landscaping – what do they do and why do consumers choose them. Are their innovations that can be copied?
  • Brand peer group – this is brands outside of the category but appealing to the same target audience e.g. Lynx annual “album launch” of new scents inspired a juice company to change flavours
  • Retail visits – including product siting, new private label offers, point of sale, promotions, packaging, and shopping behaviour


  • Tracking – consumer panels (which can be large panels or small communities)
  • Fan clubs – to build empathy
  • Customer feedback forms


  • Semiotics – decoding communications and broader cultural codes e.g. Castrol oil turned away from engine specific comms since people talked about their love for their car, not their engine
  • Trends – trend decks should evolve each time they are presented, otherwise they will inspire only the same ideas


  • Ethnography and immersion – first hand experiences as evocation of idea. Following people in situ to see what they do, rather than what they say they do
  • Fringe consumers – get new ideas from people who don’t fit the current target, as this can stretch the appeal
  • Expert interviews


  • Core competences
  • Senior stakeholders – interviewing those that (should) have a nose for what works and doesn’t
  • R&D treasure hunt – crazy ideas can be seeds for innovation. Understand what it is and what it does – don’t use technical terms

This is solid advice. Formal research should only be one element of brand understanding. When undertaken, it should be designed to support and augment other information – not only from the above sources relating to branding but also the other elements of the balanced scorecard.