A review on ‘Brand Against the Machine: How to build your brand, cut through the marketing noise, and stand out from the competition’ by John Morgan.

How can you turn a blog you have been doing as a hobby into a business? Over the last couple of months I have been thinking a lot about the long term plans for my blog. When it comes to learning, I like a twofolded approach. On the one hand I like to take action, experiment, and learn from that process. On the other hand I value reading theory to make educated guesses on what would be smart moves to take. So that’s why I picked up a book on branding a couple of months back.

I’m the kind of person who takes notes when I read a book. I started doing this a long time ago. However, I didn’t have a good system to keep track of my book notes until I adopted the notecard system recently. Let’s just say that I filled a lot of notecards while reading Brand against the machine.

I like both learning and explaining. You can probably recognise this by my DIY and the occasional experiment I attempt. In addition to this, I would like to start sharing more lessons on my blog of the things I am learning from the books I am reading. These will be very selective snippets from elaborate concepts I read about in books. They are small and big lessons that I find valuable, a random selection of ideas which grabbed my attention. Hopefully you will find them valuable as well.

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1. Make what you do worth talking about.

“Make what you do worth talking about, and your business will grow faster than you can imagine.” (pg. 43)

This lesson is easy to grasp, but difficult to accomplish. I can recognize this for my own posts. My 1000 origami paper crane video is shared countless times, especially compared to any other video I have created. I think this is because the message of the project is so heart-felt that people want to share it. People want to feel connected. There is an emotional response to reaching out to strangers with love and positivity.
Creating projects that are worth talking about isn’t the easy road though. It’s way easier to create Pinterest round-ups and shop logs than it is to take a year to fold 1000 origami cranes.
Brand against the machine reminded me to keep pushing myself to create content that isn’t only original, but is something that hopefully blows people away.
If your content stands out and makes people want to talk about you, you are on a road to success.

2. Do the 3 most important activities for your business every day

“Make a list of the 3 biggest activities that generate the most results for your business and schedule them every day. Spend an hour on each one.” (pg. 196)

I talked before about how people tend to overestimate what they can achieve on the short term, but underestimate what they can accomplish on the long term. Consistency and hard work are the keys to building a successful business. It can be hard to focus though. There will always be more things that need to be done than there will be time to do them. Therefore you need to prioritize. Whatever project comes up, whatever important meeting you have, whatever the excuse, you need to continue making time for the things that are important to your business (or blog).

I’ve been contemplating what this would mean for my blog. Creating content would be a very obvious activity, but what else? Building a social media presence and interacting with people? Marketing? Making improvements upon what’s already there? Reading?

Lately I have been thinking of what the effect would be of incorporating an hour of play into my schedule. I have been feeling somewhat burnt-out lately, and it is mainly a matter of prioritizing. Because I don’t have a clear overview of what is important, I think everything is. I loose focus and feel like my work is never enough. But I also know that creativity and play is essential to my process. I tend to get my best ideas when I allow myself to ‘do nothing’. When I start playing I suddenly start making awesome things because I want to, not because I have to. When I don’t play, my ideas start to dry up, creating becomes a tedious process and I never have enough time or energy. So perhaps I do need to make play a priority.

3. Blow your customers away with awesomeness.

“Think of your last 10 customers. Did you blow them away with awesomeness? Or did they leave simply feeling content? They shouldn’t just feel satisfied doing business with you. They should feel ecstatic. They should leave as a new fan of yours. That’s how great brand grow: one customer at a time.” (pg.180)

When people order something from my Etsy shop, I try to give them something extra that they didn’t ask for and wasn’t in the product description. Even if it’s just very small item, I hope it gives that little bit of extra. But perhaps there are more things I could do to make people feel really excited. When you go beyond your customer’s expectations, they will turn into one extra player somewhere in the world to talk positively about your business.

4. Put your personality in your brand.

“What you do may not be unique, but who you are. This is why putting your personality into your brand is so important.” (pg.5)

This one took me a while to grasp. Almost everything has been done before. Even the things you created which you think are unique might exist in a similar form. Competing on originality alone won’t get you there. It’s not only what you do, but how you do it. Because you are unique, you will do things in your own unique way. Try to figure out what your strengths and quirks are. Use them. They make you personal. They make you relatable. They make your brand, products and business unique because nobody does it quite like you. You uniqueness and personality are things to use and celebrate.

5. Always get a video of you speaking.

“Always get a video of you speaking. Share that video online and through social media. It not only builds your brand and lets people get more familiar with you, but it lets event organizers know you are a good speaker.” (pg. 95)

Getting a video of when you talk is just one of these things that I hadn’t really thought about before. A little while ago I gave a Pecha Kucha talk at the temporary art center in Eindhoven. It is because of John Morgan that I decided to make a video of this event. I am still planning on sharing it here on the blog. (I have my own version, but they also filmed with proper cameras. So I am hoping I will get their video material soon, otherwise I will just use my own video instead.) From now on, whenever I will talk somewhere, I will be shortly reminded by this phrase. It’s the kind of thing you only need to hear once, but stays with you from then on.

6. Use testimonials

“Testimonials are so powerful because people will believe what others are saying about you over what you are saying about yourself. Social proof is critical and cannot be underestimated.” (pg.102)

Remember when I wrote a post about teaching in Denmark and there were all these lovely quotes from students about how inspiring their experience was? Yeah, Brand against the machine definitely made me more aware of gathering these quotes in the first place. Now, there is always the option to use them. For example, if I would like to continue down the road of public speaking and giving guest lectures. Testimonials give you credibility and you should think of ways to gather them from your customers.

7. People relate more to your struggles than your accomplishments

“People relate more to your struggles and the challenges you’ve overcome than they do to your accomplishments.” (pg.41)

Some of the blogs I have been following for a long time, have become less interesting, because they have become so successful. It’s not that their success alone makes them less interesting. It’s more that the lack of talking about failure and hardship makes them harder to relate to. I love reading about peoples struggles. Not because I like to see people struggle, but because it makes my own struggles feel normal. I like to hear what helped them. I like to hear how they overcame their challenges. It gives me hope that I will be able to do the same.

You should be careful to not make your blog into one big pity party or soap drama. But occasionally showing that you’re human and that you don’t have everything in life figured out yet is something that people like to see.


Sometimes it can be hard to apply the knowledge you gained from reading a book. In this case, almost anything I read in the book is directly applicable to your blog and business. It might seem like things like making a video and gathering testimonials are pretty obvious. And they might be. They are by no means the most important or only lessons I learned from this book. But they do illustrate the practical character of ‘Brand Against the Machine’. So if you are looking to read more about branding, this is a book full with small and bigger gems to help you move forward.

Do you have any relating branding tips? Please share them in the comments, so we can build upon each other’s knowledge!


[Disclosure: this post contains Amazon affiliate links.]


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