Who are the top branding experts to follow in 2023?
“Top” is a subjective term. Instead, I’m going to offer eight individuals who are inarguably branding experts and explain why I think they’re among the best in various categories. I’ll include those who are experts at branding on social media, those with best-selling books, and the best corporate branding experts.
I’ve separated the branding experts into “old guard” and “new guard.” The old guard brand builders are the undisputed, reigning experts. The new guard is here to shake things up. Both are great to learn from.
“Branding expert” is also a little subjective. Here, I’m defining that term as someone very good at helping others at defining and creating a brand. I’m also including a couple of folks who are experts at building their brand—you can learn by watching how they do what they do.
Also, this list of top branding experts will only include branding experts you can learn from. All these branding experts have books, guides, tutorials, portfolios, or some other way of consuming their content.
There are probably hundreds of branding experts out there who just don’t shout about what they do, but there’s no point including them on this list of the best branding experts to follow in 2023 if they don’t have any content you can read and learn from.
For example, Apple’s Senior VP of Marketing Greg Joswiak is definitely a branding expert. He helped launch some of Apple’s key products, including the iPod and the iPhone. Today he oversees the marketing for iPads, iPhones, MacBooks, and Apple TV+. But the man doesn’t even post on LinkedIn, so there’s no way to learn from his expertise. All experts on this list have content—a book, a blog, a podcast—you can learn from.
Let’s jump in.
The Old Guard
1. David Aaker: An innovator in the field
David Aaker is known as the “Father of Modern Branding.” He’s at the top of this list of branding experts because he basically invented the field of branding as it’s known today. Aaker came up with some of the key defining concepts we talk about in the realm of branding, like the Brand Vision Model (which has been covered previously on How Brands Are Built). He currently works as Vice Chair at Prophet, a growth consulting company.
It’s not hyperbole to say he changed the branding field forever. Previously, agencies dominated the industry with the idea that a brand, and any campaigns around the brand, had to revolve around a single idea.
Aaker found that to be garbage. He developed his model around the idea that a brand can stand for multiple things, which are either “core” or “extended” to the brand. He described his model in his book, Building Strong Brands.
In addition to his seminal work, he’s written over a hundred articles and 14 books on branding. His work has won multiple awards for his contributions to the field of branding and marketing. I won’t list them all here, but his Wikipedia page should give you some idea of the breadth and depth of his plaudits.
The man is a decorated marketing veteran. Plus, he’s an ex-business school professor, so he’s got a background in education, too. In short, he’s an ideal branding expert to learn from.
2. Marty Neumeier: A best-selling author
Marty Neumeier is the top branding expert in the book realm. Although David Aaker has written many books on branding, the popularity of Neumeier’s books is second to none in the branding world.
Neumeier is a best-selling author. His books have resonated with the branding audience to a huge degree. His two best-known books are The Brand Gap, which is the world’s most-read book on branding, and Zag, which was named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
In The Brand Gap, Neumeier describes the first central theory of branding. He offers a set of five disciplines that help companies bridge the gap between brand strategy and brand execution.
Meanwhile, his book Zag is more like a strategy map to outgun the competition. Here, he describes the concept of “radical differentiation,” which is what truly sets brands apart from the competition.
To learn more from this branding expert, those two books are the best place to start. Neumeier’s blog is also a valuable resource.
3. Kevin Lane Keller: A textbook expert
If you were to look in the dictionary under the entry “branding expert,” you’d probably find Kevin Lane Keller there. He wrote Strategic Brand Management, which is the actual textbook on brand management and has been hailed as the bible of branding. This text focuses on the how and why of brand management, offering specific guidelines to plan, build, measure, and manage brand equity. If you ever learned branding in a formal capacity, you’ve probably come across his book.
He also stands out as a top branding expert thanks to his research in the field. Unlike the previous two branding experts, Keller is a branding scholar with multiple citable publications.
To date, he’s served as a brand advisor to Accenture, American Express, Disney, Ford, Intel, Levi-Strauss, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Starbucks to name just a few brands from his portfolio. Today, he is the E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.
To learn more about his branding expertise, I recommend checking out Strategic Brand Management. He doesn’t have a blog, but he sometimes writes about his branding thoughts on the Tuck School of Business website. You can also check out his extensive publication catalog on his faculty page.
4. Debbie Millman: A design expert
Millman is notable for co-founding the world’s first branding graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 2009, along with Steven Heller. She’s also the host of one of the world’s oldest podcasts, Design Matters, which has been running for seventeen years. There, she’s interviewed countless designers, marketers, artists, and other creatives.
She’s written seven books on design in branding. During her tenure as President at Sterling Brands, she worked on the logo and branding for Burger King, Hershey’s, Haagen Dazs, Tropicana, Star Wars, Gillette, and the No More movement, among other brands.
If she sounds like a branding expert worth learning from, I recommend you start with her recent book, Why Design Matters, and her podcast, which includes conversations with notables such as our friend David Aaker, activist Dr. Temple Grandin, and makeup legend Bobbi Brown.
5. Guy Kawasaki: A corporate branding expert
I promised a corporate branding expert, didn’t I? Guy Kawasaki isn’t a branding expert by trade like the four above. He’s a branding expert by practice. He’s the Chief Canva evangelist today, responsible for spreading the good word about the design tool Canva. Before that, he was the chief Apple evangelist. Mercedes Benz retains him as a brand advisor. As a bonus, he has 1.4 million Twitter followers.
In addition to his corporate accolades, he has published several books—some about sales, like Selling the Dream, some not, like his more personal memoir Wise Guy. He also hosts a podcast, Remarkable People, which interviews (as you may guess) interesting, noteworthy individuals like the Theranos whistleblower and the founder of Lululemon.
He doesn’t call himself a branding expert, but he is one nonetheless. Listen to his podcast, read his books, and follow him on Twitter to learn his branding lessons.
Branding is not a stagnant field. In the last decade or two, marketing and sales have changed irrevocably. Today, social media and viral popularity arguably matter more than old standbys like TV ads. Let’s move into the top branding experts who are shaking things up in the new branding world.
6. Emily Heyward: a D2C specialist
If you’ve heard of Allbirds shoes or Casper mattresses, you have Emily Heyward to thank. She’s one of the top branding experts in the growing direct-to-consumer (D2C) industry. As the co-founder of Red Antler, she’s helped drive the popularity of cult brands like Prose, Sheertex, and Hinge.
She’s on this list because she’s an innovator and a disrupter. Millennials and Gen-Z prefer the authenticity of social-media-savvy D2C brands, and Heyward is the expert at knowing how to talk to them.
7. Jenni Romaniuk: A scientific expert
Branding is a field of gut instinct, full of conventional wisdom and little hard scientific evidence. Kevin Lane Keller is one of the few exceptions to this. Jenni Romaniuk is another.
As one of the leading voices of Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, an Australian research institute focused on evidence-based marketing and marketing science, she’s a true scientific branding expert. Rather than focusing on soft branding tips, she challenges the standard advice in favor of strategies and tactics for which there is empirical evidence.
For example, one common branding fear is the fear of being rejected by consumers. So much B2B branding advice is built around avoiding that rejection. However, Romaniuk found that such rejection is vanishingly rare. She also found that most buyers reject brands for reasons outside marketing’s control.
8. Marie Kondo: A niche branding expert
I’m ending with someone who isn’t in the branding field at all. Marie Kondo isn’t a branding expert in the traditional sense, and she’s not the same as the others on the list. I’m including her anyway to give you an unexpected branding expert to learn from.
First, if you’re not entrenched in the branding field, she’s probably the only person on this list that you’ve heard of before. If that’s not a victory in branding, I don’t know what is.
You probably also know about her smash Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. You might even know about her patented tidying method, KonMari, and her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which has been translated into 44 languages. Her catchphrase, “Does it spark joy?” made it into the common vernacular and even became a meme.
She is a branding expert for the simple reason that she managed to make tidying up a brand. She’s not a branding expert in the traditional sense, but she is worth following as a branding expert example. Thanks to her single-minded focus, repeatable tips and templates that anyone can use to tidy, and frankly charming personality, she took over our screens (and hearts).
The top branding experts
These eight are not the definitive list of the top branding experts to follow in 2023. I hope to have demonstrated a mix of branding experts who are masters in their disciplines and to help you know what to look for among other potential experts to learn from.
Branding is a science and an art, and there’s no single expert. These eight are just a great place to start learning.
Zulie Rane is a freelance writer. She previously worked in sales and marketing departments for tech companies. Today, she writes for companies in various sectors, including cybersecurity, marketing, and data science.