The Power of Being Unpopular

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power of unpopularWhat emotion pops up in your head? Is it a brave assuredness or a fear of being alone in following your passion?

If the feeling is the latter, you may want to read The Power of Unpopular: A Guide for Building Your Brand For The Audience Who Will Love You by Erika Napoletano (@RedheadWriting) as business passion’s key to freedom.

If you have seen Erika’s TED talk, a 2012 TED editors pick, then you know reading this book opens you to the insights of a brash, fiery media strategist who peppers her insights with a few choice NSFW (not safe for work) words.

In the book’s introduction, Napoletano notes an encounter with an airline passenger who says her power point had  “salty language.”  But Napoletano uses her NSFW attitude to embolden listeners to act on the key points given and to just get real.

Based in Colorado, Napoletano is the founder of RHW Media and is a contributor to American Express OPEN Forum and Entrepreneur magazine. I was impressed as I listened to her during an Entrepreneur Magazine panel this summer – impressed enough to ask for a review copy from Wiley.

How a Brand is Built to Last

The Power of Unpopular highlights the transformation of passion to a meaningful brand – knowing who you are and developing the reason why someone would care.  Napoletano shares an explanation of why “building a brand is a ton of work” in an engaging mix of facts and realness.

Napoletano argues against popularity in business, noting that the best brands strike a counter-emotion for some people – think Coke vs Pepsi or Yankees vs. Red Sox, she says. The ideas is that taking a branding position provides your business a means to attract target customers around a specific premise:

The builders of unpopular brands are looking to make new inroads. They take the current standards, break them apart and reshape them into something that fits people who have been left behind or left wanting more.

The idea recalls the book Rework but with a bit more gravitas and detail like The Mesh.  The gravitas and detail arrives in the form of the 5 essential ingredients to “unpopularity”:

  • Personality
  • Approachability
  • Sharability
  • Scalability
  • Profitability

Unpopularity also comes with a list, as in identifying who would not do business with you:


Napoletano explains the value for the exercise:

The reality is – and everyone who has built a business that’s stood the test of time has had this epiphany – the audience you think you serve and the audience who actually wants what you have can be very different creatures. By identifying upfront the audiences who are a tough sell, you free yourself up to spend time researching and talking to the audiences who remain after you’ve crossed these unlikelies off the list.

Napoletano also provides a list for audience identification, and 4 steps for “being approachable” (being unpopular does not mean being an “a**hole” – she even names the book The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton).  The chapters also address other brand factors such as pricing your services, seeking advice from an analyst to refine branding aspects clearly, and scaling your business through building a team.

Notably she selects examples that reflect digital media popular with marketers, such as this warning about potentially commoditizing your brand through daily deal sites:

Given that daily deals sites take on average 50 percent of the deal value, and generally offer deals up to 50 percent off at retail brands can be left with as little as 25 percent of fair market value for their product or service. If you are considering using a daily deal promotion, make sure not only that you have the pricing structure in place to withstand the cost compromise, but that one in five chance of obtaining a repeat customer is worth the expense.

Rather than trotting out well-known startup successes such as Southwest and Zappos, Napoletano provides cases based on successful small businesses such as Marination, a Seattle-based food truck service and Mrs. G, a New Jersey TV and Appliance store. These selections are effective, particularly as a point about knowing your audience – in this case small businesses and startups who are still building out.

It’s these details that makes The Power of Unpopular a must recommend. The text may be plain English but the tips have the business-sound cojones to impact strategic and tactical decisions.  Despite the bluster that Napoletano shows periodically on text, her sensibilities are a wise and much-need statement on cutting the BS from business language.

Napoletano has found the right formula for business owners to balance being personable while developing the right operations in a business.   If you liked No You Can’t Pick My Brain, you’ll be fine with this book.

Overall The Power of Unpopular is an impressive book that you’ll appreciate it when you’ve finished reading it. It’s recommended for founders of start-ups and scaling small businesses that seek long-lasting branding success in any language.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

9 Reactions
  1. Hmm, I really like the tagline underneath the title. Though I don’t consider myself to be a small business owner, I do have some ideas I’ve put out there —- has had limited success. I need to find my market and focus on them rather than on the ones who don’t seem interested.

    Will take a look at Erica’s TED talk and a further look at the book on Amazon.

    Thanks for the review.

    • Ebele,

      I personally think that being “unpopular” is very cool.

      When you are taking a different route not many take, you are set to establish your expertise in that area.

      • I hear what you’re saying. I think (business-wise) being unpopular can be cool and can work to one’s advantage as you have the freedom to try things out without the pressure of attention. In other ways though, it can be frustrating, hard and lonely taking the road less travelled.

      • Ivan, that’s another great way to define branding and the value a business can bring. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ebele,

      Thanks for the comments – check out Erika’s website for the TED talk. She’s make a great point about understanding one’s self and highlights how unpopular is another way of making choices, not just as a negative. It’s a great message.

      • Pierre,

        Thanks. Just been to Erika’s site. Her TED talk’s right on her homepage! Cool! Will be watching it later tonight. Looking forward to it – oooh, plus her blog too. I have a feeling I’m gonna like her :).

        Thanks again.

  2. I love this kind of idea – it’s shaping your own brand by certain properties that matter to the right audience. How you go for a small radius of target market foresees a better chance for success than trying to please everyone.

  3. Building a good brand means that you appeal to an exclusive audience. You don’t need to please everyone. You just need to create an exclusive crowd that has the same views.