Marketing by Peter Diekmeyer

October 27, 1998

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

Brands, branding and brand management are terms that we hear more and more of in the business world. The strength of such American brands as Coke, Gillette and Nike in overseas markets is thought to be one of the main reasons for the incredible run ups in stock prices at these respective companies in recent years.

In their new book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding authors Al and Laura Ries define a brand as "any proper noun" and encourage readers to think of themselves as brands if they want to be successful in life. They believe that building brand identity is the essence of the marketing process.

Branding is the reason that Evian's main product, bottled water, a commodity if there ever was one, costs more than similar quantities of beer, milk, Coca-Cola or even gasoline. A successful branding program creates in the consumer's mind a perception of singularity, that there is no other product on the market like The Brand.

The Rieses believe that "the power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope". Chevrolet for example, which used to be the largest selling automobile brand in America has extended its name to ten different car models. By trying to be all things to all people, they have eroded the value of the brand to the point that no one knows what a Chevrolet is.

Companies will often try to justify this brand expansion by invoking the megabrand concept. For instance Chevrolet is the megabrand and the Camaro, Caprice, and Cavalier are the individual brands, but customers don't think in this way. They will use the name that best captures the essence of the product. For example the Corvette owner will say "I drive a Vette" and the Lumina owner will say, "I drive a Chevrolet".

The authors believe that consumers want brands that are narrow in scope and are distinguishable by a single word, the simpler the better. Since in the long run a brand is nothing more than a name, it must be chosen carefully. The authors believe that generic brand names such as American Motors, International Business Machines and International Nickel are one of the fastest routes to failure. These all things to all people names tend to get lost in the noise of everyday life. The authors use the example of Just for Men hair coloring which is spending a fortune trying to build its brand. After watching the commercial many must be wondering what the name is of that hair-coloring product that is just for men?

Al Ries, is president of the Roswell, Georgia firm of Ries & Ries, the other Ries being his daughter Laura. Al has been in the in the advertising trade over 35 years spending 25 of those years at the NewYork firm of Ries & Trout. He originally started his business as an advertising agency but soon found himself being asked more for strategic advice by clients on such subjects as public relations and product positioning.

His broad approach to marketing permeates his thinking "Advertisers think that you can build a brand through advertising, but I view advertising as merely a defensive mechanism designed to protect market share" said Ries in a telephone interview. He believes that the birth of a brand is achieved through publicity and the best way to achieve this publicity is to be first in a category. If this is not possible redefining yourself as the leader by creating a new category is a good alternative.

Although the concept of branding has been around forever it is only in recent years since professionals have been measuring the value of brand names that their true worth has become apparent. Some brands have values of between $20-30 Billion, an astronomical amount. Al Ries believes that just the brand "Coke" is worth more than the rest of the company put together including all the plant and equipment. If everything were to burn down tomorrow Coke would be able to go to the market and rebuild just on the value of its brand.

The book is divided into 22 chapters each one focusing on what the authors call "laws of branding". The chapters are short and written as though they were transcriptions of verbal presentations but there are many interesting insights into the process of building a brand that make the book a worthwhile read for people interested in the marketing process.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding is 182pp and is published in Canada by Harper Collins for $33.50.

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In last week's article on news services covering the local advertising scene, I neglected to mention PubZone as was politely pointed out to me by its editor Gail Chiasson. PubZone is an Internet based publication that has been online for more than 18 months, and features articles in both French and English. Chiasson is the former Quebec editor of Marketing magazine. You can check PubZone out at www.pubzone.com.

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The Mondial de la Publicité Francophone continues today and tomorrow at the Palais de Congrès de Montréal. For information call 270-4030.

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