Online Brands

What’s Still Right About The 22 Laws Of Branding?

Has marketing become too complicated, confusing, complex? What about Branding? Is that marketing? Whats the difference?

Lets take a look and see.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding was written by Al Ries and Laura Ries in 1998. Surely it can’t be relevant now in the days of the internet. Can it? Certainly not, now that the internet increasingly means mobile devices, right? Although…

They used the word Immutable. 

     unchanging over time or unable to be changed.
     “an immutable fact”

That’s a pretty big claim. Unchanging.

Before we take a look at that claim, it might be useful to define what we are talking about?

What is branding?

How is that different – or not – to marketing?

Investopedia says Marketing refers to activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product or service.

Hubspot suggests that Marketing refers to any actions a company takes to attract an audience to the company’s product or services through high-quality messaging. 

So marketing is about promoting/attracting people to products or services.

Branding is related to this but has a significant distinction. Again we look to Hubspot:

Branding is the process of researching, developing, and applying a distinctive feature or set of features to your organization so that consumers can begin to associate your brand with your products or services.”

Investopedia says the term brand refers to a business and marketing concept that helps people identify a particular company, product, or individual. Investopedia goes beyond this to say:

“A brand is more than a name—it is the sum total of a consumer’s experiences with a recognizable product”

So, while marketing is about promoting products or services, branding is about all of the clues and nuances that we associate with either a company or a product. 

Its not simply the name or the logo, and its not about advertising per se. Its about everything we remember, think, see, taste, feel and perceive about a company or a product.

And this is what Al and Laura Ries want to confirm.

Branding is not just about advertising, although that plays a part. Branding is about creating a perception in the market that your company or your products are the leaders.

I’m not going to go through all 22 laws as I found there is a whole lot of overlap. So instead I’ve grouped them and we’ll look at how they fair in 2021.

Branding is about Leadership

When you are perceived to be the leader in a category, you have credentials in that category. While people are generally suspicious about product claims, the leader is believed to be “the real thing.”

Coca Cola is the real thing. All others are imitators. McDonalds in the real thing. Every other burger brand is a copy cat.

In New Zealand, Tip Top is the leader when it comes to ice cream. Red Band means gumboots, and when you think of sugar you think of Chelsea.

Tip Top is a brand leader
Tip Top is a brand leader and is trusted in NZ.

Real brand leaders end up owning a word in the mind of consumers. For a long time, Fisher and Pykel owned “washing machine.” Watties owned “tomato sauce,” “spaghetti” and “baked beans.” 

You need to be perceived to be the leader
You need to be perceived to be the leader

One of the tricks to being market leader is to be perceived as the best quality. Its not always true, but it is a perception that works for the leaders. They do this by following the focus related laws so we’ll go there is a few seconds.

Whittaker's means chocolate
Whittaker’s means chocolate – nothing else!

This brings us to singularity. The most powerful brand leaders are single-minded. They only mean one thing. Whittaker’s is chocolate – nothing else. If they started to expand into other forms of confectionary they would dilute their singularity, and their leadership with it.

Key message: Find a category and a word that you can own in people’s perception – where you are seen as the one leading brand.

You must differentiate and be distinctive 

The name of your brand is what differentiates it from competitors. In the long run your name and your brand are the same thing – so choose wisely!

In fact the authors make a note of avoiding generic sounding names. A great example is the trendy term “nature.” Dozens of brand names start with “Nature,” like Nature’s Answer, Natures Choice, Natures Organics, Nature’s Gate, Nature’s Plus, Nature’s Herb. “Earth” isn’t far off in NZ.

Use words out of context. What does Spark mean? Does it suggest a phone company? 

The other way to differentiate is by using colour. the authors suggest that:

“A brand should use a color that is opposite of major competitor’s.”

So ideally, your brand will use colors that represent what it’s all about or the mood that you want your customers to have when interacting with your brand.

But it’s most important to choose colors that contrast with those used by your competitors. 

Telecom was Blue. So Vodafone chose Red.

Kodak was yellow, so Fuji chose green

This will allow you to create a distinct brand identity and help to differentiate your brand from competitors.

You need to Differentiate
Al Ries and Laura Ries claim you need to be different to your competitors

And this is where it gets interesting. While Ries and Ries generally advise against brand expansion, they admit that, if done correctly and under the right circumstances, it can be very effective.

The key is to give each sibling its own unique, differentiated, distinct, identity – avoid the family look. 

sanitarium breakfast cereals
Sanitarium don’t even show their famous Weetbix brand with their other breakfast cereals

Sanitarium has succeeded with this in New Zealand. It is the market leader in cereals with famous brands like Weetbix breakfast cereal. In fact, on their website, Weetbix isn’t included with the other cereals – its n a leaguer of its own. But Sanitarium has succeeded with other breakfast cereals but keeping them unique and different, even advertising them individually. Skippy Corngflakjes owns the cornflakes space in NZ. What about Honeypuffs and Ricies?

But Sanitarium has diversified into the Up&Go, as well as So Good alternatives milks. Do they all look the same? Do they have similar names? Are they a family of brands?

No. Each is branded separately, uniquely. Brilliant.  

Key message: Focus on one brand/product and resist dilution.

A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.

Every brand will be tempted to expand its product range at some point. And there are ways to do that. But the really successful brands stick to their knitting.

If we look at Tip Top again, they have stuck to ice creams and ice blocks. They don’t sell lollies or chocolate unless its in their ice cream. Their brand is strong.

In fact, the authors suggest that:

“The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope”

Yes, expanding your product line can bring in profits – but usually only in the short term. When the novelty wears off you are left with your original product – if it didn’t fall along with the new lines that have now disappeared.

A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.
A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.

Michael Hill owned “jeweler” for a long time. But then he expanded into Michael Hill Shows, both product lines suffered. 

Similar to expansion is extension. If you have one successful beer, why not keep extending until you have 21 successful beers? History shows it is unlikely to succeed. 

For many years, Steinlager was just that. Steinlager. Iconic New Zealand beer. But with increased international competition, Steinlager has extended its line from time to time to keep things fresh. There was Steinlager Blue, Green, Pure, Premium Light, Edge, and now Tokyo Dry. many of which are now discontinued.

Steinlager beer
Steinlager Beer have suffered by diluting their iconic brand

Steinlager continues to have 10% market share, which is incredible. But you have to winder how much the brand has suffered from extended its line and giving poor customer experiences.

Consistency is King. Not complacency – you don’t want to become the latest Kodak. But make your brand stand for something in people’s mind, and then stick with it. Fads will come and go but if you are able to manage the perception, you will likely survive the fads.

Key message: Focus on one brand/product and resist dilution.

A brand should own a market segment or category

As we saw with the focus section, your brand should own, not just a word, but a whole category. A brand becomes stronger when it narrows its focus.

A brand should own a market segment or category
A brand should own a market segment or category

Tip Top own the ice cream category. Watties own sauce and also canned foods.

Watties tomato sauce

Watties tomato sauce is a NZ icon

You could argue though, that Gregg’s never tried to compete with Watties for tomato sauce. They created a new category called steak sauce and dominated that for as long as they could.

“If you can’t be the leader in a category, create a new category!”

They key is not to resent or try and squash competitors in your category. 

Instead promote the category and make the pie bigger. In fact, welcome other brands. 

The best thing that happened to Coca-Cola was Pepsi. Consumers loves competition and they want choice. They want something to compare your brand with. Otherwise, they get suspicious.

What is surprising though is that companies must resist they temptation to stay bigger than their brands. their brands must win that competition.

Sometimes its the same thing. Coca-Cola is both company and brand name. In fact, this is the best scenario – no confusion.

You can see where this becomes difficult with Microsoft products. Excel is so distinctive that everyone uses it without its company name. But word is too generic as discussed previously. So you have to say, Microsoft Word, and that’s annoying. Don’t do it. Name your products so that they stand on their own. 

Key message: Own a category or make a new one that you can own.

Always be first in your category

As Ries and Ries mention, advertising is not the way to make a name for your brand—publicity is.

And the best way to generate that publicity is by being first in your brand’s category (like Band-Aid was for adhesive bandages or Heineken was for imported beer).

Always be first
Publicity, not advertising, is what builds brands

When you’re first in a category, it’s much easier to generate a buzz around your brand.

AJ Hackett Bungy Jumping

AJ Hackett invented Bungy Jumping and generated a lot of publicity by jumping in unusual or even illegal places. 

However, a brand has to eventually shift from publicity to advertising in order to maintain its share in the marketplace. 

The key to advertising is to focus on being the leader of your category, not on being the best.

“Advertising is like insurance – its keeps you from sliding but it probably won’t build your brand.”

What if you want to become a global brand? For this to work you must be first in your category, and our product must fit the global perceptions of where it comes from.

Finally, no brand is immortal. So, when you see the writing on the wall, fight for your brand. But also recognise when its over and let it go.

Key message: Use publicity to be perceived as first in a cetagory.

Final Words

Laura Ries is still in demand and continues to write and speak all over the world.

If you were to ask her what has survived the years she might mention three things.

  1. Find an open hole. “If somebody owns a position, you’re not going to take it away from them. You have to look for another open hole that you can take advantage of…by being the opposite of the leader.”
  2. Narrow the focus. “Too often, brands and companies, they want to be everything to everybody.”
  3. The name is so important and significant. “Not just the brand name but the category name.”

The key thing to do now is to, as Jim Collins recommends, tell yourself the brutal facts.

These laws all have their contradictions so they aren’t fool proof. You might be getting away with contravening one or more of them. But by and large, you probably arent.

So which laws do you need to look more closely at?

Hey, stay tuned… the 22 Law of Marketing is coming.