The Rules of Branding


I have a lot of respect for Al Ries and Jack Trout. They are the two marketing and branding strategists who, over the years, have propounded extremely simple ideas and advice on marketing, branding and advertising. They did not write research-backed tomes but, on reading any of their books, one knew that they were talking eminent sense. They put forward the concept of positioning in the late 1970s/1980s that revolutionised the way people thought of brands and how to advertise them. Together or separately, they put forward different strategies that leaders, followers, and smaller players needed to follow; they introduced what they called the laws of marketing and branding; they highlighted the importance of differentiation; they also stressed the importance of focus, simplicity, creating new categories and PR; and they tried to simplify the concept of strategy. Many of their later books were regurgitation of their earlier ones; however, if you want to understand marketing well, you must read a lot of Ries and Trout.

Jacky Tai and Wilson Chew are two marketing professionals and authors who have obviously been influenced by Ries and Trout. They wrote two books – ‘Transforming Your Business into a Brand’ and ‘Killer Differentiators’ – that owe a lot to the writings of Ries and Trout.

In the first of the books, Tai and Chew highlighted what they called the 10 rules of branding. These make a lot of sense and, as a marketer, you would do well to keep them in mind. Here they are:

  1. Perception is Reality. Branding takes place in the minds of consumers, not in the real world. How consumers perceive a brand is the critical factor at play, not the reality. Your brand may be better than that of your competitor, but if the consumers don’t believe that, you have a real problem on your hands. As a marketer, your aim should be to be to create the better perception for your brand.
  2. Fortune Favours the First. Being first doesn’t guarantee that you will always succeed; however, being first in a category (or in owning an attribute) will allow you time to establish your brand before competition comes knocking. If you have a first mover advantage, try and make the most of it. Most categories today are so crowded with brands that being first has become a challenge for marketers.
  3. Create a New Category. As a marketer, it makes little sense to jump into an established category, even if you have the better product. If there are established brands in a category, it will take you enormous time, effort and resources to usurp these brands. A much better strategy is to identify a new category in which you can be the first player. As that category grows over time, your brand, as the first one in it, would also grow fast. The Blue Ocean concept that was put forward by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne is one interesting way for companies to try and create new categories.
  4. Focus. Ries and Trout stressed on this a lot. Instead of doing too many things, a company should try and focus on going one thing really well. Instead of line extending indiscriminately, a brand should try and strengthen itself in its core product category. Focus requires sacrifice, an ability to let go of areas that seem very attractive at a given point of time. There are a number of examples of companies and brands that have seen their fortunes evaporate because they lost focus. Steve Jobs was a great practitioner of focus and let go of seemingly promising categories in which Apple could have launched new products.
  5. Differentiate or Sell Cheap. We all understand the absolutely vital importance of differentiation; yet, I am sure you would be appalled by the number of me-too brands that exist in the marketplace. What is incomprehensible is that even established companies launch me-too products. Once a market becomes commoditised, all the players end up competing on price. Over time, this erodes the profitability of all the brands in a product category. Only the differentiated brands continue to thrive.
  6. Use Public Relations for Brand Building, Advertising for Maintenance. Since advertising is done by a company or brand, it lacks credibility, at least in the initial stages of a launch. Yet, most marketers launch new products on the back of a heavy advertising campaign. A smarter way is to use PR in the formative period because PR is far more believable than advertising. However, once a brand is established and all PR opportunities have dried up, advertising comes in handy to maintain or expand sales.
  7. Find a Great Name. Your product will be saddled with a name forever. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to spend time coming out with a simple and memorable name. In the long run, a good brand name will give you an edge. Try and avoid complicated names and acronyms. If you look at all the successful tech brands, they have very simple names – Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft…
  8. Be Absolutely Consistent. Your brand must be consistent; it should not have a schizophrenic personality. The quality of your product, your service, your brand colours, the tone of voice, the variants must all provide consistency.
  9. Make Enemies, Not Friends. To build a strong brand, you need to supply a reason for its existence and justify why it deserves to live. That is why you need to make enemies. Your enemy need not be a brand; it could be an issue like poverty or environmental pollution or traffic congestion.
  10. Know When to Launch a Second Brand. No brand can stand for everything. If your brand is focussed on a particular category or a particular attribute, don’t try and line extend it. Instead, look for a new brand in the new category. Sadly, line extension is now extremely common and is done by almost every company, including the most respected ones. While some brands have succeeded in extending themselves to other categories, the brand graveyard is full of brands, including iconic ones, which failed miserably when they entered new categories.

These 10 rules are important and will hold you in good stead if you were to follow them diligently.

Source: Transforming Your Business into a Brand, Jacky Tai and Wilson Chew.

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This article was written by andy

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