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Yamaha teaches Al Ries a bit of branding, Japanese style

Al Ries - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

Shoestring Venture continues to critically evaluate the phenomenal bestseller, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, the straight-from-the-mouth-of-God decalogue on steroids by the Moses of branding himself, Al Ries.

We’re finding, unfortunately for Moses, that the real world of branding doesn’t always match up perfectly with the rigid outlines of the Ries world of branding as we throw random successful brand at the book like eggs at a Mercedes. It’s all part of our effort to maintain the valuable parts of the book while adding certain key “smarter” principles of branding that can be useful for entrepreneurs.

The core of Ries’ immutable laws is the dictum that a brand can only be one thing in consumers’ minds. If you have Campbell’s Soup and Campbell’s Chunky Soup, that’s two things, and the folks at Campbells better pack their bags because they just shot themselves in their branding foot. But that isn’t quite how things worked out.

Today we throw Yamaha into the ring with Al Ries and . . . Wait. What should we throw in the ring? Motorcycles? Grand pianos? How can a single brand be applied to things as diverse as pianos and motorocycles? This, in Ries land, is the looniest use of a brand humanly possible, but Yamaha is making a ton of money off of both pianos and motorcycles, and dozens of other totally unrelated products? What gives? Or is Ragin Al Ries simply on the losing side one more time?

Yamaha
Pianos and motorcycles have exactly squat in common. But Yamaha, as is typical of Japanese corporations, is a brand leader in both, violating not just the letter of Ries’ core one brand-one thing principle and the seven laws that underwrite that principle, but in spirit as well. The Yamaha brand, originally applied to musical instruments, spans categories as diverse as pianos, harmonicas, aircraft propellers, pipe organs, guitars, phonographs, motorcycles, sailboats, skis, and archery, using in every case the same Yamaha name and achieving successful outcomes in each field.

Which pretty much leaves Ries’ book and his 22 immutable laws in shambles. As we saw for Rubbermaid, the book pretty much vaporizes if you try to bring it through the front door of Yamaha headquarters.

But before we toss the book out, let’s examine Yamaha more closely. Ries is writing for an American audience, but universal brands such as Yamaha and Mitsubishi are the order of the day in Japan. The consumer in Japan is much more adept at applying the brand’s credentials in one area, say banking, to another category, like automobiles or air conditioners.

That’s all very well and good, but it doesn’t explain why Yamaha is a leading brand of motorcycles and a leading brand of pianos in America (as well as in several other products). In Ries world, Americans would get all confused and flustered about this branding mish-mash, but in the real word, they don’t seem to care.

Americans, however, do believe that brands essentially apply to one category (only because we’ve been trained that way by decades of brand management, maybe?), so in marketing to an American consumer audience, Yamaha brand managers built rigorous firewalls around the various categories so that Yamaha pianos would not be linked to Yamaha motorcycles. Unlike Japan, it’s also highly unlikely that the two categories share consumers — you don’t associate proficiency at Chopin with someone who buzzes around the freeway on a road bike.

Most Americans, therefore, are unlikely to know that these two products are made by the same company. If you did a poll, you probably would find nearly everyone would believe Yamaha pianos (and harmonicas and guitars) and Yamaha motorcycles are made by two different companies that happen to accidentally share the same name – a common enough phenomenon. (I bet you didn’t know, either, didja?) Which leads to a new principle: the Cultural Principle:

The Cultural Principle

The purpose of a brand is to produce opportunity.

AND . . .

Cross-cultural opportunities require rewriting the rule book and employing vastly different and contradictory branding strategies.

Breaking The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding one brand at a time, part 1
Part 2: Jello, or The Blue Oceans Corollary
Part 3: Aunt Jemima, or The Love and Marriage Corollary
Part 4: Campbells, or The Brand Value Corollary
Part 5: Jacuzzi, or The Model Corollary
Part 6: Formica, or The Intel Inside Corollary
Part 7: Tiffany’s, or The Retail Corollary
Part 8: Vaseline, or The Reinforcement Corollary
Part 9: Fruit of the Loom: The Opportunity Principle of Branding
Part 10: Tylenol, or The Brand Leadership Principle
Part 11: Maytag, or The Principle of the Word
Part 12: Gucci, or The New and Improved Principle of the Word
Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding
Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle
Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence
Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand
Part 17: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand
Part 18: The Final Word

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6 Responses to “Yamaha teaches Al Ries a bit of branding, Japanese style”

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  1. [...] and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: [...]

  2. [...] and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: [...]

  3. [...] and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: [...]

  4. [...] and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: [...]

  5. [...] and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: [...]

  6. [...] and Improved Principle of the Word Part 13: Rubbermaid, or The Blue Oceans Principle of Branding Part 14: Yamaha, or The Cultural Principle Part 15: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 16: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 17: [...]


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