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Al Ries on how to maintain a brand

Al Ries - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

As we wind down our marathon review of Al Ries’ The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, we hand over the stage to Ragin’ Al himself to tell us how to maintain a brand. While the central focus of the Al Ries branding program is that one brand should always equal one thing and one word in the consumer’s mind (but by “word,” he means something like “car” and not “quality”). So, without any further delay, here’s what everyone should know about maintaining a brand (with some snarky but harmless comments here and there):

How to maintain a brand
So, here you are. You’ve built a brand by selecting a unique name, a usable, legible logo, and a unique, differentiating brand concept. Now what? If you’re a brand manager making big bucks at Proctor & Gamble or General Mills, you then begin to explore extending the brand into new product categories or subbrands. “Stop right there!” Ries says. “My Laws of Expansion, Extensions, Subbrands, and Siblings all prove with plentiful examples that you’re going to kill your brand.” So now what?

Just as Ries’ Law of the Word might be said to be the core law of building a brand, so Ries’ Law of Contraction is the core law in maintaining a brand. The Law of Contraction mandates that a brand becomes stronger as it becomes more focused. Just as we collected the laws for building a brand into one larger law, the Law of Difference, so we can collect Ries’ laws for maintaining a brand into one larger concept we’ll call the Law of Focus.

So, in rewriting Ries a bit, we’ve come across three core ideas:
The Supreme Law of Branding: The Law of the One
One brand should always and ever be one thing and one word in the consumers mind.
If you break this law and extend your brand to other products or line extensions, you will destroy the value of the brand. Unless you get lucky (which, it seems, quite a lot of people get lucky). Understand this idea and you’ve got the whole Ries branding program down pat.

The Supreme Law of Building a Brand: The Law of Difference
When building a new brand, you have to make the brand different from competing brands.
This includes the name, the physical appearance of the logo, the concept, yadda yadda yadda. Understand this concept, and you understand half of Ries’ book.

The Supreme Law of Maintaining a Brand: The Law of Focus
A brand only gains value by remaining the brand leader in a growing brand category; to do so, you “stay the course” on the brand and work to build the category, not the brand.
Understand this concept exactly as I formulated it, and you’ve got the other half of Ries’ book totally wired.

What do we focus on? Successful brands are built by creating new categories. Creating a new category provides the company with credentials and publicity so the brand can build it’s distinctiveness and difference. Once you’ve established a brand, however, you’re subject to Ries’ Law of the Category: leading brands should promote the category, not themselves. So Ries’ Law of Contraction more or less prescribes making the brand more like its category rather than more different. The category becomes the proper focus of brand maintenance.

As an important caveat, this focus does not pay off overnight, but requires years and decades. Ries’ Law of Consistency essentially says “hold the course”: brand maintenance is a long-term project of building the category and maintaining brand leadership. You “hold the course” and stay focused on your brand until the growth of the category makes them valuable.

However, you can change a brand’s focus in very, very limited circumstances. For instance, if the brand is weak and unknown, you want to move the brand down-market, or you allow enough time for the market to “forget” the original brand focus – this is Ries’ Law of Change.

The job of maintaining a leading brand has three parts:
1.) Build the category
2.) Maintain brand leadership within the category
3.) Get out when the category dies

For Ries, a brand’s category can only be built by expanding the market for the category. Nothing does that faster than competing brands – Ries’ Law of Fellowship. Competing brands legitimate the category and add luster to the leading brand (I guess this explains the phenomenal branding success of Craigslist which sits, for the most part, completely alone in its category).

Once a category has matured, the brand can grow only by extending the category by taking it overseas – Ries’ Law of Borders. For instance, Swiss Army Knife built most of its fortune when the category spread to the United States.

Brand leadership is maintained through advertising – this is Ries’ Law of Advertising. Once a brand is in a leadership position, it must use advertising to maintain the perception of being a brand leader. Advertising, then, focuses on the category: its goal is to keep a brand in its top position in the category, not to confuse categories. Of course, one would assume that brands that aren’t leaders wouldn’t just give up, but use advertising to seize leadership position.

Finally, when a category dies, the brand should die – Ries’ Law of Mortality. Since, according to Ries, line extensions don’t work, attempting to move the brand to different categories is simply throwing good money after bad. Of course, if this were true, you wouldn’t be popping open the freezer and enjoying a cool, Jell-O pudding pop as your reward for reading this far or enjoying a nice, steaming bowl of Campbell’s soup. If he owned these brands, Ries would have killed them off decades ago.

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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  1. [...] Word Part 12: Ivory, or The Principle of the Transcendence Part 13: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 14: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 15: The Final [...]

  2. [...] the Word Part 12: Ivory, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 13: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 14: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 15: The Final [...]

  3. [...] Part 12: Gucci, or The Principle of Transcendence Part 13: Al Ries on how to build a brand Part 14: Al Ries on how to maintain a brand Part 15: The Final [...]

  4. [...] 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 [...]

  5. [...] 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 [...]

  6. [...] 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 [...]

  7. [...] 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 [...]

  8. [...] 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 [...]


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