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The 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding

By Al Ries and Laura Ries

(Harper Collins, pounds 14.99)

AS YOU would expect from the true marketing consultants they are, Al Ries and his co-author Laura Ries have invented a snappy title for their new book on branding.

This is a subject about which a lot of people know a little and few people know a lot. The book is clearly aimed at the upwardly mobile executive who has heard his chief executive use the B word and desperately needs some help. And as a quick guide to branding, one could do much worse.

"Marketing has become too complicated, too confusing and too full of jargon," the authors claim. And, as a result, less effective. The authors have one central idea, from which many of their 22 immutable laws are drawn. It is a simple one, but many corporations lost sight of it years ago: "Your brand has to stand for something simple and narrow in the mind. This limitation is the essential part of the branding process."

Some of the 22 laws are incisive and well argued. Under the "Law of the Name", the authors say: "In the short term, a brand needs a unique idea or concept to survive. It needs to be first in a new category. It needs to own a word in the mind, but in the long term, the unique idea or concept disappears. All that is left is the difference between your brand name and the brand name of your competitors."

Under the "Law of Consistency", the authors say absolute consistency over an extended period is best. They remind us that Volvo has been selling safety for 35 years, and BMW has been the ultimate driving machine for 25 years.

This questions the meddling of marketing departments and the legacies of marketing directors. Will Volvo be more successful with its recent focus on performance as well as safety? Or will it end up losing its distinctiveness in the consumer's mind and, ultimately, its brand? What is wrong with owning the concept of safety if you make cars?

But it is no longer true the success of brands is measured in decades rather than years. The Internet has changed everything. Amazon, Autobytel and eBay have emerged in a few years as megabrands.

Line extension, which has become almost the raison d'etre for many marketeers, comes under particular fire from the authors. "The market place is filled with line extensions in areas where they are not needed and is starved for new brands in areas where they are needed. Figure that one out," the book says.

On this point the authors are right. Marketing people have been bullied and now are paying the price for not standing up for what they believe in. It is easier to sell a line extension to their boards than to get the funds to launch a new brand.

There are times certain types of brands can be stretched and extended. Take Virgin. The narrowly focused Virgin brand (the customer's friend) extends across many businesses; presumably, the authors would disapprove. Equally, where would Cadbury be today without Dairy Milk, Fruit & Nut, Flake and Wispa?

The authors lose credibility when they tell us confidently "white is the colour of purity (as in the white wedding gown)". Thankfully this is not presented as an immutable law, because in Japan and other Asian cultures white is the colour of death. As is purple in Catholic countries, and not the colour of royalty as our confident authors tell us.

Much of what Al Ries and his daughter tell us is brilliant. It will enlighten many, and it attacks the jargon of the marketing professional with common sense. "Immutable laws" is of course an over-claim in a world which is awash with change, but it will certainly help pass a couple of hours enjoyably on your next business trip - just don't look on all 22 laws being immutable.

The writer is managing director of Enterprise IG