8 Rules for Branding Your Business


One of the best books on branding that I’ve read is called The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by the father/daughter team Al and Laura Ries. Because this is such an important concept for business owners to understand, I have summarized it here. These are ideas 18 East always keeps in mind when designing websites.

The following are excerpts from The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.

First of all, what is branding?
Branding in the marketplace is similar to branding on the ranch. It serves to distinguish your cattle (service/product) from all of the other cattle. The objective of branding is to create the perception that there is no other product on the market that is quite like yours. A successful brand is unique and does not have universal appeal.

What is a brand?
A brand is any proper noun. It is usually spelled with capital letters. Philadelphia Cream Cheese is a brand, and Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is also a brand. Even you are a brand (groan), and the more you apply the laws of branding to yourself, the more successful you will be.

So why is it important to practice branding?
If you can build a powerful brand, then you will have a powerful marketing program. The “marketing” concept is becoming obsolete and will be replaced by “branding.” Accelerating this trend is the decline of selling. Today most products are bought, not sold. In this age of multimedia, the verbal endorsement of a product is represented by the brand name, rather than the personal recommendation of a salesperson. A strong brand pre-sells a product to a customer.


To successfully brand your business, here is a simple list of rules to follow.

1) Narrow Your Focus
A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.

Think of a small town coffee shop. What can you find in a coffee shop? Everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, pancakes, hamburgers, pies, coffee. What did Howard Shultz do? He opened a coffee shop that specialized in, of all things, coffee. Today Shultz’s brainchild, Starbucks, does hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business annually.

Emery Air Freight, started in 1946, was one of the first air cargo carriers. It offered everything: overnight, inexpensive, 2 or 3 day service, large and small packages. What did Federal Express do? It was a struggling player in the delivery business until CEO Fred Smith decided to focus on overnight delivery only. Today Federal Express is a much bigger company than Emery, and “FedEx” has become the generic term for overnight delivery.

For years, Ragu was the leading brand of spaghetti sauce with over 50% of the market. Ragu had many varieties. So what did Prego do? It narrowed its focus to one variety, “thick” spaghetti sauce. With this type of sauce, Prego won 27% of the market.

When you narrow your focus, you become extremely powerful.


2) Pick One Word and Own It
A brand should strive to own one word in the mind of the consumer, a word that no one else in that category owns.

What word comes to mind when you think of a Mercedes? Probably something like “prestige.” You might associate other words with that brand, but the core differentiation is “prestige.” What prestige is to Mercedes, safety is to Volvo. Volvo owns the word “safety” in the mind of the automobile buyer. As a result, Volvo has become one of the largest selling European cars. What comes to mind when you think of a BMW? A car that’s fun to drive, the ultimate driving machine. BMW owns the word “driving” in the mind. As a result, BMW has become the second largest selling European luxury car in America.

Once a brand owns a word, it’s almost impossible for a competitor to take it away. Could you build a safer car than a Volvo? Probably. Many brands have already claimed to do so, but they do not own the word “safety” in the consumer’s mind.

Yet none of these three brands (Mercedes, Volvo, and BMW) is a perfect example of the law of the word, since they have all recently violated the law. Mercedes has moved into less expensive, less prestigious cars. Volvo into sporty cars. And BMW into more luxurious cars. This is a serious error and one of the most common mistakes in branding.

So forget about the laundry list of wonderful attributes your product has to offer. You can’t possibly associate them all with your brand. You have to sacrifice. You have to reduce the essence of your brand to a single thought or attribute. An attribute that no one else in your category owns.


3) Choose a Short and Unique Business/Product Name
The most important branding decision you will ever make is what to name your product or service. Because in the long run, a brand is nothing more than a name.

Xerox was the first plain paper copier. This unique product built the powerful Xerox brand in customer’s minds. Today all copiers are plain paper copiers, but Xerox is still the best brand by far in the copier field. One reason is the name itself. It’s short, unique, and connotes high technology.

Yet marketers often disparage the importance of a name. So they come up with generic names for copiers like the Paper Master. Even worse, they introduce the new brand as a line extension of a well known company, the General Electric Paper Master.

A short, unique name (Starbucks, Lexus, Staples) is a much better choice than a generic name.

Sometimes you can carve a brand name out by cutting a generic in half. Intelligent Chip Company is a lousy brand name, but Intel is terrific. National Biscuit Company won’t be remembered, but Nabisco will.


4) Do Not Extend Your Line
This is similar to narrowing your focus. The easiest way to destroy a brand is to extend its line and put its name on everything.

No industry is as line-extended as the beer industry. There used to be three major beer brands: Budweiser, Miller High Life, and Coors Banquet. Today these three brands have become fourteen brands including: Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Dry, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors, Coors Light, and Coors Extra Gold, etc.

Have these fourteen brands increased their market share over that obtained by the original three brands? Not really. Ries and Ries ran around the beer industry begging companies to stick with their regular brand and not extend their line. This would have given them a distinct advantage with people who buy a lot of beer. But no one listened.

The problem is that management only measures results with the success of the extension, and does not realize that the core brand and sales have been eroded. If the market is moving out from under you, stay where you are and launch a second brand. If it’s not, stay where you are and continue building your brand.

If you want to increase sales, instead of extending your line, go global. As long as your brand is associated with the country you are in, you will do well (Swiss watches, French wine, Japanese electronics).


5) Welcome Competitors
In order to build the category, a brand should welcome other brands.

Not only should a dominant brand tolerate competitors, it should welcome them. The best thing that happened to Coca-Cola was Pepsi-Cola. Choice stimulates demand. The competition between Coke and Pepsi makes customers more cola conscious and per capita cola consumption goes up.

Customers respond to competition because choice is seen as a major benefit. If there is no choice, customers are suspicious. Maybe the category has some flaws? Who wants to buy a brand if you have no other brand to compare it with?

You can see the law of fellowship in any large city. New York City has a financial district on Wall Street, theaters on Broadway, and art galleries in SoHo. Similar businesses tend to congregate in the same neighborhood, which attracts customers to an area, allows them to comparison shop, and allows companies to keep an eye on each other.

Planet Hollywood discovered that one of the best locations for its restaurant was across the street from its archrival, the Hard Rock Café. After all, people attracted to theme restaurants are already drawn to the area. Similarly, the best location for a Burger King is right across the street from a McDonald’s.


6) Logos Should Be Horizontal and Readable/Symbols are Overrated
A brand’s logo should be designed to fit the eyes, both eyes.

Since the eyes of your customers are mounted side by side, the ideal shape for a logo in horizontal. Roughly 2 ¼ units wide and 1 unit high. This horizontal shape will provide the maximum impact for your logotype. This is true wherever it’s used: on buildings, brochures, letterheads, business cards, or websites. A vertical logotype is at a severe disadvantage. The Arby’s cowboy hat logo is an example of the penalty of verticality.

Of equal importance to the shape is its legibility. It should be very easy to read. Typefaces come in 1,000s of styles and weights, but customers are only dimly aware of the differences. What typeface does Rolex use? Prius? Serif or sans-serif? The truth is that the words themselves (Rolex, Prius) are what communicate the power of the brand.

The other component of the logotype, the visual symbol, is also overrated. The meaning lies in the words, not the visual symbol. It’s the Nike name that gives meaning to the swoosh symbol, not the other way around.


7) Use a Color Opposite of Your Competitors
A brand should use a color that is the opposite of its major competitors.

Another way to make a brand distinctive is with color. But color is not easy to work with. There are six basic colors (red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple) and it’s best to stick with one of those colors. Red moves forward towards the eye and is perceived as energetic, exciting, and in your face, which is why it’s on 45% of all flags. Blue recedes from the eye and is perceived as calming and stable, and is only on 20% of all flags. The other colors are in between.

Normally the best color to select is the one most symbolic of the category, but it’s more important to create a separate brand identity than it is to use the right symbolic color. John Deere is the leading brand of farm tractor. They chose green, the color of grass, trees, and agriculture. The second tractor brand on the market chose red. So Ries and Ries chose blue for the farm tractor Maxion.


8) Use Publicity, Not Advertising
The birth of a brand is achieved with publicity, not advertising.

Anita Roddick built The Body Shop into a major brand with no advertising at all. Instead she traveled the world on a relentless quest for publicity, pushing her ideas about the environment. It was the endless torrent of newspaper and magazine articles, plus radio and television interviews, that literally created The Body Shop brand.

Starbucks doesn’t spend a hill of beans on advertising either. In its first ten years, the company spent less than $10 million on advertising, a trivial amount for a brand that delivers $2.6 billion in annual sales.

On the other hand, Miller Brewing spent $50 million to launch a brand called Miller Regular. The brand generated no publicity and very little sales; $50 million down the drain.

Today brands are born, not made. A new brand must be capable of generating favorable publicity in the media or it won’t have a chance in the marketplace. And just how do you generate publicity? The best way is by being first. In other words, by being the first brand in a new category.

Band-Aid, the first adhesive bandage
CNN, the first cable news network
Heineken, the first imported beer
Hertz, the first car rental company
KFC, the first fast food chicken chain

Once your brand is established as the leader, you must spend on advertising to defend your position and make it harder for competitors, but in the beginning, use publicity, not advertising, to build your brand.


Summary: Single-Mindedness is Most Important
What is a Chevrolet? A large, small, cheap, expensive car or truck.
What is a Miller? A regular, light, draft, cheap, expensive beer.

These are burned out brands because they lost their singularity. It’s this singularity that helps a brand perform its most important function in society.

Instead of searching for something on the Internet, you Google it.
Instead of a facial tissue, you use a Kleenex.
Instead of a tablet, you use an iPad.
Instead of a green car, you drive a Prius.

What is a brand?
A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect. It’s a simple and as difficult as that.

Read more of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding on Amazon.com.