Between the super successful, top brands leading the markets, and those that fail, there are millions of products that simply go unnoticed. The fate of being unmemorable in a market that is choc-a-block with competitors is a result of the all-too-common mistakes, which most marketing strategists make.

Al and Laura Ries’ The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding (1998) explains what sets a successful brand apart. The 22 immutable laws that are tried and tested by successful companies, leaders, entrepreneurs, and businessmen teach how to gain an edge over competitors.

1. The Law Of Expansion

The law of expansion states that the more a brand expands, the more its focus gets diluted weakening the brand. Therefore, why did Chevrolet end up diluting its brand?

Whenever we hear the name Chevrolet, we can’t really associate the name with one single image. This is because, for a customer, the name Chevrolet stands for many products, right from small to large and affordable to luxurious.

The company had started focusing on short-term growth plans and strategies rather than to think of long-term success and brand value. While the short-term plan initially seemed to make the sales soar and the brand a success, in the long run, its sales declined from 1.5 million car sales in 1987 to 0.83 million car sales in 2001, weakening the brand in a span of fifteen years.

 The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al & Laura Reis
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al & Laura Reis

2. The Law Of Contraction

On the other hand, the law of contraction states that the brand of a company strengthens as it narrows its focus. If we look at the concept of delis today, Subway, founded by Fred DeLuca in 1965, enjoys a prime position in the deli markets, albeit within a niche. 

Comparing both the laws, we can see that when the concept of delis emerged – a market that offers practically everything, from newspapers, cigarettes and lottery tickets to soups, bagels, sandwiches, muffins, etc. – the delis never managed to capture the nation-wide market and create a strong brand with chains all over, mostly due to the fact that their product categories were so expansive that it became difficult for the companies to focus.

Subway narrowed the concept of delis to their star product – the sandwich. They enjoy the prime position in that product category even today due to their singular focus.

3. The Law Of Singularity

The third law of branding, the law of singularity, deems singular focus on any USP of the product as extremely essential for branding success. Singular focus enables brand names such as Rolex and Prego to become synonymous with the commodity itself – Swiss watches and thick spaghetti sauces respectively.

Additionally, a brand name such as Walmart, specializing in a number of products, can attain a strong brand name and set itself apart from the rest. Walmart singularly focuses on its company ethos of ‘focusing on low prices’.

4. Law Of Publicity

Unlike common belief, there is a vast difference between branding and advertising. While advertising focuses on maintaining brand visibility, it does not help in brand building. Brands are built through publicity. Being a pioneer in the market is just one of the ways to ensure publicity. Without the oxygen of publicity, the bloodstream of brands can never make a place in the market. For example, the name of the first manufacturer of cotton swabs Q-Tips has almost become synonymous with the product name and has been in the public eye since. 

On the other hand, Miller Regular entered an overly saturated market of beers. With nothing unique about the brand, it failed to gain publicity or consumer interest and disappeared in a year itself.

5. The Law Of Advertising

The law states that the purpose of advertising is to protect gains once the brand is launched. Considering that nothing is permanent, every publicity campaign eventually fades with time; and once the hype goes down, companies have to switch to advertising.

When it comes to advertising, many companies waste their time comparing the superiority of their product to their rivals. However, consumers are not interested in who is better, but want to know who is best!

A successful advertising campaign focuses on the #1 position. That is why Budweiser is known as the ‘king of beers’ and Goodyear advertises itself as the ‘No.1 in tires’.

6. The Law Of The Word

When it comes to branding, companies have a knack for associating a word (a single positive concept) and making it interchangeable with the brand name. That’s what makes brands powerful. For example, when one thinks of ‘prestige’ they immediately think of Mercedes-Benz.

The law of the word aims at achieving this very effect. It aims at focussing all attention and making the brand synonymous with one word, that distills the essence of a brand. For example, Toyota owns the word ‘reliable’.

The idea is to own a word association that can resonate with the customers and makes them think of the associated brand every time they hear the word.

7. The Law Of Category

Similar to the law of the word, the law of category aims at interchanging the brand name with an entire product category.  A classic example of this is the association of the name Kleenex with all pocket tissues. Here the brand name has replaced the product category name.

The law states that in branding companies should promote the category itself. Even though promoting the category altogether will also work in favor of competitors, it is a benefit that a company will see in the long run, as it will help in expanding the entire market category.

8. The Law Of Fellowship

The law of fellowship states that competition actually works in favor of the brand and creates more business opportunities. If a brand seeks to benefit from the law of category of expanding an entire category, it also works in favor of competing brands, as customers get interested when there is a rivalry between two companies. It draws their attention to the entire product category.

The rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi is a classic example, where the rivalry of the two companies has drawn attention to and expanded the soft-drinks product category.

9. The Law Of Credentials

Credentials play an important role when it comes to branding. This can be seen when we consider two restaurants side-by-side, one practically empty, and one filled to the brim with customers. It is natural that given choice, one would prefer to go and wait in line at the crowded restaurant unless they are hard-pressed for time.

The law of credentials works when companies stake a claim on authenticity and develop their brand name. If a brand name can successfully place a claim of authenticity to their credentials, then the second and third claims are not very difficult to follow.

If the more crowded restaurant next claims that they serve the healthiest meal in town, customers will tend to believe their claim as their credentials of being popular work in favor.

10. Law Of Quality

It is important that brands walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to the quality of their products. However, the law of quality states that while ensuring and maintaining quality is important, creating a perception of quality is the trump card.

Looking at the examples of Coke and Pepsi again one can find that more people say that they prefer Coke to Pepsi. However, numerous blind tastings have shown that Pepsi has a clear edge over Coke.

This proves that there is actually very little relation between the success of the brand and its quality.

11. The Law Of Extensions

Companies love to create extension lines of their products. Hellman’s for example expanded their mayonnaise lines into low-fat, light, and even Avocado-oil mayo. In grocery stores, it is seen that about 90 percent of products are line extensions.

However, it is also known that about a quarter of the products in stores don’t leave the shelves for more than a month. Therefore, product lines can actually damage a brand.

The US Beer industry is a classic example. In the 1970s, Budweiser, Miller, and Coors dominated the beer industry with three types of beer. By 2001, they were offering as many as 14 different types of beer that diluted the market with their product lines. This line expansion did virtually nothing towards increasing shares or increasing the consumer base.

12. The Law Of Consistency

Line extensions can be used as a savvy way to create a new product category and cater to a gap in the market. Light beer is one such example. However, most brands, prefer to piggyback their extension product on their existing brand, rather than make a new brand altogether. That confuses the customers.

That is why the law of consistency warns that companies should maintain consistency over time to build strong brands. It means to be more narrowly focused on their prime products and resist the temptation of adding more product lines.

Volvo, as a brand was consistent with ‘safety’ and known for its strong, solid, middle-of-the-road sedans for three decades. However, when they tried to branch out into flashy sports cars and convertibles, they ended up weakening their brand.

13. The Law Of Sub-brands

Just as extensions can backfire and weaken a brand, so can creating sub-brands. Holiday Inn’s creation of their sub-brand Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza – an upmarket luxurious expensive venture – used the same brand name for creating a sub-brand. 

This risk however backfired as customers outright told them in surveys that the hotel was too expensive for a Holiday Inn. They have since, launched an upscale hotel chain under a completely separate brand name.

14. The Law Of Siblings

Adding additional brands to a company can work well, however, they have to be distinct. Known as the ‘family of brands’ strategy, each product brand in the family must have its own identity and its own merits. 

Time Inc., a behemoth in the magazine publishing industry, already has 7 successful brands. But when they decided to launch a business magazine, they called it Fortune, rather than Time for Business. They gave the magazine its own characteristics and identity. They did the same when they launched Sports Illustrated. The success of these individual brands speaks for the.

15. The Law Of Borders

Expanding a product across borders in different countries is also a good way to expand a brand without weakening it. The international expansion allows a brand to expand without dilution, where companies can stick to their original brands and capture a new market, or even introduce a sub-brand or an extension without damaging the original brand.

16. The Law Of Shape

Logos are one of the most important aspects of branding. They determine how a customer sees the brand. Creating a clear, clean, and memorable logo can truly set a brand apart.

The most memorable and visually striking logos are often the ones that are horizontal – in line with our eyes. Getting into specifications, they should be 2.25 units wide and 1 unit tall.

If we compare the logos of the restaurant chain Arby’s with the car rental company Avis, we see that Arby’s messy vertical logo isn’t as easy on the eyes as Avis’s striking horizontal logo.

Typography is another factor that can make logos appealing or shabby. While heavily stylized typography can add personality to a logo, it can also make the logo less legible. It is always better to use unembellished simple typography, like the one used by Rolex.

17. The Law of Colour

The law of colour is all about contrasting the colour of the background with that of the logo. That said, it is always the advantage of the first brand to enter the market, to choose the best colour signature scheme for their brand. The early bird often gets to use the colour that represents the entire product category, for example, John Deere could choose the colour that represents nature and farming – green.

Similarly, Coca-Cola chose red to contrast with the brownish-black color of the drink, a luxury that Pepsi did not have. Pepsi’s red and blue combinations weren’t unique and the company had to go to lengths to zero-in on their signature blue color.

18. The Law Of The Name

Contrary to Shakespeare’s ‘What’s in a name’, in branding the name of the brand is everything, as choosing it will be one of the most important decisions the company will ever make.

A good brand name is short and unique. It will decide how customers perceive the brand. If we take Xerox, for example, it was the first plain paper photocopier in 1959. The company became synonymous with advanced technology due to its innovative and superior quality machines. However, despite competitors offering similar quality products by the 2000s, Xerox always had an edge over them due to their small, catchy, unique name.

19. The Law Of Generics

Generic names are often forgettable and do not make a brand stand out from the crowd. The health supplement brand Natures Best, Nature’s Secret, and Nature’s Answer do not make for memorable names like McDonald’s or Starbucks.

The law of generics doesn’t imply that every name has to be unique and invented or have a created meaning. It could also be as simple as taking an ordinary name and putting it out of context in a smart way. For example, the car rental company Budget has cleverly used the work that describes its core USP and made it into its brand name.

20. The Law Of Company

The law surrounds creating and maintaining a distinction between the brand name and the name of the company, mostly to avoid confusion. Proctor & Gamble managed to do this very well, where they ensure that the brand name is bold on the front and the company name is a small print on the bottom.

21. The Law Of Change

There is a saying when you hit rock bottom, the only way is to go up. And this exactly when a company should consider a change. In other words, when a company stands to lose nothing, when the brand is weak and inconsistent, making a poor impression on the customer’s mind.

Companies also incorporate change when the profits are high enough to manage lowering prices. While high prices can be used to create a perception of high standards, lowering prices does not indicate a drop in quality. Marlboro always maintained a perception of making high standard expensive cigarettes. However, when they did lower their prices, it was seen as value for money rather than a drop in quality.

Change can also take place very gradually allowing the brand to evolve. During such cases, it is possible to change the reputation of a brand without really affecting the customer’s perceptions in a jarring manner. For example, Citicorp that once began about 80% of its customers being corporates, incorporated change over a period of 25 years to having about 70% of its customer base in the consumer sector.

22. The Law of Mortality

The last law of branding states that all brands have a life cycle and will eventually die, keeping in mind the dynamics surrounding the markets, technology, etc.

For example, laundry detergents such as Tide overtook products such as Rinso in the mid-20th century. It is therefore in such times where companies should cut losses, and re-enter the market by launching a new brand.

Companies should also understand and know when the revival of a brand is simply not possible. Moreover, they need to know exactly how cost-ineffective the move could be.

Final Summary

In conclusion, we can see that branding is all about perception. It works when a brand manages to create a lasting impression, have a clear conscious mind, be able to clearly distinguish customers.