Why The 22 Laws of Branding Still Stand 22 Years On

October 31, 2020

Jack Miles
Senior Research Director

Back in 1998 Al “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” was published. Authors Al and Laura Ries’ marketing classic, launched in the same year that Google was born, is still relevant today.

Today’s marketing tactics and tools bear little resemblance compared to those of the late 90s, but this marketing bible is a must-read. And here’s why.

1. It Starts Off Evergreen

It may have been written 22 years ago. However, its introduction is still immutable, stating “Marketing has become more complicated, too confusing and too full of jargon.”

The authors believed this to be the case then, and it’s still the case now. Marketing Research is more complicated, more confusing and has more jargon than ever.

Just one reason why Ries's work still stands.

2. Strategic Focus Remains Essential

The book’s emphasis is on the importance of strategic focus versus the laws of:

  • Expansion: consumers want brands that are distinguishable by one word
  • Contraction: your brand will be stronger with a narrower focus
  • Singularity: the importance of single-mindedness

Today, every new trend is thought to be a growth opportunity. Yet COVID-19 is forcing many of us to diversify our offers. Consequently, there’s a great temptation to breach these laws and chase every opportunity.

However, you must resist. By losing your focus, you risk diluting and harming your brand identity and credibility, not to mention the impact upon your bottom line. Just look at Bic underwear, the Nike Fuel Band and the Virgin water purifier as evidence of this.

3. Language Now Lives Longer

The book states that the longevity of language used to describe brands has a lasting impact on whether consumers choose to buy that product or not.

This still stands today, thanks to the impact of social media and online reviews. Consumers read, publicly comment on and share more words about brands to a global audience than ever before. These words and their impact can last forever, for better or worse; and globalisation has only solidified this. After all, no one wants to be the next HSBC ‘Assume Nothing/Do Nothing’?

Today, your brand’s name is even more imperative than the words it owns. Back in 1998, the Rieses said, “a brand is just a name to most people”. That says it all. Back in the late '90s, marketers only had to think about how their brand’s name sounded, its broader meaning and its uniqueness.

Fast forward today, and we now have to bear in mind a brand name’s usability in online conversation, its Tweetability, and whether its appropriate for an international audience.

4. Modern Memory Needs Vivid Visuals

The book states that brands should use distinctive typefaces, horizontal logos and colours to stand out from their competitors. 

More brands exist now than in 1998, and our transient attention span has fallen by 33% between 1998 and today. Making your brand stand out is essential if you want to grab consumers’ attention, demonstrating that what was immutable in 1998 has become.

5. Old Laws Still Stand

Towards the conclusion of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,  we’re introduced to two laws all marketers should prioritise:

  1. Consistency: Just like Rome wasn't built in a day, successful brands aren't built overnight. A brand's prosperity is measured in decades, not years.
  2. Change: Brands can evolve, albeit carefully

Why are these laws important?

As the world battles the economic impact of COVID-19, we’re seeing:

  • Constant short-termism
  • Instant cuts
  • Demands for results NOW

Such approaches can be hazardous for brands. Marketing needs time to succeed. Of course, you can automate media buying and have agile research, but you can’t automate consumer insights, behaviour or profits.

If you’re planning on changing your brand, consumers will notice. Anything too adventurous may confuse your customers and reduce your credibility. The Rieses wrote that “consumers are suspicious.” This was true in 1998 and even more so in 2020.

Equally hazardous is our love for anything new, especially when technology is concerned. Look at Tik Tok’s “strategy”, centennial “strategy” and so on.

Final Thoughts

Much has changed since 1998. What remains is that a brand is still what turns your product from a commodity into something with meaning and value. By following The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, you can protect your brand during these challenging times so that it stands the test of time.

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