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Executive Interviews: Interview with Al Ries on Brands and Branding
August 2006 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Al Ries
Al Ries Chairman of Ries,
an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm

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  • In the last ten years have the connotations of Brands and Branding changed? What are the new insights on the horizon?
    Ten years ago, the emphasis in marketing was on "selling." Success was measured in terms of what a company's current sales were and whether or not sales were increasing, remaining static or falling.

    Today, however, companies have become to realize that their most important assets are their brands. The objective of a marketing program should be to build a brand, not to sell a product or service. Selling is a function of the sales department. If a company does a good job

    of building its brands,then the selling process is greatly enhanced.

    The newest insight, as we see it, is that brands are built, not by advertising, but by PR or publicity.

  • In "The Origin of Brands", you have talked about the great tree of brands. How easy is it and how difficult is it to build and nurture a powerful tree of brands?
    As time goes on and as a category diverges, it becomes extremely difficult for one company to dominate an entire category tree. A single company doesn't have either the technological skills or the resources to do that. Rather, a company should be selective and a tree to dominate only certain branches of a diverging tree. Take Coca-Cola, for example. The company is trying to dominate all aspects of a diverging soft drink tree. The truth is the company doesn't lead in any category except its original cola category. It should have been more selective. Try to dominate only those diverging categories where it has some inherent advantage.

  • How do you define a Brand Personality? At what stage of life cycle do you articulate and infuse brand values that may nurture and might define a brand's personality?
    The brand doesn't have a personality. It's the users of the brand that have a personality. In other words, a brand lives or dies inside the mind of the prospect. Certain brands appeal to certain segments of the market. Starbucks, for example, appeals to young, affluent sociable individuals. It's these individuals that give the Starbucks brand its personality.

    In the best of all possible worlds, you should select the target market before launching a new brand. If you do a good job in marketing the brand to that target market, then the brand itself will assume the personality of the target market.

  • To what extent does differentiation help in building a strong brand? How can the differentiations premise be extended throughout the lifetime of a brand?
    Every new brand that becomes successful starts out with a strong differentiation. Take Rolex watches. Initially, Rolex was the first brand of expensive watches that prospects learned about. Furthermore, the product itself was differentiated by its unique watch brand.

    Today, Rolex is a powerful worldwide watch brand. But it's not "different" anymore. There are many more brands of expensive watches and there are many watches that mimic the Rolex watch brand. But Rolex was first and continues to be the most successful high end watch brand.

    Be first. Then let your competitors copy your strategy and you will remain successful even after your differentiation disappears.

  • What is the difference between hi-tech brands and low tech brands? What are the key result areas for nurturing these two sets of brands?
    A brand is a brand. There are more similarities than there are differences between high-tech and low-tech brands.

    However, as a general principle, high tech brands need to evolve to keep up with developments in technology. You couldn't sell a 1996 TV set, for example, in the year 2006. That's pretty much true of all hightech brands.

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