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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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    Low-tech brands, on the other hand, may never need to change. The formula for Coca Cola, a 120 year old brand, is locked in a safe in an Atlanta bank. When the company tried to change the formula (with the launch of New Coke), the market rose up in arms with complaints and Coca-Cola reiterated by reintroducing the original formula under the name Coca Cola Classic.

    In general, because of evolution in technology, it's easier to lose your position in a high-tech market than it is in a low tech market.

  • What is the role of advertising and corporate communications in building the brands?

    Consumers buy brands. They don't buy companies (with the exception of the stock market). Therefore, it's more important for a company to sell its brands rather than its corporate reputation.

    However, in a multi-brand company, a certain amount of resources should probably be dedicated to selling the company. How much? Maybe 10 to 15%.

    In general, a company should use PR (or publicity) to launch a new brand and should only switch to advertising after the new brand has achieved credibility in the minds of consumers. Advertising doesn't have the credibility to launch new brands.

  • What according to you are the five most important things companies must do to build strong brands and to nurture a strong brand?

  1. Be first. It's better to be first than it is to be better. McDonald's was the first hamburger chain. Hertz was the first rent a car company.
  2. Launch the new brand with PR.
  3. Own a word in the mind. Volvo owns "safety." BMW owns "driving."
  4. Be visually different. The curves of a Coke bottle. The grill of a Mercedes.
  5. Use massive advertising after the brand has achieved credibility in the minds of consumers.
  • What are the important signals of a brand's definite death? How can it cope with such signals? Are there any proven ways to preempt such signals?
    Brands live or die along with the category. If everybody stops drinking cola, then the Coca Cola brand would have no value. Leaders should nurture their categories along with their brands.

    Some categories, especially in high-tech brands, are bound to die. If your brand is associated with such a category, then you should let it die. The Kodak brand, for example, is associated with film photography which has no future. (Film will be replaced by digital photography). Kodak should have launched a line of digital photography products with a new brand and let the Kodak brand fade away along with the film category.

    In other words, Kodak should try to save the company, and not save the brand.

  • In this age of increasing presence of public private partnership, social entrepreneurship and NGOs becoming more socially active, how to build a social brand? What should be the relevant branding strategies?
    The same principles apply. Stand for something in the mind. For example, we have advised the American Heart Association to focus on reducing "obesity," the biggest single health problem in America. (According to a recent survey, people in America are more overweight than the population of any other country in the world.)

    Yet the American Heart Association runs an information program that focuses on many different health issues related to the heart. In an over communicated society, the worst thing you can do is to try to communicate everything about your brand or your association.

1. The Multi-Branding Strategy Case Study
2. ICMR Case Collection
3. Case Study Volumes

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