Book Reviews


The Origin of Brands

Author: Discover the Natural Laws of Product Innovation and Business Survival
Publisher Harper Business
Publication Date: May 2004

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Like many in the communications industry we've read and enjoyed Al Ries' writings since the early 90's when he teamed with Jack Trout to write such marketing mainstays as Marketing Warfare, Positioning and Bottom-Up Marketing. Their books quickly gained a cult following and for a period of two-three years were the mantra of most marketing people and agencies - advertising and PR.

We were very surprised when we saw the two authors/advertising experts had gone their separate ways and Al Ries had taken on a new partner - his daughter Laura. It isn't uncommon for children to follow in one of their parents' footsteps since it is a field they are surrounded by and immersed in the career through all of their formative years. It happened with our daughter and we modestly say she's a real credit to the profession.

Marketing Warfare
Marketing Warfare

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Bottom-up Marketing
Bottom-up Marketing

The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR
The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR

22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
But it is less common for the two to join forces because no matter how great the sibling is there is always that parent/child "rule."

The Ries' proved they had very successfully moved past that stage with the joint-publication of their first book (which we reviewed here last year), The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. The book created a pleasant uproar when it was published because Ries (Al) had seemingly abandon the "dark side" and had gained a true appreciation for the value of public relations. Who knows, perhaps the parent learned from the child?

But in their second collaborative effort - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding - the Rieses returned to more familiar marketing ground.

Their latest effort proves that the father and daughter team has really hit their stride. They challenge the conventional "wisdom" of product extensions and converged products as the paths to product and company success. The book reinforces discussions we have had over the past six months with industry analysts who have advised firms in the CE and PC industry against converging three-four technologies into one solution just because it can be done.

To produce this slap in the side of the head awakening the authors take us back to Darwin's theory of evolution and creatively apply it to today's product branding. By documenting the changing conditions in the marketplace they show how there are new and endless opportunities for totally new brands.

The book provides an excellent "Ah Ha!" illumination that can help marketing and public relations people look into totally new areas and creatively develop new opportunities for company success and profit.

After reading the book we are almost embarrassed to admit we were following the conventional wisdom as "fact" that would guarantee the success of our PR efforts for client's by taking the success of client's products in one area and extending it into new fields. It challenged us to rethink how brilliant we were being in showing consumers how much value new products were going to deliver to the family and individual by converging computer, CE, internet and cell phone technologies.

The efforts don't seem as brilliant as they once did and we're taking a long, hard look at how we position and present our efforts.

The Origin of Brands puts failed convergence proudcts under the microscope and gives you a close-up look and analysis as to why the concepts were doomed from the outset. They also examine divergence products that have achieved global success. And only time will tell if the products are able to sustain their momentary success but for the most part Ries' (Al) analysis and forecasts have been more right than wrong.

Our recommendation is that if you are serious about doing a professional and effective job for your company and/or client, you read and digest the writings of futurists Faith Popcorn and John Nesbitt. Once you have a solid foundation into the inner workings of the consumer's (business and home) wants and needs, then read and determine how you can apply the Reises' Origin of Brands.

We have often found that engineering may develop a product but have no clear, concise definition of the product - at least one that consumers can quickly grasp. The book shows you the importance of developing an easy product definition and discusses the more important aspect -- how to help your management understand and use the easy product definition.

As an added incentive for PR people to pick up and digest the book, we should also note that the Rieses' make a very strong case for the value of the slow PR brand image build-up and exposure rather than the wild flurry of flat-out advertising.

If you are constantly having to justify your PR work and budget to management, you'll probably want to invest in several copies of The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR and make certain the right people read it. But keep The Origin of Brands for yourself so you can sit in strategy meetings and prove what a seasoned professional you are by citing the specifics of case study successes and failures.

The Origin of Brands can be a rich source of professional counsel you can give to senior management. It can also help you develop strategic and tactical programs that can help you establish strong divergent products in a fumbling converging world.

After reading two of Ries' (Al) books you may be like us and become a collector of all of the books he has co-authored. The Origin of Brands is a good place to start !!