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Creating a Winning Brand: A Q&A With Laura Ries

Why is Coca-Cola the leading cola brand when so many others have similar products? How did Chobani become the leading Greek yogurt brand despite reaching the market nine years after its Greek competitor?

Visual Hammer - Laura Ries

Geoff Livingston caught up with Demand Success speaker and branding expert Laura Ries to get the answers.

See how both companies succeeded using similar strategies and how your company, no matter its size, can do the same in this Q&A.

Q: How has branding changed in the past few years?

Branding is composed of two parts: Strategy and tactics. There have been many revolutionary changes in branding in the past few years, but all of these changes have been in tactics. Advertising is being replaced by public relations. And print media by the Internet, among many other tactical changes.

Q: What remains the same?

Strategy. The essence of branding is to get your brand into consumers’ minds first. Coca-Cola did that 128 years ago and today is still the leading cola brand.

Recently, Chobani became the first brand of Greek yogurt to get into consumers’ minds and today leads the category. That’s true even though Fage, the leading yogurt in Greece, arrived in the American market nine years before Chobani. It didn’t matter who was first in the market; it only matters who was first in the mind. 

Q: Do customers and advocates have more control of corporate brand perception thanks to social media?

There has been a misperception about what a brand actually is. Today, the cry has gone up, “The consumer owns the brand.”

But that always has been true. A brand is not worth anything unless it exists in consumers’ minds. Therefore, the role of marketing is to put brand names into the mind. And how do you do that? You have to stand for something.

Whole Foods stands for “organic” groceries. Ikea stands for “unassembled furniture.” BMW stands for “driving.” Starbucks stands for “expensive coffee.”

Branding Rule - Laura Ries

The key to branding success? Narrow your focus, says Laura Ries.    

Q: Marketing thought leaders are increasingly talking about the importance of visual media online. What’s your take on this trend?

Not only my take, but my book, Visual Hammer. For a number of years, we have promoted the idea that a brand needs both a “verbal nail” and a “visual hammer.” The function of the visual hammer is to put the verbal nail into consumers’ minds.

On the other hand, many marketing people are talking about the importance of online visual media, but do not have a visual hammer that can make visual media effective.

What’s the visual hammer for Chevrolet? A brand that has been spending almost a billion dollars every year on advertising.

Compare Chevrolet with BMW, the ultimate driving machine. BMW put that verbal concept in consumers’ minds by consistent use of television advertising showing happy owners driving their BMWs over winding roads. Today, BMW is the largest-selling luxury-vehicle brand in the world.

Q: What is next for Laura Ries?

It should be obvious. We are going to do for slogans what we did for visuals. How do you design a slogan so that it’s memorable? That’s the essence of my new book, Battlecry, which will be published later this year.

 Want to hear from Laura Ries and other top marketing minds? Register now for the Demand Success Marketing and PR Conference on June 5-6!

Image: Jerry Bowley (Creative Commons)

About Geoff Livingston

Geoff is president and founder of Tenacity5 Media, a digital marketing agency that provides content marketing and social media services. A former journalist, Geoff continues to write, and has authored five books. Follow him @geoffliving.

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