Book Review – Origin of Brands by Al & Laura Ries

by Steve Fisher on June 25, 2009


origin_cover1There are so many books out there on branding that the term branding itself is a bit tired and no one wants to listen anymore.

Everyone thinks they know how brands work and pretty much everyone of them have no clue. Despite these brands which result in their most identifiable element – the logo, the concept of branding has become less of an art and more about category creation and domination or dare I say survival of the fittest.

This is where The Origin of Brands by Al & Laura Ries comes in to profess and demystify that message.

Is it Really Like Survival of the Fittest?

With a title inspired by Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species”, Al and Laura Ries, who are father and daughter have become know for their series of books on marketing which started with The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. They take the approach that evolution is a useful analogy for marketers. Throughout the book, readers are encouraged to think of Darwin’s tree of life.

While their travels did not take them to the Galápagos Islands it did however take them around the world studying all the top brands and why they are great. There are many trees and the branches outward that make them diverse. Quoting Publishers Weekly “For example, the television tree used to consist solely of the three networks, but now comprises an array of cable and satellite offerings. The “phone” tree includes cellular, picture, computer, digital and other varieties. Using many examples, the authors explore this notion: “Competition between individuals (brands) improves the species. Competition between species (categories) drives the categories further and further apart.” To survive in today’s competitive market where technology makes innovations much faster than in the past, companies must continue to introduce new computers, cars, phones, food, etc”

Despite the expansion and innovation that a company could experience in “branching out” to other offerings on their respective tree, they run the risk of not being profitable and delivering for their shareholders. You see this all the time with fast food places, soft drink companies, sport clothing companies,

The Whole Point of the Book

The key to success and the whole point of the book that the authors offer specific advice on surrounds devising a new category rather than a brand. Much like the dot com era when many tech companies were creating new brand spaces and working with Gartner or other analysts to own that space. Siebel did it with CRM, Oracle did it with databases and Microsoft with desktop software. On pages 169-170 they list all these great brands who were first in their space.

Reading this book you take away that only the most innovative marketers will be triumphant  if they create a category and launch with a clever name as well, such as Starbucks did for the high-end coffee-shop category.

Who is this book for?

While the book is primarily directed at readers working in marketing, advertising and related fields, managers and executives at both large and small businesses will benefit from it as well.

Would I Buy It?

Probably not, but others should. I went through it pretty quickly and with a fairly strong marketing background I get the essence of what it was trying to say, which was pretty logical. However, if I was an entrepreneur that had no clue about marketing or branding, then I would totally own this book and keep it forever. It helps you think about your competitive space especially when you are looking to be different, be innovative and demonstrate why investors should put money in your business, then this book would be perfect for you. If you are established in business and trying to focus or “prune” as they call it in the book then I would also take a quick read.

If you want other reviews from the pros and from the passionate readers, check out their page on Amazon.

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