Al and Laura Ries wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding 22 years ago. Immutable – “unchangeable over time” – is a big word to use in a book title. But it’s accurate in this case, even though today’s marketing tactics and tools are unrecognizable compared to 1998 – the year Google was born. However, it’s a marketing book you must read. And here’s why.

An evergreen introduction

The 22 Laws of Branding starts by saying: “Marketing has become more complicated, too confusing and too full of jargon.”

Marketing is certainly more complicated, more confusing and has more jargon than ever 22 years on. This is partly why the Ries’s work is immutable.

Focus is forever fundamental

The Rieses emphasize strategic focus’s importance via the laws of:

• Expansion – people want brands that are distinguishable by one word

• Contraction – your brand will be stronger with a narrower focus

• Singularity – single mindedness’s importance

Currently, every new trend is labelled a growth opportunity and COVID-19 is forcing many of us to diversify our offer. As a result, there’s a great temptation to breach these laws and chase every opportunity. But you must resist. Losing your focus risks your diluting your brand’s identity and harming its credibility (not to mention the financial consequences – Bic underwear, the Nike Fuel Band and Virgin water purifier are evidence of this).

Language now lives longer

Social media and online reviews mean people read and publicly write more words about brands than we ever could have imagined. And a global audience can read these words – forever. For better or worse.

The words used to describe brands often determine if they’re bought or not. Language’s longevity means owning a single, differentiated word. This was advised in 1998 and is still imperative. Globalisation has accentuated this on a tactical level too. After all, who wants to be the next HSBC ‘Assume Nothing/Do Nothing’?

Your brand’s name is now even more important than the word(s) it owns. In 1998 the Rieses said “a brand is just a name to most people”. Marketers in 1998 only had to consider how a brand’s name sounded, its wider meaning and its uniqueness. Now we must consider a brand name’s usability in online conversation, tweetability and international relevance as well as these fundamentals.

Modern, minimal memory needs vivid visuals

Jenni Romaniuk – the distinctive brand assets powerhouse – was finishing her studies in 1998. Al and Laura Ries meanwhile were telling marketers that brands should use horizontal logos with a distinctive typeface and a colour that’s distinctive compared to your competitors.

More brands exist now vs. 1998 while our transient attention span (how long something can grab our attention for) has fallen by 33% in the same period. Distinctive brand assets are now so important, they’re practically a sub-discipline of marketing itself. This means the laws that relate to distinctiveness have moved from being immutable to immortal.

Today’s treacherous tactical temptations

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding has two laws near its end that you should now prioritize more than ever:

● The law of consistency – a brand isn’t built overnight. Success is measured in decades, not years.

● The law of change – brands can be changed, but only infrequently and carefully.

But why are these important?

As we battle COVID-19’s economic impact, short-termism is ever present. Instant cuts. Demands for results NOW. Everything is urgent. The list goes on. However, marketing needs time to succeed. You can automate media buying and have agile research, but you can’t automate consumer behaviour or profits.

Our love for anything new is equally treacherous. Especially when technology is involved. Tik Tok ‘strategy’, centennial ‘strategy’ and so on.

The Rieses stated that “consumers are suspicious”. In 2020, consumer suspicion has been amplified beyond belief. And society is transparent now compared to 1998. This means if change your brand, the change you make will be noticed. And changes that are too adventurous will confuse your customers and reduce your brand’s credibility.

Lots has changed since 1998. But a brand is still what turns your product from a commodity into something with meaning and value. Obey The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and protect your brand in these testing times.

Brands – as per the law of mortality – won’t last forever. However, at 22 years young, the laws that govern them look like they will.