Mark Ritson’s seven rules of brand management

mark ritson

1. Remember your roots

“Strong brands come from people, places and times, and they remember it whether they are luxury brands or not,” says Ritson. Brands too often forget about or ignore their origins, and marketers in the English-speaking world are the guiltiest of it, he claims. Starbucks is one brand that lost its way, according to Ritson. He says: “The real problem with Starbucks is that it forgot its origins.” It took former chief executive Howard Schultz to return to the company to rediscover its roots.

All brands have a story of their founding: it describes why the business came into being. Most marketers don’t know how powerful theirs is.

2. Work out what’s in your brand’s DNA

A brand’s DNA should comprise just one strong concept and no more than five words that define how it behaves, according to Ritson. In luxury “it is defined by history and the consumer has no say in it”, he says.

But brand DNA is about walking the walk, not talking the talk, and it isn’t necessary to communicate explicitly what it’s made up of. People find George Clooney sexy for what he says and does, and for the way he looks, not because of the structure of his genes, Ritson points out. “Brands that have their words hanging up in the lobby are missing the point. If a consumer doesn’t repeat those things back to you verbatim, it’s not a problem.”

3. You can play with your codes

Codes are what make brands recognisable to their consumers – they are not just logos and they are not just visual, but they are motifs that the brand unmistakably owns, however they appear. Brands need to recognise that they can and must play with their codes to balance heritage with modernity – the constantly changing Google ‘doodle’ on the search engine’s homepage being an example.

This also means brands shouldn’t submit to “logo tyranny”, where marketers think the same typefaces, colours and proportions have to be rigidly repeated, says Ritson. “This is total bollocks. This is not branding. This is what people do when they don’t understand branding.”

4. Brands need to change to stay consistent

Ritson calls this the “paradox of time”. Brands make their name through the way they act at a particular point in time, but doing the same thing again and again will cease to have the same effect. The Dior fashion style that was provocative in 1950 had become tired by 2000, and it took John Galliano’s shocking ‘hobo chic’ collection, with dresses inspired by homeless people wrapped in newspapers, to restore Dior’s reputation as a disruptive brand.

5. No one hates vanilla, but no one loves it either

Being exclusive means excluding some people and welcoming others, and it is an important part of creating a brand. In luxury “it means you can engender passion in the higher segments and not give a toss about the mass market as a whole”, says Ritson. While non-luxury brands can’t afford to be as selective, Ritson says the principle holds true for all marketing.

“You have to believe first in segmentation and second in targeting. You can’t have a brand if you go for everyone. Marketing is not democracy,” he says.

6. Consumers don’t care what marketers say

At the most successful brands, senior executives stay silent, and don’t try to push their messages through mass media. Consumers “want to hear from the artisan”, Ritson says, so he advises letting the creators closest to the product explain their enthusiasm for it.

7. Your premium products power your brand

At a luxury brand, it is the couture fashions, the catwalk clothes, that define its image, like the star on the top of a Christmas tree. They are also the products that almost
no one buys, and overall they lose money. But Ritson says that marketers need to ask one question about their product lines: “What is the reason behind the product? Some products are there to make profit, others are there to build the brand.”

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