The Origin of Brands

The Origin of Brands: How Product Evolution Creates Endless Possibilities for New Brands

by Al Ries and Laura Ries
Pub. Date: September 2005, Collins
ISBN-13: 987-0-06-057015-6
308 Pages
Review Written: 1/24/07

Success Rating :5

Why I Read this Book: Each and every one of us are exposed to thousands of brands a day. I wanted to understand what it takes to put a brand in that special place in one’s mind and how I could use that knowledge to fuel my own success.


I must admit that I am quite the fan of Ries’ work. He and Trout did a fantastic job with Positioning so many years back, which has had a grand effect on countless businesses. Al and his daughter Laura (who from now on I will address as Ries) took the fundamentals of a classic and built many of today’s new concepts into a book that anyone interested in building a successful brand and company should have down cold. The Origin of brands is that book.

Ries stayed consistent with his previous work in that this book is written in a very clear, concise and easily digestible manner. A book like this can be comfortably read in a number of days. One of the main reasons for this is that Ries chose a few simple yet fundamental concepts and stuck with them throughout the book by giving fantastic examples of everyday brands to which all of us can relate. I feel strongly that examples are a fundamental part of a well written book, especially when it relates to a specific area of expertise as this one does.

Ries uses a rather unique way of starting the book with a theme from which he bases most every chapter. He begins with the concept of Darwin, evolution and convergence vs. divergence. In the end this book can be explained in these basic concepts. Ries makes the reader quickly realize that the road to the top for your brand and business is that of divergence; not convergence. Please remember that statement, because that is the base on which the book is built. The natural course of products and nature alike is for things to converge and branch of into separate ideas and products. How often do you see a tree with branches growing into each other? Possibly for the same reason the web/tv or the clock radio never made it and why no one ever really uses their Swiss Army knife. It just is not natural. The key that Ries emphasizes is sum of most products combined is less valuable than their separate parts. After all, how well does any one tool in a Swiss Army knife actually work? I think I’ll stick with my full-sized pair of scissors and screw driver if you don’t mind.

This idea of the success of divergence has huge implications on each one of use striving towards success. The wonderful thing about divergence is that things will always be diverging and therein lays countless opportunities for success with new brands in new categories. If an entrepreneur is looking for success, he should start with where things will diverge next. This is where one can find the greatest opportunity to be first and to positively establish your brand in the mind of the customer. What better way to be first than to create a new category and be the first brand in that category? Ries is quick to remind us of numerous examples. How many brands were in the cola category before Coke hit the market? How many energy drink brands before Red Bull? How about the athletic shoe category before Nike? The answers are all zero. The real success is not in developing the unique brand but instead in developing a new category in which your brand can be first. I encourage you to think about this as you go through life working towards success.

One of the beauties I enjoy most about brands and the concepts that make them most successful is that they are directly transferable to the most valuable brand of all; you. This is a concept that I bring up in a number of reviews and it is one that should not be taken lightly. Your most valuable brand is yourself and you are the one in charge of securing its position in the minds of those around you. Even Ries’ concepts about using public relations (PR) to build a brand as opposed to advertising are crucial to take into account. What is more valuable to you, hearing someone talk highly of themselves or hearing others talk highly of that person? The credibility, value and success come from the things others say about your brand and that of your product.

Our brand and those we build are only as strong as their respective PR and do not gain credibility from self advertisement. I encourage you to think about branding in this light as you dig into the concepts detailed in The Origin of Brands. You will get exponentially more out of any branding or positioning book by realizing that these concepts are just as important to implement with your personal brand as they are with the product brand you are building. I hope you enjoy learning about brands in this new light. I assure you that your return on learning will be invaluable. I know it has been for me. So the real question is, what new category does your brand define?

-Reading for Your Success

Buy The Origin of Brands at Amazon

Valuable Quotes:

“The heart of a great marketing program is a great name.”
—Al and Laura Ries

“Big companies tend to see things the way they are. Entrepreneurs tend to see things the way they could be.”
—Al and Laura Ries

“The real issue in marketing is not creating a brad. The real issue in marketing is creating a new category and then using your new brand name to dominate that category.
—Al and Laura Ries

“The right product at the right time with the right PR support is an unstoppable combination.”
—Al and Laura Ries