Interview with Laura Ries: “Visual Hammer” Era Cometh! (Part1/3)



It’s my honor to introduce and interview Laura Ries. She doesn’t require an introduction, but for those who don’t know her, Laura Ries is a leading marketing strategist, bestselling author and television personality. She works with several Fortune 500 companies. Laura is a frequent marketing analyst on major news programs from the O’Reilly Factor to Squawk Box. She regularly appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNBC, CNN, HLN, and is frequently quoted by the Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. Her books are reviewed by Harvard Business Review. In addition, Laura writes her own popular blog


In this interview you’re going to read Laura and I talk about how to nail your brand into consumer’s mind with emotional power of a visual through following ways:

  • Logo and Trademark
  • Brand name and Slogan
  • Product Design
  • Packaging
  • Celebrity
  • Personal Branding
  • Color

In her new book, Visual Hammer, she has discussed several other ways, such as, heritage, action, founder, symbol, celebrity, and animal. However, in this interview a few major aspects are touched.


Kamil: If you had to sum up your new book, Visual Hammer, Visual Hammerwhat would you say?

Laura: In building a brand in today’s environment, visuals are more important than words.

Kamil: For the first time you wrote the book alone. Why not co-authored with Al Ries?

Laura: While I consulted with my dad on the book, it was time for me to find my own voice and my own conceptual ideas. Furthermore, the book is the first step in a long-term move from the Positioning era (in which words reigned supreme) to an era in which visuals will dominate. Al Ries was associated with the Positioning era and Laura Ries will hopefully be associated with the Visual era.





Al Ries’ and Jack Trout’s groundbreaking book,Positioning, has acquired the stature of the “bible”.

In 2009, the readers of Advertising Age voted Positioning as #1 most important marketing book of all time.




Important note: For those who’re not sure what Positioning is, I’ll highly recommend to view this and this cartoons before reading the rest of the interview. It should take 5 minutes to watch each



Kamil: This time you’ve released digital book (Kindle and iBook). It doesn’t have an option to show testimonials. So here’s a chance, let’s share the testimonials, which you usually receive, of renowned personalities and publications.

visual hammer ipad
Laura: Keep in mind that “renowned personalities and publications” are heavily word-oriented. Thousands of business books, for example, are published every year in America, but very, very few carry visuals or even mention the use of visuals in marketing.

It’s not surprising that the Visual Hammer is a shocking idea to most established marketing experts. So my chances of getting testimonials are rather slim.

That’s all right. Revolutionary ideas are never instantly accepted by the established experts.
As far as the digital book is concerned, my strategy is to get it published in a printed-book format as soon as it becomes a best-seller in the digital format.


Kamil: What has been the toughest criticism given to you for Visual Hammer idea?

Laura: Now here is something strange. I have received almost no criticism. This is rather unusual for a business book with a new conceptual idea.

Instead, many marketing people who have been exposed to the concept have so far tended to ignore it.

Why is this happening? I believe it’s because they haven’t made up their minds about the concept. It’s something that they have never really thought about. That’s not unusual for a group that is so word-oriented.

For example, it’s highly unusual for a marketing plan (which could run 50 or more pages in length) to include even a single visual.

When a vice president of one of the most-prestigious consulting organizations in the country was asked why he did not include any visuals in his recommendations, he replied, “It’s not customary to do so.”

laura ries

“Instead, many marketing people who have been exposed to the concept have so far tended to ignore it.” Laura Ries


Logos, Trademarks, Slogan and Visual Hammers:

Kamil: Now let’s get inside the book. You say Nike’s checkmark represents its leadership. However, I think, consumers think throughout the world differently. For example, in my country, checkmark means “correct” or “good”. It does not mean “leadership”. In this situation, how can we relate Nike with leadership?

In other words, Nike’s brand name, checkmark and slogan, “Just Do It”. How these are related to one another?

Laura: “Checkmark” is just a name. What people respond to is the symbol itself. I’m not sure whether any consumers actually refer to the Nike Swoosh as a “streamlined checkmark.” It may be just an expression that marketing people use.


In general, consumers perceive the Swoosh symbol to be both a Nike trademark and a symbol of leadership.

As far as the slogan is concerned, “Just do it” is memorable, but not connected to either Nike or its leadership position. Nike should have probably developed a slogan that better connected the brand to its leadership position. A slogan like “The real thing” which many people connect to the Coca-Cola brand and its leadership position in the cola category.







“How would you develop a visual hammer for the Microsoft brand which is into almost everything”. Laura Ries 









Kamil: Every brand can’t be lucky enough to have integration of brand name, verbal nail and visual hammer. In this case, what’s your suggestion?

Laura: Changing the brand name is one possibility. Any brand that is not really well-known has nothing to lose by changing its name.

When selecting a new brand name, a company should pick one that suggests a visual hammer. And then develop a verbal strategy that relates to the visual hammer.

Also, many brands are line extended into many different categories. That generally doesn’t allow for the development of a visual hammer. How would you develop a visual hammer for the Microsoft brand which is into almost everything.

Companies should consider introducing new brands to attach to narrow product categories. That makes the selection of a hammer and nail much easier.

Kamil: How brands can differentiate themselves when their visuals are almost similar such as the religious symbol, Star & Crescent is also the symbol of Pakistani national flag in green and white color.


You’re right. The Star & Crescent is also the symbol of the Muslim religion. Except in the Middle East, most people in the rest of the world would see the flag as a religious symbol, not a country symbol.

Pakistan needs a new flag, but as you know, that would be very difficult idea to sell.

America needs a new flag, too. Our flag with 13 “stripes” representing the 13 original states and 50 “stars” representing the current 50 states makes verbal sense, but doesn’t make visual sense.

We need a flag that says something “visually,” not a flag that is like a crossword puzzle. A puzzle that has meaning only after you decypher it.


Kamil: Do you think different categories having the similar visuals or brand names can work?

Laura: Not usually.

Kamil: For example, in my country, there is the largest bank, name, Habib Bank Limited. Then, we have famous cooking oil brand, Habib Oil. These brands are part of the different companies and do not related to each other in anyway.



Some consumers may think that Habib Oil and Habib Bank Limited are part of the one company. On the other hand, some consumers may think that these two brands are not related to the same corporation.

When these types of confusions occur, how brands will position and differentiate themselves from one another?

Laura: In America, we can use the same “generic” name on different products from different countries. Eagle oil and Eagle shirts, for example. But we can’t use the same “made-up” name on different products from different companies. Xerox and Kodak, for example.

Interestingly enough, a visual hammer can be the solution to the problem you describe. If either Habib Bank or Habib Oil developed a strong visual hammer, then consumers might recognize them more for the visual than for the name itself.

Nike, for example, could sell shoes without the Nike name. Seeing the Swoosh symbol, consumers would be very willing to buy them as “authentic” Nike shoes even though the name might not appear on the shoes.



“That’s the future. Develop a unique product idea, then a unique visual symbol that helps communicate that product idea and then express the idea in verbal terms”. Laura Ries




Kamil: The yacht racing is probably the world’s most expensive sports played by upper class people. While, polo sports comes after yacht racing in prestige. Does it mean that we have still room for developing another fashion brand with yacht  racing logo?

ralph lauren y


Laura: There are two issues here. Any fashion brand that would use a symbol consumers would relate to Ralph Lauren’s polo player would not be successful. Consumers would see it as a “knockoff” of the Ralph Lauren brand.

The other issue is the visual itself. A polo player on a horse is an individual. Yacht racing, on the other hand, is a team sport with many participants on any individual yacht. A visual of a yacht represents a team sport and may not be as effective as the individual polo player.

What can be other categories where prestigious sports logo can be used to develop a prestigious brand?

Unfortunately, as time goes on and as more companies develop visual symbols, it becomes more difficult to develop one.

A generalized symbol, like the polo player, probably wouldn’t work today. There are just too many brands trying similar strategies.

What would work today is a symbol tied to a unique idea of the brand itself. For example, Subaru, a Japanese automobile brand, is the only automobile company in the world that sells only four-wheel-drive vehicles.

A four-circle symbol (much like the five-circle symbol used by the Olympics) would have been a powerful visual hammer for the brand. A visual symbol that no other company could have used because no other company focuses exclusively on four-wheel-drive vehicles.

That’s the future. Develop a unique product idea, then a unique visual symbol that helps communicate that product idea and then express the idea in verbal terms.

Subaru Subaru BRZ 2014 MODEL


Product Design and Visual Hammer:

Kamil: In your book , 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, you recommended to write the “words horizontally” Yet, on the your new book, both title, Visual Hammer, and author name, Laura Ries, are “written vertically.”

There are two questions for this visual:

Perhaps, you wanted to reinforce the hammer. But, since it’s vertical, it’s not easy to read. Is there any other effective way to write the book title or to design the title page overall?

Laura: As you suggested, the type was set vertically to reflect the hammer. Would it have been better to set the type horizontally? Perhaps.

Kamil:  The title, Visual Hammer, and the author’s name, Laura Ries, are written side by side. The reader will read the title like this: “Visual Hammer Laura Ries”. It makes it difficult to sell this book especially to the potential customers. In America, consumer might understand Visual Hammer is the title and Laura Ries is an author. However, same level of understanding is not the same across the world.

Laura: That’s a good point. And I’ll consider changing it in the future.

The nice thing about a digital book is that it can be changed any time almost instantly without incurring additional costs.

Visual Hammer


Kamil: In Visual Hammer you writes that Goldfish crackers is famous for “The snack that smiles.” Is this slogan is also a positioning statement? How?

It is a positioning statement in the sense that it’s a double-entendre. Goldfish crackers have a “smile” on their face. And kids that eat Goldfish crackers “smile” when they eat them.

Goldfish crackers goldfish_crackers_cheddar


Granted, slogans like this don’t have the emotional impact of a slogan like BMW’s “ultimate driving machine.” But keep in mind that Goldfish is an inexpensive cracker for children. It isn’t going to make the world safe for democracy or have any other big goal it could achieve.


BMW ultimate driving machine.


laura ries

In 2008, the Atlanta Business Chronicle named Laura a top 40 under 40.





 >> Interview with Laura Ries: Packaging (Part 2/3) 
>> Interview with Laura Ries: Personal Branding and  Color (Part 3/3)



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