Lily Tomlin on reality

"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch."

I need your help getting at the reality of brands and branding. First, Laura Ries was kind enough to leave a comment to my post disputing this statement: "Building strong brands is the key to success, in our opinion, not better products or better people." The following is her response. Please try to answer her by posting a comment (and please be pragmatic and nice):

"Is Google a 'better' search engine? Is Red Bull a 'better' energy drink? Is Microsoft a 'better' operating system? Or did these companies build better brands? Building a brand means standing for something in the mind of the consumer. What gets you into the mind? Usually it is by being first in a new category? Being first gets you PR, word of mouth and credibility. It earns your brand the top spot in the mind of the consumer. Having a great company, with great people and great products is great. But I don't think you will succeed long term unless you also get the marketing right. Of course, GM needs to build better cars, but they need to first work out the marketing issues. Saturn should work on being a simple, entry level car. Not a bigger, more expensive car or SUV. Would just a 'better' Pontiac solve the problem? Or it the brand also at fault? GM needs to decide what each brand stands for and then fix the engineering problems."

And one more request. I just received this email:

"Hi Tom,

I am a senior at Penn State University and I really enjoyed reading your book (in fact, I finished it, then read it again immediately!). It encapsulated how I feel marketing, especially to my generation, must be approached. In the afterword, you encouraged your readers to ask if they need help on their journey--and in this chaotic job-process, a bit of help is exactly what I need. I want to go into Brand Management, and would like to know what companies you think really "get it"--treat their branding, and their customers, like they should. What companies can I apply to where I can use what I learned in your book in the years ahead? Who makes the grade, and is best positioned to adapt to the new world of marketing?"

Any thoughts? What advice would you give this passionate young person?

Thanks in advance and have a great week!