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The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing highlights the foundations of marketing and how to avoid violating these laws. Airplane innovators do not build airplanes without considering the laws of physics. However, many modern marketers attempt to market a fantastic idea without a foundation of marketing laws. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing aims to solve this problem by offering these fundamental laws. 

About Al Ries

Al Ries founded his first agency, Ries Cappiello Colwell, in 1963 in New York City. That agency is now Ries, a global consulting firm with offices in Atlanta & Shanghai. Ries Cappiello Colwell also has affiliates across the world. Al Ries first rose to fame in 1972 when his three articles on a concept called “positioning” were featured in the Advertising Age magazine. The positioning idea was voted by AdAge as one of the 75 most important advertising ideas of the past 75 years.

About Jack Trout

Jack Trout was an owner of Trout & Partners, a consulting firm. He was one of the founders and pioneers of positioning theory and marketing warfare theory. Trout started his business career in the advertising department of General Electric. From there, he went on to become a divisional advertising manager at Uniroyal. Then, he joined Al Ries in the advertising agency and marketing strategy firm where they worked together for over twenty-six years.

Law No. 1 – The Law of Leadership

As a leader, it is more effective to be first than better than your competitors. Additionally, it is also easier to be the first to get into your customers’ minds than trying to convince them your product is better than the first. The authors call a product that isn’t first a ‘me-too’ product. These products have little hope of becoming highly profitable. Instead, the leading brand in almost every category is the first brand into the customers’ minds. This success is reinforced when items become named after a product, e.g., Coke. The benefit of being first to market can be removed if you get your timing wrong, though. For example, your ‘first’ could be too late for the market. 

Examples of successful first-to-market companies:

  • Hertz in rent-a-car
  • IBM in computers
  • Coca-Cola in cola

Firsts can also be unsuccessful if they are fundamentally a bad idea. The authors offer an example of Frosty Paws. Frosty Paws released the first ice cream for dogs and had little-to-no success.

Law No. 2 – The Law of Category

If your category already has a first, then you should seek to set up a new category that you can be first in. For example, Amelia Earheart was the third person to fly the Atlantic Ocean on a solo mission. However, this is not what she is well-known for. Instead, she is famous for being the first woman to complete this task. Therefore, you can become famous and successful by creating your own category. Again, the authors offer the example of IBM. IBM became highly successful as they were the first to mass-produce computers. To compete, DEC did not choose this category. Instead, they formed their own category by becoming the first to mass-produce minicomputers. In doing so, DEC also became highly successful.

Forget the brand as your main priority. Instead, think about the categories your product could dominate. 

Law No. 3 – The Law of the Mind

“The only reality you can be sure about is in your own perceptions. If the universe exists, it exists inside your own mind and the minds of others.” – Al Ries

It is impossible to change a customer’s mind when their mind is made up. Therefore, the authors suggest you avoid wasting marketing money on attempting to change people’s minds. Hence, you should aim to be the first in your customers’ minds. Being first in the marketplace is only important because it increases your likelihood of being the first in your customers’ minds. This is because marketing is a battle of perception rather than product. The solution is to make your product’s name simple and easy-to-remember.

Law No. 4 – The Law of Perception

The authors explain there is no objective reality within the marketplace. Therefore, all that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions within the minds of your customers. Your marketing should exist for the sole purpose of manipulating these perceptions. Only by studying how perceptions are formed and focusing your marketing programs on those perceptions can you overcome your faulty marketing instincts.

Law No. 5 – The Law of Focus

The most powerful marketing concept is to own a word in the prospect’s mind. This word should be a simple one that everybody uses. If you effectively utilize the law of leadership, then you can start owning a word. Your word should relate to your category. For example, IBM’s word was ‘computer.’ Crucially, you cannot use the same word forever. Nothing lasts forever, so there will come a time when you should think about changing your word. Similarly, you should never choose a word already owned by somebody else. Once you have your word, you must go out of your way to protect it in the marketplace.

Words come in different varieties. They can be benefit-related (captivity prevention), service-related (home delivery), audience-related (younger people), or sales-related (preferred brand).

Law No. 6 – The Law of Exclusivity

This law suggests two companies cannot own the same word in a prospect’s mind. Therefore, the authors recommend you forget about using money to own a word somebody else already possesses. 

Law No. 7 – The Law of the Ladder

Different brands will be placed on different rungs on a prospect’s hierarchical ladder. Your marketing strategy should be based on the rung you believe you occupy within your prospects’ minds. Prospects generally only accept information that makes logical sense when compared to the rungs of their ladder. 

The authors explain you will tend to have twice the brand’s market share below you on the ladder. Subsequently, you have half the market share of the brand above you. Seven is the maximum number of rungs on a ladder in the prospect’s mind. However, you should not always aim to be the top rung on a ladder. For example, being third on a ‘big’ ladder might be better than being first on a ‘small’ ladder. This is a similar analogy to being a small fish in a big pond.

Law No. 8 – The Law of Duality

Every market becomes a two-horse race over the long-term. Hence, the seven rungs on the ladder will become two. The authors offer Pepsi and Coke as an example.

Law No. 9 – The Law of Opposite

“The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to re-tie the connections that already exist.” – Al Ries

Shooting for first place in a two-horse relies on your ability to adjust your strategy depending on who is in first place. Your company should leverage the leading company’s strengths into weaknesses. Present your prospects with the opposite of the essence of the leading company. Never attempt to emulate the leading company, as you must present yourself as an alternative to eventually beat them.

Law No. 10 – The Law of Diversion

Your category within the market will not stay solitary. Instead, over time, your category will divide and become two or more categories. Each segment will have its own leader, and rarely the original category leader will also be the leader of the sub-categories. You can accrue success by addressing each emerging category with a different brand name. 

Law No. 11 – The Law of Perspective

The effectiveness of marketing will depend upon perspective. Marketing effects take place over an extended period. The authors explain that the long-term effect of marketing is often the opposite of the short-term effect. They offer the example of sale increases in the short-term being associated with customers choosing not to buy at regular prices. 

Law No. 12 – The Law of Line Extension

You will have pressure to extend the equity of your brand. One day your company will be focused on a single successful product. However, it is easy to spread yourself too thin by releasing many products that ultimately lose you money. Trying to be all things to all people will only fail. 

The authors describe line extension as using a successful brand name and putting it on a new product. Line extension rarely works over the long-term. This is especially true when you have serious competition within your category. Generally, the leader in any category is not line extended. Line extension is often favored as it can work in the short-term. However, this does not mean it will work in the long run.

Law No. 13 – The Law of Sacrifice

You have to give up something to get something. This is the alternative to line extension. The authors recommend sacrificing three things: product line, target market, and constant change. Reducing rather than extending your product line will allow you to be successful.

Law No. 14 – The Law of Attributes

For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute. As stated previously, companies often make the wrong decision of emulating the attributes of the leading company. You should aim to search for an opposite attribute. On top of this, the authors state you should seek to own the most important attribute within your category. Finally, there is a tendency for companies to immediately reject an attribute as it is not currently large. You can never predict the size of a new attribute’s share, so don’t reject any attribute without careful thought.

Law No. 15 – The Law of Candor

One of the most effective ways to get into a prospect’s mind is to first admit a negative within your company. However, you should then twist this negative into a positive. Every negative you admit about your company will generally be accepted as truth, as companies do not often accept negatives. Therefore, if you can shift these negatives into positives, then you already have your prospects accepting positive characteristics related to your company. To explain this point, the authors offer an example of Listerine. This company used to advertise with the slogan, ‘The taste you hate twice a day.’ Subsequently, this negative was turned into a positive as they sold the idea that Listerine kills germs.

To effectively use this law, your negative must be widely perceived as negative. Then, you have to quickly shift towards the positive.

Law No. 16 – The Law of Singularity

In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results. Despite this, many marketers believe they should adopt several strategies and hope one works. However, trying harder is not the key to success. Successful marketing relies on a single, bold stroke. If you understand your marketplace, you will know the bold stroke required to impact the market significantly.

Law No. 17 – The Law of Predictability

It is impossible to predict the future, especially as the future is dependent on what your competitors choose to do. Despite this, marketing campaigns often make decisions based on predictions regarding the future. Instead, develop a short-term plan with an angle that differentiates your product. Then, integrate this into your long-term marketing direction. This should be a direction rather than a fixed plan. Plans are not flexible enough. The authors recommend building an enormous amount of flexibility into your organization. In doing so, you can cope with the unpredictability of the world.

Law No. 18 – The Law of Success

“Success in business inflates the egos of top management.” – Al Ries

Ego is the enemy of successful marketing. Success is associated with subjectivity and an emphasis on judgment rather than the market. Success is a crucial precursor of line extension. Companies can wrongly assume their current success can be extended into several other lines.

Law No. 19 – The Law of Failure 

Failure should be expected and accepted. Recognizing your failures early will allow you to cut your losses. More often than not, it is better to cut your losses early rather than spending considerable time and money trying to fix things. 

Law No. 20 – The Law of Hype

You should never need to be hyped up. A successful company doesn’t need hype, and requiring hype generally means your company is in trouble. Additionally, the hype is rarely accurate. The situation is often the opposite of how it appears in the press. Real revolutions in the industry don’t arrive at high noon with marching bands. They arrive unannounced in the middle of the night and sneak up on you.

Law No. 21 – The Law of Acceleration

You should base your company decisions on trends rather than fads. The authors describe fads as waves, while trends are the tide. Fads might get significant hype, but a trend is the driving force. Try to dampen fads when they surface. One way to maintain a long-term demand for your products is to never totally satisfy the demand.

Law No. 22 – The Law of Resources

“Today brands are born, not made. A new brand must be capable of generating favorable publicity in the media or it won’t have a chance in the marketplace.”- Al Ries

Exceptional ideas will never get off the ground without sufficient resources. You need money to get into a mind; you need money to stay there. You should focus on identifying an idea, then capitalize on this idea by spending money.

Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.

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