The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

The 22 immutable laws is a classic beginner's read to marketing and recommended by almost every marketer and their mother.

Al Ries and Jack Trout state that marketers must adhere to certain rules to be successful. They argue that just like there are laws of nature, there are also laws of marketing. And if you violate these laws, your marketing strategies will deteriorate into a simple game of hit and miss.

This summary aims to deliver the distilled essence of the laws which "govern success and failure in the marketplace."

Book Summary

The Laws

1. The Law of Leadership

Companies are often too cautious of moving into newly developing fields. First, they wait for a market to develop, then they produce a better product (with their brand stamped on top).

From the outset, this might appear to be an intelligent approach. However, from Ries and Trouts’ experience, the first brand to market also often tends to remain the leading brand, e.g. Coca-Cola in cola.

Of course, this is just a rule of thumb and other factors come into play. As they say “some firsts are just bad ideas that will never go anywhere.”

“One reason first brands tend to maintain their leadership is that the name often becomes generic.” Xerox, the first plain-paper copier, has become a standard slang word for hard paper copies. And the same principle can be seen with Google and search engines.

2. The Law of the Category

Though being first to a market category can be a huge catalyst for sales success, it isn’t always a necessity. Counter to typical brand-oriented thinking, it’s possible to develop new sub-categories. For example, positioning a beer as being first in the German category, rather than positioning it as first for the whole beer market category.

3. The Law of the Mind

Not all companies take advantage of being first to a marketplace. “Being first in the marketplace is important only to the extent that it allows you to get in the mind first.” Duryea introduced the first car. Yet, many people might suggest Ford was the first to produce cars. This is because Ford is well-known as one of the first mass-producers of cars.

4. The Law of Perception

The premise of the perception law is based around stereotypes. What sells a car isn’t its horsepower, price or style. But rather the perceptions around it. German car brands are well-engineered and Japanese brands are associated with quality. It is these perceptions which sell the car and not its actual characteristics.

5. The Law of Focus

Contrary to the instincts of many c-suite executives, reducing your brand's attributes and word associations may help it to grow. “If given words are computer, copier, chocolate bar, and cola, the four most associated words are IBM, Xerox, Hershey’s, and Coke.” Narrowing the focus of a brand’s connotations gives it meaning. For instance, Heinz’s “Slowest ketchup in the west” slogan gave their ketchup connotations of thickness.

6. The Law of Exclusivity

Related to the law of focus, the exclusivity law states when a competitor already ‘owns’ a word in your prospect’s mind, it is pointless to steal that word connotation. For example, the car brand Volvo is associated with safety, it would be pointless for any other car brand to try and steal that “safe car stereotype,” it is ‘owned’ by Volvo.

7. The Law of the Ladder

Nowadays, in most European countries at least, it is appreciated that Coca-Cola is the best-selling cola, and Pepsi is second best. How you structure your marketing strategy will be based on which position of the ‘ladder’ you occupy (the higher the better).

The story of Avis rent-a-car perfectly exemplifies what recognising your position on the ladder can do to sales. After 13 years of failure, Avis acknowledged their position with the slogan, “Avis is only No.2 in rent-a-cars. So why go with us? We try harder.” This marketing move did a 180 on their failure and they “started to make money, lots of money.” Unfortunately, after being acquired by ITT, their advertising theme switched to “Avis is going to be No.1” After which they continued on their previous trajectory of failure.

There is a maximum number of positions on the ladder. Ries and Trout state you’ll generally never find a prospect who can remember more than seven major brands in any market category.

8. The Law of Duality

More a statement of fact than a law, the duality law suggests in the long-run marketing categories are dominated by two major brands – “usually the old reliable brand and the upstart.” A solid example is the ‘titanic struggle’ between Pepsi and Coke.

9. The Law of the Opposite

This law reminded me of Robert Greene’s book, The 33 Strategies of War.

In the first chapter, on 'the polarity strategy,' Greene advocates positioning yourself as the anti-thesis of your enemy.

Or, in the case of marketing, as the non-standard alternative for your prospect. In other words, don’t try to be a better version of your competitor, aim to be different.

10. The Law of Division

Market categories tend to diverge over time, however, “many corporate leaders hold the naïve belief that categories are combining." The PC revolution of the late twentieth century has brought about new sub-categories including laptops, tablets, smartphones and MP3 players. 

Managers of leading brands in one sub-category often fall victim to the fallacy that their brand will succeed in another sub-category. This happened when Volkswagen attempted to break out of the small-car category in America.

11. The Law of Division

Avoid discount sales like the plague. Though discount sales may improve revenue in the short-run, it conditions customers not to purchase at “regular” prices. Additionally, quick-thinking customers who take note of the regular discount sales may be inclined to believe your brand is overpriced.

12. The Law of Line Extension

“By far the most violated law in our book is the law of line extension. What’s even more diabolical is that line extension is a process that takes place continuously, with almost no conscious effort on the part of the corporation.”     –Al Ries & Jack Trout

A line extension is where a brand extends its product range to include alternative options. For instance, if Heinz were to produce a ketchup with reduced sugar, this would be a ‘line extended product.’

However, Ries and Trout claim these extensions hurt a brand’s reputation in the long run. They argue when a brand tries to become everything to everyone it will diminish a brand’s core positioning - who it is made for and what it is. 

13. The Law of Sacrifice

The opposite to the law of line extension, the sacrifice law provides a case to reduce your: product line, target market and constant change.

A brand is a reputation and perception of a product, built over time. The best way to maintain it is to be consistent with:

  • What you sell (product line)
  • Who you sell to (target market)
  • And your marketing strategy

14. The Law of Attributes

Too often, companies attempt to emulate and imitate the marketplace leader. The rationale behind this decision is that “they must know what works.” However, as acknowledged in the law of the opposite, if prospects wanted to purchase the leader’s product, they’d do that. Instead, other brands must differentiate themselves from the leader – to provide an alternative from the standard.

15. The Law of Candour

“It may come as a surprise to you that one of the most effective ways to get into a prospect’s mind is to first admit a negative and then twist it into a positive.” A great example: “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.”

To use this law effectively, your brand’s negative must be widely perceived as a negative, e.g. Volkswagen Beetles are ugly. And secondly, you must quickly shift the negative to the positive.

16. The Law of Singularity

In developing a powerful angle for your marketing campaign, you should be well-acquainted with the marketplace, as well as, consumers’ hidden needs and desires. Advertising legend, David Ogilvy would talk with car drivers at petrol stations while searching for his angle to market petrol.

17. The Law of Unpredictability

“The danger of working with trends is extrapolation. Many companies jump to conclusions about how far a trend will go.” Moreover, it is inherently difficult to determine whether a trend is a trend or just a fad.

18. The Law of Success

In developing a successful brand, it is easy for a marketer to become egoistic. “Objectivity is what’s needed … brilliant marketers have the ability to think like a prospect thinks. They put themselves in the shoes of their customers. They don’t impose their own view of the world on the situation.”

19. The Law of Failure

When a campaign is clearly failing, it is pragmatic to cut your losses and rethink it completely. Unfortunately, “too many companies try to fix things rather than stop things.”

20. The Law of Hype

A tell-tale sign of a company in trouble is media hype. “When things are going well, a company doesn’t need the hype … the only revolutions you can predict are the ones that have already started.”

21. The Law of Acceleration

Avoid letting your brand ever fall susceptible to becoming a fad. “The best, most profitable thing to ride in marketing is a long-term trend.” However, should your brand fall victim to being a fad, aim “to never totally satisfy the demand.”

22. The Law of Resources

No matter how fantastic your product is, it won’t go very far without ample money for advertising. “You need money to get [your brand] into a mind. And you need money to stay in the mind once you get there.” Even with adequate funds, the ultimate issue in marketing becomes separating the good ideas from the bad ones.

Conclusion

This book is a timeless marketing classic and serves well as an introduction to positioning brands. 

However, I’d be hesitant to recommend to anyone with intermediate knowledge of marketing. Though there are some fundamental ideas in the book for a novice marketer, it’s rather basic.

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