Book Summary: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, by Al Ries and Jack Trout

This book is one of the best books on marketing you will ever read.

I particularly enjoyed it not only for its business lessons, but for the life lessons as well.

It came out in 1994, and yet remains more relevant than ever.

Find below a summary of the 22 immutable laws of marketing, by Al Ries and Jack Trout.


Introduction

You avoid making marketing mistakes when you make sure your marketing respects the laws.

1. The Law of Leadership

It’s better to be first than it is to be better.

If you are the first one to do what you do, people will remember you for it. Hence the need to create your product, or the category of your product.

Timing, however, is an issue, and should be taken into account.


2. The Law of the Category

If you cannot be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.

If you cannot invent a product, invent a new category to be first in. Eg: if you can’t be the first beer, be the first foreign beer.

When you launch a new product, the question to ask is not if the product is better than the competition, but what is a “first” about your product? That’s because everyone is interested in what’s new. Few are interested in what’s better.


3. The Law of the Mind

It’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in a marketplace.

The mind is everything in marketing. You may invent a new product, but if you don’t let your customers know clearly that you were the first, you won’t be in their mind. And so the first law is abolished.

You can’t change minds. Marketing is not there to educate. It’s there to take an already-existing desire and exploit it. As such, if you are not first in the minds of your customers because someone else already is, let it go. Spending money on campaigns to change customers’ minds is a waste of money.

If you want to be remembered, you need to blast your way into the mind. One day, you are nobody. The next day, you are famous. That’s how the mind works because the mind does not like to change because the mind is lazy.

When Apple launched its computer, it was up against four computers, each with a horribly difficult name.

Guess which one survived?


4. The Law of Perception

Marketing is not a battle of products. It’s a battle of perception.

Many people think that marketing is a battle of products where the best product wins. This is false, because there is no objective reality. There is no best product. All that exists is how people perceive the product, and whether they believe it to be the best or not.

Perception is reality. The rest is illusion.

The problem with the idea that the best products win is that it makes you market your product from a logical point of view. People, though, aren’t logical. They are emotional. Marketing is a battle of perception.


5. The Law of Focus

The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.

The perfect example of this law is the unfamous “what else” of Nespresso. Heinz owns the word “ketchup”. Etc.

Don’t try to get a word that already belongs to another brand.

The essence of marketing is narrowing your focus. You become stronger when you reduce the scope of your operations. You can’t stand for something if you chase after everything.

Once you get your word, don’t worry if others start using it too as this will reinforce your power. To be a leader, you need followers.

If you want to kill an idea or movement, associate the word “losers” to it.

“Sugar is for losers” could work, for example.


6. The Law of Exclusivity

Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind.

When one of your competitors owns a word, don’t try to own it too. You will lose.


7. The Law of the Ladder

The right strategy depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.

The law of the ladder states that for each product, there is a ladder with the first product (Google, for search engine), the second (Pepsi, for coke), the third, etc.

Your marketing strategy depends on which rung you are. Avis did well when it admitted being number two in its ads.

Your prospects will only accept new data that is consistent with your position on the ladder.

The number of rungs on your ladder depends on whether your product is high-interest, or low-interest. High-interest products are products bought frequently (food), or for which the investment is consequential (car). They usually have max seven rungs.

Low-interest products are products not purchased often (furniture). They usually have max three rungs.

Products purchased infrequently with a disagreeable experience (car batteries, tire, life insurance) have fewer rungs.

You tend to have twice the market share of the product below you, and half the market share of the product above you.

Before you start any campaign, make sure you place yourself on the ladder and deal with it accordingly.


8. The Law of Duality

In the long run, every market consolidates into only two companies (Coke VS Pepsi).

In the beginning, a leader may have 60% of market share, the second 30%, and the last 15%. The leader will see sales plummeting to 45% while the second one will have sales coming up at 40%. The third company will disappear.

The reason why every market becomes a two-player game is that consumers believe marketing is a battle of products, while it is in fact a battle of perception.


9. The Law of Opposite

If you are in second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.

The leader is likely strong in certain areas, and weak in others. You must become very strong where the leader is very weak.

As such, you must find out the strength of the leader, and present the customer with the opposite.

Old VS new. Don’t try to be better. Be different instead.

There are those who want to buy from the leader, and those that do not. By being the exact opposite of the leader, you appeal to the latter.

Many companies however try to copy the leader. Don’t do that. Be the alternative.

If all the vodkas come from your home country, sell vodka from Russia.

As the strength of number one evolves, so does its weakness. Your strategy should therefore keep on evolving, so that you can focus on the changing weaknesses.


10. The Law of Division

A category will divide over time to become one or two categories

Eg: cars became sedan, monospace, berline, 4×4, etc.

The law of division affects also countries. In the 18th century, you had about 35 empires. Today, you have 192 countries.

Each segment is a separate entity, and each of them has their own leaders. Don’t make the mistake to think that categories will merge. They won’t. And if they do, this will in fact create a new product, a third category.

Since there are many categories, you need to be specific in what you sell. Don’t sell “financial services”. Sell banking, mortgages, home insurances, stocks brokering services, etc.

Don’t use your brand name that exists in one category for another category (unless you are Virgin). When you create a new category or sell a new product that is separate from your main category, create a new brand.

Also sometimes you are too early. Don’t worry, it is better to be too early than too late.


11. The Law of Perspective

Marketing results take time.

This law is simple. What gives pleasure now will hurt later (drugs, alcohol, porn, sugar).

What hurts now will give happiness later (exercise, healthy eating, etc).

This is equally true in marketing. Long term effects = opposite of short term effects.

Eg: sales. Sales increase the volume of sold products in the short term, but decrease it in the long term. Sales teach customers NOT to buy if it’s not on sale, and to wait for the sales.

It’s the same thing for coupons.

Once they start discounting their goods, companies must keep it rolling NOT to increase sales, but to avoid their collapsing. It’s like taking drugs. You become addicted.

A hack to avoid that is to practice “low price constantly”. No need to wait for sales – it’s every day!

It’s the same thing for category extension. In the short term, it will increase your volume of products sold. In the long term, one of your categories will die.


12. The Law of Line Extension

Don’t extend the brands beyond its core products. You will kill it.

The most violated law of the book.

When you create or sell new products that have nothing to do with your main category, create a new brand. You will kill your current brand otherwise.

When a company becomes incredibly successful, it invariably plants the seeds for its future problems.

This law exists because marketing is a battle of perception. Not product.

If Ketchup made mayonaise called “Ketchup Mayo”, it would kill its brand, because ketchup is one thing.

Not several.

The reason why brands keep on making the mistake to extend brands is that it works in the short term. But it almost always fails in the long term (five years or so).

More is less: the more products, markets, alliances you make, the less money you will earn.

Less is more: narrow your focus so you can stand for something in the prospect’s mind.


13. The law of Sacrifice

If you want to get something, you need to give up something else.

This law follows the idea of the previous law. To be successful tomorrow, you need to give up something today (less is more).

First the product line: the more you have to sell, the less you sell. The less you have to sell, the more you sell.

Second, the market: the more you focus on one type of customer, the broader your customers will be: Eg: Marlboro. Marlboro focused increasingly on men at the beginning. Then it focused only on manly men – the cowboy.

Now, it is the leader, and it is bought by everyone.

Third, constant change. The best way to maintain your position is not to change in the first place.

Good things come to those who sacrifice.


14. The Law of Attributes

For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute.

As we said above, don’t copy. Be different. If your competitor uses an attribute, use the exact opposite.

If you are up against an “old” company, be young. If you are up against tradition, be disruptive.

Marketing is a battle of ideas. If you hope to succeed, you need to have your own ideas (or a very low price).

If your competitor focuses on kids, focus on adults. If it focuses on fast, be slow. Etc.


15. The Law of Candor

Admitting something negative will be positively perceived.

We have been hammered with positive statements so much that we now take them with a pinch of salt.

“Number one”, “the best of the best”, and such catchphrases need to bring proofs to be believed by the customers.

It’s not the case for negative statements. They are accepted right away.

As such, if your brand or product has a problem, talk about it in your ad.

Eg: “Listerine, the taste you hate twice a day.” That’s because it used to taste really bad. Etc.

When the default of your product is so big, you can play with it. Marketing is often a search for the obvious, so play with the obvious.

When you admit a problem, people open their minds instantly. They become receptive to your message.

Be careful though. The law of candor must be used carefully. The negative you are talking about must be perceived as a negative everywhere. If it’s not clear that it’s a negative, the customers will be confused – NEVER CONFUSE CUSTOMERS. Also, admitting that negative must lead to a positive.

In the case of Listerine, it is implied that the bad taste kills more germs.


16. The Law of Singularity

In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results.

Many people think they are successful after making a lot of small steps. Others think it is because they try hard.

Whether you try hard or easy, the differences will be marginal. The bigger the company, the more the law of averages will destroy any meaningful effort.

The only thing that works in marketing is the single, bold hit. In any situation, there is only ONE move that will produce substantial results.

In army jargon, this is called “the bold stroke”. It is hitting where the enemy is weak. It should be the same thing in marketing. Make bold moves that strike huge hits!


17. The Law of Unpredictability

Unless you write your competitor’s plans, you can’t predict the future.

Marketing plans based on what will happen in the futur are wrong. No one can predict anything three days ahead (so no one can predict anything three years ahead neither).

Most of the time, companies that predict future fail because they fail to predict the competition.

You can’t have a long-term plan – you need a long-term direction. Good plans are short-term plans that enable you to choose a word or concept to differentiate your brand. You should hammer this differentiator in the long-term – that’s the direction.

The best way to “predict the future” is to observe trends and surf on it.

Remember Peter’s law: the unexpected always happens.

One way to cope with an unpredictable world is to build an enormous amount of flexibility into your organization. As change comes sweeping through your category, you have to be willing to change and change quickly if you are to survive in the long term.

Predicting the future does not equal taking a chance on the future. If you don’t try, you cannot know.


18. The Law of Success

Success often leads to arrogance and arrogance to failure.

Ego is the enemy of success. You need objectivity if you hope to succeed.

When people become successful, they stop looking at the world from an objective point of view and assign their ideas as the objective truth.

This law partly explains the motivation behind line extension. When products are successful, managers suggest it is because of the name. It is the opposite though. The name became successful because you made the right marketing moves (you got into people’s minds, narrow your focus, attached a powerful attribute.

The bigger the company, the more likely it is that the CEO lost touch with reality. As a CEO, you should visit the lowest level of your company often since this is where all of the work is done. This enables you to see reality as it is. Marketing should be the primary activity CEOs take care of. It is too important to be given to someone else.


19. The Law of Failure

Failure is to be expected and accepted.

Most companies try to fix products and categories instead of dropping them altogether. When you make a mistake, realize it fast and move on. Or, in the words of Sam Walton: “ready, fire, aim”.


20. The Law of Hype

The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.

When a business is going well, it doesn’t need the hype to get it running. When companies start communicating with the press often, it means they need publicity – and so things aren’t going so well. Creating hypes usually means the company has problems.

The more hype a company received, be it at the beginning or during its lifespan, the higher the chances it will die. What is successful in the press is often a failure in reality.

The announced revolutions are often wrong. The only ones you can predict are those that have already started.

So don’t believe the hype. Hype is just hype. Revolutions come unannounced in the middle of the night, and surprise everyone.


21. The Law of Acceleration

Successful marketing is not built on hype, it’s built on trends.

A fad is a wave in the ocean. A trend is the tide. Powerful but invisible in the short term.

Don’t build companies on hypes, because they don’t last long enough. You should rather build companies on trends (fashion is a hype that always ends up coming back).

When the hype disappears, a company often goes bankrupt.

Companies that suddenly explode with a product (Crocs) will eventually go bust very shortly. As such, if this is your case, all you can do is slow down the hype, and stretch it to transform it into a trend.

This problem often happens with toy manufacturers. They try to sell as many toys as fast as possible. As a result, once everyone got one, they go bankrupt.

The most acclaimed celebrities are the ones that regulate their appearances. The less you get seen, the more popular you grow. This is why former presidents are more popular than when they were presidents.

“One way to maintain a long-term demand for your product is to never totally satisfy the demand.” However, the best thing to do still is to spot a long-term trend, and ride it.


22. The Law of Resources

Without adequate funding, an idea won’t get off the ground.

You need money to get your idea off the ground, both for your product, as well as for marketing. Marketing is a fight to get into the minds of prospects. Penetrating minds costs money. So you need money.

Ideas without money are not worth anything. You gotta use the idea to get the money to fund the marketing.

Be ready and willing to spend a lot. Those who win are those that give themselves the means to.

Leave a Reply