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Notes on the 22 Immutable laws of marketing

For those of you that are interested in learning about basic marketing principles I’d like to recommend The 22 Immutable laws of marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

This is not a book review and I am not going to fully endorse this book, nor am I going to say that it’s a waste of your time. This is just a summary of some of the points that the authors cover in the book which I found to be interesting and thought provoking. Maybe you’ll gain a little nugget of information that will help you expand your marketing ideas and techniques online.

The premise behind this book is that in order for marketing strategies to work, they must be in tune with some quintessential force in the marketplace. Just as the laws of physics define the workings of the universe, so do successful marketing programs conform to the “22 Laws.” 

This book presents each law with illustrations of how it works based on actual companies and their marketing strategies. For example, the “Law of Focus” states that the most powerful concept in marketing is “owning” a word in the prospect’s mind, such as Crest’s owning cavities and Nordstrom’s owning service. 

When it comes down to it, I don’t entirely agree that any of the “laws” in this book are actually immutable. This book was written several decades ago at this point, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But it’s an interested exploration and I thought it would be worthwhile to share a summary of each law. I’m sure you’ll come away from this with an important nugget or idea that you can use in the future.

So without further ado, here is my summary of the 22 immutable laws of marketing:

Law # 1 is The law of leadership – it’s better to be first than it is to be better – marketing is the battle of perception, not products.

Law # 2 isThe law of the category – Promote the category. If you can’t be first in a category just create your own new category. (Examples: Gaming computer, magazine for mature women, Clothes for tall people, etc.)

Law # 3 isThe law of the mind – This law modifies law #1, the law of leadership. Being first in the mind is most important when possible. For example: Apple got off the ground with very little money. They had a simple, easy to remember name and a focused, creative ad plan.

Law #4 isThe law of perception – It’s not a battle of products. Do not focus on the facts, “the truth” and the features. This is all good, but marketers need to sell the product around what people want and perceive. Your name, slogan, image, message, etc. all need to factor into this.

Law #5 is The law of focus – Own a word in the mind of your prospect. Simpler words or concepts are the best. If you’re not first or a current leader, you need to reduce the scope of your operations and focus. Protect your word and continue to position yourself and focus on the law of the mind. Focus on a single, powerful word if possible.

Law #6 is The law of exclusivity – It’s hard for two competing companies to own the same word in the mind of the consumer. Example: The caretaker Volvo owns the word ‘safety’. Other companies have tried to run campaigns on safety, but only Volvo has succeeded in getting into prospect’s mind with a safety message.

Law #7 is The law of the ladder – Trying to get into the mind first is best but there are strategies to play off your competitors if you’re behind. “They’re big and we’re small and better”, “They’re more successful in the market but we try harder”, Sometimes it’s better to be 3rd on a big ladder than first on a small ladder.

Law #8 is The law of duality – Gradually over time, the battle becomes a two rung affair — in the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race. Gradually, as the market matures, players disappear and the market settles on exactly two primary players. Examples of this phenomenon are everywhere: Coke and Pepsi are one of the best examples.

Law #9 is The law of the opposite – Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity. Turn their strength into the weakness. Don’t try to be better, be different. There are people that want to buy from the leader and there are people that absolutely don’t want to buy from the leader. You are the alternative. A second rung company must go for these people. An example might be to go after a leading fried chicken company like KFC and promote your grilled, healthy options.

Law #10 is The law of division – The market is an ever divided sea of categories. The automobile industry is a perfect example. Find or create a new category and stick with it. Do not try to get into other categories after having success – history has shown this is a mistake.

Law #11 is The law of perspective – Most of the time, what works in the short term usually doesn’t work in the long term. Trying to get immediate results might cause you trouble years down the road. Focus on your core, long-term goals.

Law #12 is The law of line extension – Do not spread yourself too thin and try to be everything for everybody. Development, marketing budget, support, staff, perception, are all affected. Be strong somewhere instead of weak everywhere. Less is more. Narrow your focus.

Law #13 is The law of sacrifice – Rule 1 – Minimize product line (don’t be a dept. store without focus), Rule 2 – Limit your target market, Rule 3 – Be consistent. Have a brilliant narrow position and stick with it. DO NOT become all things to all people.

Law #14 is The law of attributes – Do not emulate the leader. Play off against the leader and offer something similar but opposite to differentiate. It doesn’t even have to be completely different, you just need a niche.

Law #15 is The law of candor – Consider being honest and admit a negative but twist it into a positive. With a name like Smucker’s it has to be good. We’re smaller and younger but more focused on you. Listerine tastes bad, but something so strong has to kill a lot of germs.

Law #16 is The law of singularity – Focus on several good marketing avenues. Don’t dabble a little in everything. Trying harder, or doing more will not equal success. Consider making a single bold stroke that is least expected by the competition. 

Law #17 is The law of unpredictability – Do not assume the future. Get a handle on trends not fads. If something can go bad, it will always go bad so prepare for it. Try to build an enormous amount of flexibility into your organization so when things change in your industry you’re ready to deal with it – and deal with it quickly. Always keep innovating.

Law #18  is The law of success – Lose your ego and be more objective. DO NOT substitute your own judgement for what the market truly wants. Do not blind yourself by success. Always think like a prospect, and try to base that on trends and real data. Don’t try to read your prospects mind. Do not oppose your view of the world or the customer. Never lose touch with the front lines.

Law #19  is The law of failure – Do not try to fix things. Recognize a failure early and change fast. The ready, fire, aim approach – try new ideas but nobody succeeds every time. Reward new ideas and the resulting success. Do not be afraid to take risks.

Law #20  is The law of hype – When your company needs “the hype” it usually means you’re in trouble or your plan is not strong or failing. New products that are going to “revolutionize the industry” are popular candidates for hype. Real revolutions don’t come down main street with a marching band – they sneak up on you in the middle of the night.

Law #21  is The law of acceleration – Do not focus on fads. Focus on trends.

Law #22  is The law of resources – Even the best idea in the world will not go far without proper funding. Ideas without money are worthless.

So that’s it! The 22 immutable laws of marketing. What do you think? In my opinion, the book is short, entertaining, thought-provoking, clear and easy-to-understand. The concepts, for the most part, still hold up and should be worth a read.

If you’d like to explore more “laws” like this for inspiration please check out The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by the same authors. It’s equally thought-provoking and provides many tidbits that you’ll undoubtably find to be valuable.

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About Chris Auman:

Chris Auman is a veteran digital marketer with over 25 years of experience in the trenches. As Sanctuary’s founder and President, Chris has successfully guided online marketing efforts for companies large and small.

Learn more about Chris.

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