Are there such things as “Immutable Marketing Laws” in a Web2.0 world?

One of the more lauded marketing books is “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  I’d not read it until recently so thought I’d write about it.

A bit of context here – this is a book that was written in 1993, long before the Internet was a part of everyone’s daily lives and even longer before Facebook and Twitter were purely a cigarette pack idea.  So in our new super-connected 2.0 world do they still hold true?

Below is a list a very brief synopsis of each law as well as my thoughts on it (italicised)

  1. The Law of Leadership – It is better to be first than it is to be better. Don’t think this applies in today’s world.  This argument seems to be largely based on when manufacturing/production were critical to business success and time to market much longer.  The world is moving much faster nowadays and copying is easily done.  I remember reading somewhere that within 48hrs fashion houses showing their work on the catwalks of Paris or Milan, their clothes are already being ‘cloned’ in China. Also there isn’t as much to be gained by being first.  Sony Reader in the UK is another example – it was the first product to be properly launched in the market but as soon as Kindle came on board (a better product) sales dried up.  Here are some winners and losers in the social media sphere – thanks to Custom Marketing
  2. The Law of the Category – If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in. This is still important.  One example is that mentioned in the link above. Whilst Picassa was one of the first web based image manipulation services, Instagram decided that it would focus on being in the mobile space rather than the web space.
  3. The Law of the Mind – It is better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace. Absolutely.  As the book states “If marketing is the battle of perception, not product, then the mind takes precedence over the marketplace.”.  A recent example of this law at work is the tablet market.  Tablets were launched in the late 80s/ early 90s, however it wasn’t until the launch of the iPad that the market really took off.  The reason being that no one clearly articulated why tablet PCs so customers had no drive or desire to purchase it.
  4. The Law of Perception – Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions. What advertising is all about… it is not what you think of your product, but what customers think of it. “The perception is the reality.  Everything else is an illusion.”
  5. The Law of Focus – The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind. This is still important – whether it is the most powerful concept, I don’t know.  It can be if you know what that word is (which very few companies do).
  6. The Law of Exclusivity – Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind. Obviously this is within the same category.  No two companies can ‘own’ the same attribute in the customers’ minds – there will always be slight differences. So as a marketer you should try to find out what word prospects attribute to you and your competitors – no point promoting a value that people attribute to the competition
  7. The Law of the Ladder – The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder. Still applies to today;s world.  If you are a number two, act like one.  For example, Costa Coffee promoted a taste challenge comparing itself to Starbucks – a clear challenge to Starbucks’ dominance.  One of the best books on the subject of challenger brands is “Eating the big Fish”
  8. The Law of Duality – In the long run, every market becomes a two horse race. Ultimately in most industries you will have a few clear leaders and then the niche players.
  9. The Law of the Opposite – If you are shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader. A step on from Law #7, the aim is to reposition yourself or the competition.  One of the best examples of that recently was the Mac Vs Apple campaign, where Apple repositioned PCs as stuffy and old fashioned as well as promoting Macs to a higher plane 
  10. The Law of Division – Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories. As I see it, an extension from Law #2, where new innovations and changes lead the category to splinter off in different directions and new categories created.
  11. The Law of Perspective – Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time. Probably the most ‘abused’ law by companies, who require such quick ROI that they do not allow marketing to fully bed in with prospects.  I’ve briefly written about this lack of foresight before.
  12. The Law of Line Extension – There is an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand. In the book they focus on this as a negative, but I think we have many examples to show that (if managed properly) then line extensions can work – a few cases in point are Virgin and Tesco who have a multitude of business lines ranging from aviation to mobile to banking.
  13. The Law of Sacrifice – You have to give up something to get something.  Ries and Trout propose that in order to succeed you need to give up product line, target market or constant change. As they say ‘A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money’.  I agree with this law and the clearest example I see is Apple Macs.  Whilst most laptop/PC manufacturers have 10+ SKUs, there are in essence 4 Macs (Macbook, Macbook Pro, Macbook Air, iMac) all distinctive and easily understood.  When you look at the competition there seems to be an endless array of repetition, even within brands.
  14. The Law of Attributes – For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute. Another extension of a previous law, whereby if someone is promoting one attribute, then there is value is promoting the opposite – e.g. Pepsi’s Generation Vs Coke’s ‘Always the real thing’
  15. The Law of Candour – When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive. Endless stories have been told and written about the importance of customer service so I won’t go into it here but suffice it to say that this is critical if you want people to keep coming back.
  16. The Law of Singularity – In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results. Whilst I agree with this and can see some applications in today’s world, the challenge is identifying what that move is
  17. The Law of Unpredictability – Unless you write your competitor’s plans, you can’t predict the future. Look at the iPhone and iPad – revolutionary products that had a huge impact on the category and beyond (bandwidth consumption with iPhone and ebooks with iPad – although it could be argued that Kindle had already done some of the work)
  18. The Law of Success – Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure. MySpace, need one go one?
  19. The Law of Failure – Failure is to be expected and accepted. Only if you learn from it.  The reluctance to be wrong and keeping your butt out of the firing line means that risk taking in most companies’ marketing departments is minute.  Marketing is as much about science as it is about gut feeling and sometimes you will be 100% right and others you will be 0% wrong.  If we could accurately predict everything then we’d all be millionaire marketing geniuses.
  20. The Law of Hype – The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press. I see where the authors were going with this and to an extent I buy it, but on the other hand I think people are a little less trusting of what they see/read and therefore there is a bit more honesty in the hype.  Although sometimes people just don’t see it – e.g. SMS technology
  21. The Law of Acceleration – Successful programs are not built on fads, they’re built on trends. Yes, yes, yes.  Again, the problem is distinguishing the two and the pressure for short term sales leading to companies chasing fads.
  22. The Law of Resources – Without adequate funding, an idea won’t get off the ground. Great big fact ‘THIS IS A CRITICAL LAW’

All in all I enjoyed the book and found it interesting.  I would be interested to see a more up to date version of the book because whilst the theory is sound the people currently reading the book will have little or no frame of reference for the examples being used.


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