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The 22 immutable laws of marketing

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!



“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.”

– Al Ries, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

“The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is try to change a mind.”

– Al Ries, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.

Welcome to this summary of the book: the 22 immutable laws of marketing. Are there laws of marketing as there are laws of physics from which one cannot escape? This is the question asked by Al Ries and Jack Trout, marketing professionals and authors of the 22 Laws of Marketing.

The great lesson of the 22 Laws of Marketing is that you never JUST buy a product, you also buy the idea that you have of it: if you buy a Nespresso coffee machine, chances are it is not just to make good coffee. But also because it tells a story about your values, who you are and the tribe you belong to. Based on this strong premise, Al Ries and Jack Trout propose 22 marketing laws, which are inviolable laws, except to run to one’s own demise.

Set up a project – associative, cultural, sports, corporate – by ignoring them, and you can be sure that the project will fail.


the 22 immutable laws of marketing


1. The Law of Leadership

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

When you launch a product, it’s better to be first than it is to be better. At its birth in 1998, Google had two competitors:  Yahoo and Alta Vista, and is clearly not the first company in its category, that of the ‘Search Engine’. What do we do in these circumstances?

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.

We follow Law N°2 and create our own category. Yahoo and Alta Vista were Internet portals, i.e. they opened on a bouquet of services, including a search engine. Their mistake was clearly not to listen to their visitors, who came looking for a search engine and nothing else. What Google did was to create a category of its own – ‘the powerful search engine’ – and to do just that – Google created the simplest page in the world for a search engine, fantastically clean, with a single service: the search engine.

3. The Law of the Mind

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

Being first in the mind is everything in marketing. Being first in the marketplace is important only to the extent that it allows you to get in the mind first.

4. The Law of Perception

Marketing is not a battle of products; it’s a battle of perceptions.

What Law 3 teaches us is that if your customers think you are first, you will be first in reality, not the other way around. Studies show that Google and Yahoo are both equally effective when it comes to searching. If Google is the first in the minds of Internet users, it is not necessarily because it is the most efficient, but because users believe it is more efficient – Law N°4.

5. The Law of Focus

According to the authors in the 22 immutable laws of marketing, the most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind. Federal Express was able to put the word overnight into the minds of its prospects because it sacrificed its product line and focused on overnight package delivery only.

Now, you might associate the following brands with a specific word.

Crest. . . cavities

Mercedes. . . engineering

BMW. . . driving

Volvo. . . safety

Domino’s. . . home delivery

Pepsi-Cola. . . youth

Nordstrom. . . service

6. The Law of Exclusivity

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

When a competitor owns a word or position in the prospect’s mind, it is futile to attempt to own the same word.

As we mentioned earlier, Volvo owns safety. Many other automobile companies, including Mercedes Benz and General Motors, have tried to run marketing campaigns based on safety. Yet no one except Volvo has succeeded in getting into the prospect’s mind with a safety message.

7. The Law of the Ladder

The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.  

When we hear Google, we associate specific words with it. Google has keywords in the mind of Internet users. The word that Google has is for example ‘search engine’. When we think of Google, we think of “search engine” and vice versa.

According to the law of exclusivity, once a company owns a word in people’s mind, it is difficult to try to own it and the law N°7 warns that if you are in a category, you have to know how to keep your rank: in the public mind, there can’t be two companies that occupy the place of the Number 1. There is necessarily a company in the first position, in the second etc….

Yahoo, Google’s main competitor, would lose out by announcing ‘I’m first on search engines’, because in the minds of Internet users, this is not the case.

8. The Law of Duality

In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race.

Law N°8 provides that in the long run, there are always two competitors: the leader and the outsider. This is true in the case of Google, the leader with 60% of the requests on the web, while the outsider Yahoo is at 14%. The No. 3 (Baidu) is at about 5%.

It’s the same with Coca Cola and Pepsi etc.

9. The Law of the Opposite

If you’re shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.

Law N°9 tells us that every leader has his weak points. It’s wiser to exploit what the leader doesn’t do well. On the other hand, it’s a risky strategy to attempt doing better what the leader already knows how to do very well.

Google has its dark side and its detractors: the company conveys the image of an imperialist and limitless American worldwide company that wants to set up a new order, a new world, to control global information, sometimes with contempt for copyright and the privacy of its users. A search engine that takes the opposite view from Google on the opposite criteria – respect for privacy, guaranteed anonymity, taking into account the particularities of each country – is likely to succeed. It would even do better than Yahoo and Bing, because they are only trying in vain to make us believe that they can be more efficient search engines than Google.

10. The Law of Division

Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories.

According to this law, over time, a category will divide and become several sub-categories.  For example, in the water industry – a simple product by nature – we have seen flat water on one side and sparkling water on the other. This was followed by flavored and unflavored waters. And so on … Water for sportsmen, for babies, for women, for seniors.


the 22 immutable laws of marketing authors


11. The Law of Perspective

Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.

Among the 22 immutable laws of marketing, this law advocates, in short, not to sell your soul to the devil: do not try to make small immediate profits, because they lead in the long run to bankruptcy. Probably for this reason Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil “

But the way it seems to me that Google respects this law is mostly in its innovative team management, where the company gives its employees time they can freely use – 20% of their working time – to set up projects they like, without constraints from their boss. In other words, time that is rendered unproductive in the short term for Google, but which can become very profitable in the long term, if the projects prove promising.

12. The Law of Line Extension

There’s an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand.

One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that is highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thin over many products and is losing money.

Less is more. If you want to be successful today, you have to narrow the focus in order to build a position in the prospect’s mind.

What does IBM stand for? It used to stand for “mainframe computers.” Today it stands for everything, which means it stands for nothing.

Strategically, General Motors is in the same boat as IBM. GM is into anything and everything on wheels. Sedans, sports cars, cheap cars, expensive cars, trucks, minivans, even electric cars.

13. The Law of Sacrifice

You have to give up something in order to get something.

At first glance Google violates the law N°12 which says that it is better to be strong in some areas than to try to become strong in all because by doing everything you do nothing: news, books, phone, agenda, calendar, photos, videos, …, Google seems to be everywhere.

But if you take a good look at it, Google never goes beyond the scope of its category: information, and therefore remains consistent with its mission: “to organize information on a global scale and (…) make it universally accessible and useful”.

In the minds of Google’s customers, the strategy of being first in everything information-related is consistent with the perception of Google as an information giant. Law N°13 is the counterpart of Law N°12: it’s not because you touch everything that you grow and sometimes you have to know how to sacrifice in order to flourish. Let’s say that as long as Google doesn’t build highways or sell hamburgers, the company respects law N°13.

14. The Law of Attributes

For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute

It’s much better to search for an opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader. The key word here is opposite—similar won’t do.

Law N°14 teaches us that if we want to succeed, we have to take the opposite.

If the competition bets on ‘fast’, go ‘slow’. If it bets on ‘big’, be ‘small’. There is no point in following the leader on his field as Law 6 says. Thus, Google is known to be the search engine that brews wide. To take the opposite view would be to target very specific searches: a search engine on medical, a search engine on botany.

15. The Law of Candor

When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.

The law of candor states that admitting a default gives your company credit against all expectations. If your only message is ‘I am the best’, no one will believe you. If you say that you are not good somewhere, your customer will believe you more readily. Damn, if they say it, it’s bound to be true. And then you gain credibility. In its early days Google could have said, “We’re the last one to come in, all the more reason for us to work twice as hard”.

16. The Law of Singularity

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

According to Law No. 16, there is often only one strategy that leads to success, only one path. In other words, one must strike hard at a specific place. Discovering the precise place is the business of marketing people provided they are fully on the ground and in control. Google has always been able to sniff out the lead, the widget, the innovation that would strengthen its brand and its market share. Precisely because its innovations came from its teams, in other words from the field, and not from above, from its management.

Laws N°17, N°18 and N°19 can be read one after the other: the future is unpredictable (law N°17), and can lead to success which leads to arrogance and therefore failure (law N°18) or lead to failure from which lessons must be learned (law N°19).

17. The Law of Unpredictability

Unless you write your competitors’ plans you can’t predict the future.

You can’t predict the future because you can’t guess what the competition is going to do (Law N°17): you must therefore have a flexible organization, not just rely on the financial balance sheet of the quarter. The danger in working with trends is extrapolation. Many companies jump to conclusions about how far a trend will go.

With hundreds of computers and an army of meteorologists, no one can predict the weather three days in advance, so how do you expect to predict your market three years in advance? No one can predict the future with any degree of certainty. Nor should marketing plans try to.

18. The Law of Success

Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.

Success is a bad advisor because it suggests that you are loved for who you are when what you love is the product you are selling (law N°18). We do not salute your intelligence if we buy your product. We just salute your product. The rule: always stay close to the ground, which is more and more complicated when a company grows. And never delegate your marketing.

Ego is the enemy of successful marketing. Objectivity is what’s needed. When people become successful, they tend to become less objective. They often substitute their own judgment for what the market wants. Donald Trump and Robert Maxwell are two examples of people blinded by early success and untainted by humility. And when you’re blind, it is indeed hard to focus

19. The Law of Failure

Failure is to be expected and accepted.

Error is human; this could be the summary of Law N°19. One must just admit it and stop it before too much damage is done. Admitting a mistake and not doing anything about it is bad for your career. A better strategy is to recognize failure early and cut your losses. American Motors should have abandoned passenger cars and focused on Jeep. IBM should have dropped copiers and Xerox should have dropped computers years before they finally recognized their mistakes

For instance, Google respects this law. Google Glass does not work? Let’s give up and move on.

20. The Law of Hype

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

When IBM was successful, the company said very little. Now it throws a lot of press conferences. When things are going well, a company doesn’t need the hype. When you need the hype, it usually means you’re in trouble.

Over-communicating in the media does not prove your success: when you are successful, you no longer need the press (Law N°20).

21. The Law of Acceleration

Successful programs are not built on fads, they’re built on trends.

A fad is a short-term phenomenon that might be profitable, but a fad doesn’t last long enough to do a company much good. When the fad disappears, a company often goes into a deep financial shock.

Google is not a fashionable brand, and it’s a way of looking at the world that fits with the times.

Forget fads. And when they appear, try to dampen them. One way to maintain a long-term demand for your product is to never totally satisfy the demand. But the best, most profitable thing to ride in marketing is a long-term trend.

22. The Law of Resources

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

An idea without money is worthless, that’s what Law N°22 says. In other words, it is not marketing that will bring you more money; it is rather more money invested in marketing that will bring you customers.

Thank you for reading this summary of the 22 immutable laws of marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout, people also read:

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