Just like there are laws of thermodynamics and the universe at large, there are laws for marketing.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (by Al Ries and Jack Trout)

Twenty-two to be precise.

In their book, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”, Al Ries and Jack Trout, possibly the best marketing strategists the world has seen today, outline each of these laws in distinct detail.

Right now, I’ll be breaking down each of these 22 laws and summarizing them for you.

Law #1: The Law of Leadership

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

If you’re the first one in the market you’re already a step ahead of the rest. The law of leadership applies to any industry, any product or service or any brand.

The idea is to create a category you can be first in, rather than convincing potential prospects your offering is the better choice.

People always recognize the product that got there first as the leader in the market and the better product — and marketing is a clash of perceptions, not products and services.

Examples: How many times have you said if you could make a “Xerox” copy? Or get a “Kleenex”? Or buy a “Coke”? Even if the machine is clearly not a Xerox, the tissue paper just a generic brand, and the soda, not Coca-Cola, the brand sticks in your mind as it got there first.

Law #2: The Law of Category

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

Most people are interested in what’s new in the market, rather than what’s better. If the industry you’re in is already saturated and has a lot of competition, you need to start thinking differently.

When launching a new product or service, don’t be focused on how this product is better than what the competition has, but rather what category is this product a “first” in. The idea is to always be first.

And if you’re first in a “new” category, you need to promote that category, and not the product. Then, you won’t have to worry about your competition as you’re already first in that category.

Examples: Although IBM was the first company in computers, Dell was the first to market their computers by phone. Even though Marie Curie was not the first woman scientist, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Law #3: The Law of The Mind

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

Once you’ve made up your mind about something, how difficult is it to change it?

That’s exactly what this law is about. In marketing, being first in the “mind” is critical and precedes being first in the market.

This law modifies the first law, asserting that being first in the market is only important if you can get into the mind of the consumer first.

Once a mind is made up, no matter how much you spend in marketing, it’s going to be difficult to change it. In fact, it’s one of the most wasteful things you can do.

However, one way to achieve this is to have a simple brand name that resonates with prospects.

Law #4: The Law of Perception

Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perception.

Marketing is nothing but a manipulation of perception in the mind of the prospect. Everything else is just an illusion. There are no “best” products and services.

If you market a product thinking that the product is the champion of the marketing plan and will win or lose based on its merits, you’ve got it all wrong.

Marketing a product or service has nothing to do with its quality or its features, but about how people perceive the product or service. This perception is true reality.

Example: In the United States when you think of Honda you may think of a high-quality reliable car manufacturer, however in India, Honda is best known for its motorcycles, with car sales nowhere close to other brands. If quality was all that mattered, then Honda would have had the same position in all markets.

Law #5: The Law of Focus

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

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of IBM? You might have said “computers.” What about Intel? You probably said “computer chips.”

The true essence of marketing is “narrowing” your focus and what you stand for. The premise being that if you chase after everything, you won’t be remembered for anything.

The simpler this focus or this “word”, the better. Large corporations who are already the leaders in their market (as per the law of leadership) already have a word in their category, such as FedEx owns the word “overnight.”

If you’re not a leader in your market, you need to pick a word with a narrow, benefit-oriented focus — no matter how complicated your product is.

Once you have your word, you must do everything you can to protect it in the market.

Law #6: The Law of Exclusivity

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

Following the law of focus, picking a unique word that applies only to you, comes the law of exclusivity, which basically states that you should not try to take over a word that is already taken.

If the word is already “owned” by your competition, and already in the “mind” of prospects, its highly unproductive to try to take over that word — no matter what efforts you take or how much money you spend.

Example: Burger King could not compete with their major competitor McDonald’s when they tried to take over the word “fast.” FedEx could not take over the word “worldwide” from their competitor DHL.

Law #7: The Law of The Ladder

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

Your marketing strategy should depend on which rung you occupy on the ladder, or where your unique position is in the market. It’s no secret that when a prospect makes decisions they have a hierarchy in mind.

It can be disastrous to claim something that you are clearly not, as you have to remember as per Law 3, the mind of the prospect is already made up.

If you’re No. 2 or 3 or further down the ladder, you need to acknowledge that and use a different marketing strategy to your advantage.

Example: Although McDonald’s is first in fast-food, Wendy’s did not claim to be “fast” but adopted the campaign “fresh, never frozen,” to carve their niche and compete with the big fast-food chains.

Law #8: The Law of Duality

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

In the beginning, when you carve your way into a new category you may be on a ladder with many rungs.

But eventually, the ladder will turn into one that has two rungs, with the top two companies competing for market share. This is true for every market.

Examples: Microsoft and Apple. Coca-Cola and Pepsi. McDonald’s and Burger King. FedEx and DHL.

Law #9: The Law of The Opposite

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

This law basically states that when the leader is strong, it’s a good time for the competitor second in line to catch the leader off-guard and turn the tables.

Doing this means two things:

First, No. 2 should not emulate the leader, but rather do the exact opposite to stand out. It’s not about being better, but about being different.

Second, leveraging the leader’s strength into a weakness takes courage, so No. 2 cannot afford to go into this battle being coy and fearful.

Example: Competing with Levi’s, the established first name in jeans, Gap kicked off a campaign a decade ago marketing their denim as “quality jeans at an inoffensive price.” Similarly, Coca-Cola’s time-honored brand was met by Pepsi marketing itself as the choice of the young generation.

Law #10: The Law of Division

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

As time progresses, one category will split into more categories.

If you take computers, you’ll find there are category leaders in each separate category of what it takes to make a computer — from the processor to the RAM, to the graphics card.

Similarly, if you take aircraft, what started out as a single category is now divided into passenger airplanes, cargo planes, helicopters, private jets and more.

If a leader chooses to maintain their dominance, when they enter a new category, they need to go into it by establishing a new brand name. It rarely works if a brand name that has been successful in one category, will be successful in another.

Example: When Toyota wanted to create a new luxury car, they created and marketed it under a new brand, Lexus.

Law #11: The Law of Perspective

Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.

In marketing, one point that’s important to remember is that long-term planning should not necessarily be sacrificed for short-term gains.

Example: When a company holds a sale it may see increases to its balance sheet in the short-term, however in the long-run what it is actually doing is indirectly telling its customers that the best time to buy its products is when there’s a sale, hurting profits and their bottom line in the long-term.

Law #12: The Law of Line Extension

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

When a company is running successfully, it may decide to take a line extension, which basically means, taking its brand name and putting it on a new product that it plans to put out in the market.

This could eventually lead to a successful, profitable brand that is focused on one flagship product or service losing money over more offerings.

The key is to be the best in your niche, and not try to be all things to all people.

Less is always more. The narrower the focus, the better you’ll be able to fortify your position in the mind of the prospect.

In order to address new markets, create a new brand, rather than extending the equity of your current brand into the new market.

Law #13: The Law of Sacrifice

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

The Law of Sacrifice is actually the opposite of Law 12, the law of line extension. What the Law of Sacrifice states is that in order to be successful you need to give up something.

There are three things that you can sacrifice if you want to keep succeeding doing what you do:

  • Target market
  • Product line
  • Constant change

Law #14: The Law of Attributes

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

Many times a company may try to follow, be like or imitate the leader or the competition and fail miserably.

In order to succeed, you need to find your own “word,” or your own attribute.

The key is to find an attribute that is actually opposite to what the leader is using — a similar attribute will not work.

You also have to realize that all “words” or attributes are not created equal. Some will be more important in the eyes of the prospect.

When competing, you must try to find the most significant attribute that will hold value to the customer. You never know which attribute will work, so never scoff at one.

Law #15: The Law of Candor

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

It might go against everything you think you know as a marketer, but one of the best ways to get into the mind of a consumer is to admit to a problem.

Being able to honestly admit a negative, automatically makes it the truth, as no proof is needed for admitting to something that is negative.

This immediately catches a prospect’s attention and is a great way to get into the mind of a prospect.

When you admit to something negative, it requires skill, and you instantly have to back it up with something positive — and the prospect has to agree to it.

Example: Avis openly admitted that it is No. 2 after Hertz in rent-a-cars, by using the slogan “We Try Harder.”

Law #16: The Law of Singularity

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

As a marketer, you may think that success in marketing will be achieved after a long journey of well-executed marketing efforts, but the truth is that all it takes is one good shot.

Just like the 80/20 rule, the Law of Singularity states that in marketing, only one move can generate sizable results.

For marketers, the key is to always know what is going on in the marketplace and to strike where the competitor is most vulnerable.

Law #17: The Law of Unpredictability

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

One of the most futile things a company can do is to predict what their competition might do and draw out their marketing plans based on this assumption.

Nobody can predict the future, so the best thing you can do is to build enough flexibility into your company and your marketing strategy so that you can respond quickly to any situation you may be faced with.

Law #18: The Law of Success

Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.

When it comes to successful marketing, there’s one major enemy — ego.

Often, when people taste success they become less objective, replacing their own judgment for what the market demands.

In order to be an effective marketer, you need to be objective and not let your ego get in the way. Drop your arrogance, and be objective.

Law #19: The Law of Failure

Failure is to be expected and accepted.

There’s no easy way to put this — but drop things that don’t work. What most companies will do is to try and fix things or “reorganize” to fix the situation, which rarely ever works.

What this law states is that it is better to recognize failure for what it is and cut your losses early.

Law #20: The Law of Hype

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

Often when things are going well, a company rarely needs hype or attention. When it does need it, however, is when things are not going its way, and definitely when the company is in trouble.

It’s also important to remember that hype is not directly proportional to the success of a product or service.

Example: Google Glass was heavily hyped, with millions itching to try it, however, it didn’t live up to consumer expectations.

Law #21: The Law of Acceleration

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

A fad is a brief surge in fame for any product, that has a short lifespan. Think of fad diets, clothes, and toys. Once the novelty is gone, the fad quickly goes out of mind, for the prospect.

Trends, on the other hand, can go on for years. For example, instead of a fad diet, the trend of eating healthy organic food is sure to go on for much longer.

So, if you’re faced with a business that seems more like a fad, the best thing to do is to dampen it out and stretch it, to make it more of a trend.

Law #22: The Law of Resources

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

It’s no secret that all marketing requires adequate resources. It takes money to get into the mind of a prospect. And it may take even more money to keep that place.

Once you have an idea, you will need the resources to develop it. Don’t expect your idea to take off without sufficient funding.

How You Can Use “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” To Win

Here are a few guidelines to wrap up:

  • Come up with one focus “word” for your product or service, or a category that you can be the “first” in.
  • Think about which rung you occupy on the ladder along with your competition and then craft out your marketing plan accordingly
  • If you already have a successful brand and are looking to expand, consider a new brand name to enter a new category
  • Ask yourself how you can gain in the long-term rather than looking at only short-term gains
  • If you need to sacrifice a new product line to be the leader in your industry – do it.
  • Don’t try to emulate the leader, do something different to stand out.
  • Execute your marketing efforts with one bold stroke instead of smaller weaker ones.
  • Be flexible with your marketing plans, and willing to change when needed.
  • If something does not work, drop it.

Got any ideas of what to start doing or do differently?