Bookshelf

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

Violate Them at Your Own Risk!

by Al Ries, 123 pages

Finished on 19th of January, buy here.
Listen to these book notes on the Teesche Podcast.

This book tried to find unchanging laws of marketing, but it has clearly failed and possibly not even worked during the period of its publication in 1993. Many of the laws have been proven incorrect and certain examples like Microsoft’s certain doom are laughable.

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Many companies who were the first in a product category or who managed to change the perception of the public to the benefit of their products, succeeded.
  2. If your company focuses on few core strengths, doesn’t lie about its own success and position in the market, doesn’t get over-ambitious and isn’t overly impressed by its own success or failures, you stand a good chance of making it longterm.
  3. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and never try to fight a trend – you will need to take risks and make bets, but do so carefully and don’t overestimate your own quality of judgment.

🎨 Impressions

This short book of just over one hundred pages is supposed to give an overview of what is known to work in marketing and what isn’t. The most important word of the title is “immutable” – meaning persisting over time, promising a good general overview of indisputable and proven methods. After having finished the book, I think this has been the worst choice of a title for this book. A more honest title would have been something like “The 22 Laws of Marketing Which We Think Mostly Apply And Kind of Hope Won’t Ever Change.”

Sure, there’s a lot of truth to many of the mentioned 22 observations of what has worked in the market most often. But as the book itself states, in marketing, there is no such thing as the truth, or facts, there is just the perception of the consumer.

It’s just hard to believe the author and trust his judgment when he so strongly feels about his predictions when you know he has been wrong about so many of them. The book has been published in 1993, a time when personal computing and the internet was just about to get started. At the time he felt very strongly that companies like Sun Microsystems would soar but Microsoft would fail with its strategy, according to his invented laws. Sun was sold just before going bankrupt, and Microsoft is still one of the main players in the field today. He then went on to tout Steve Jobs and his company at the time, Next, to be worthless and doomed, when we all know the groundbreaking software he and his team developed there, improving Apple’s situation a lot when it acquired Next’s Intellectual Property later. And on the other hand he talks about how hard Donald Trump has failed, while we now can’t really say he has failed in life when he made it to become the president of the USA.

This casts doubt on the validity of his other statements, of course. Maybe those are about to be disproven sometime in the future, too? Many of the 22 already have been.

Thus this book made me realize how much marketing is about people and the political and socioeconomic situation those people find themselves in in a certain historical era. And that’s always a subject to change. Trying to find immutable laws which can be applied to whatever people in whatever situation in whatever time period, seems to be a futile effort. I’ll try to find a book about marketing which is set one level above this one and one which is a level below it but written for the current times we’re living in. I hope those will lead somewhere more helpful.

🍀 How the Book Changed Me

  • In order to learn about the topic, I tried to begin with a classic book, but the most important thing I have learned is that it’s highly difficult to put down unchanging facts of marketing apparently. Observations and predictions about what works in the market are subject to the level 2 chaotic system which is global human economics. [A level 2 chaotic system is a chaotic system which reacts to predictions about itself, making it impossible to predict anything.] It’s impossible to know for certain why a strategy of any given company has failed or succeeded, because it’s impossible to see and understand all factors which played a role.
  • As my first book about the topic, this has been a hard reality check. Is marketing unlearnable? Is everything really just based on trial and error, as some of my marketing friends and colleagues have suggested? I need to find out more and read more books.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  1. Marketing is a game of mental warfare. It’s a battle of perceptions, not products or services.
  2. A trend is like the tide—you don’t fight it.
  3. Success is the best revenge of all.

📔 Highlights & Notes

The basic issue in marketing is creating a category you can be first in.

Not only does the first brand usually become the leader, but also the sales order of follow-up brands often matches the order of their introductions.

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

When you launch a new product, the first question to ask yourself is not “How is this new product better than the competition?” but “First what?” In other words, what category is this new product first in?

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.

You want to change something in a mind? Forget it. Once a mind is made up, it rarely, if ever, changes. The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is try to change a mind.

Apple’s problem in getting into its prospects’ minds was helped by its simple, easy-to-remember name.

There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect.

The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion.

Most marketing people think the battle between the three brands is based on quality, styling, horsepower, and price. Not true. It’s what people think about a Honda, a Toyota, or a Nissan that determines which brand will win. Marketing is a battle of perceptions.

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

In general, a mind accepts only new data that is consistent with its product ladder in that category.

Then make sure your program deals realistically with your position on the ladder [of your category’s products ranked by success].

When you take the long view of marketing, you find the battle usually winds up as a titanic struggle between two major players—usually the old reliable brand and the upstart.

We repeat: The customer believes that marketing is a battle of products. It’s this kind of thinking that keeps the two brands on top: “They must be the best, they’re the leaders.”

Much like a wrestler uses his opponent’s strength against him, a company should leverage the leader’s strength into a weakness.

You must discover the essence of the leader and then present the prospect with the opposite.

A good No. 2 can’t afford to be timid. When you give up focusing on No. 1, you make yourself vulnerable not only to the leader but to the rest of the pack.

Each segment is a separate, distinct entity. Each segment has its own reason for existence. And each segment has its own leader, which is rarely the same as the leader of the original category.

Today Trump is $1.4 billion in debt. What made him successful in the short term is exactly what caused him to fail in the long term.

Invariably, the leader in any category is the brand that is not line extended.

The antidote for line extension is corporate courage, a commodity in short supply.

If you want to be successful today, you should give something up. There are three things to sacrifice: product line, target market, and constant change.

Marketing is a game of mental warfare. It’s a battle of perceptions, not products or services.

Some attributes are more important to customers than others. You must try and own the most important attribute.

Your job is to seize a different attribute, dramatize the value of your attribute, and thus increase your share.

So it may come as a surprise to you that one of the most effective ways to get into a prospect’s mind is to first admit a negative and then twist it into a positive.

Every negative statement you make about yourself is instantly accepted as truth.

History teaches that the only thing that works in marketing is the single, bold stroke. Furthermore, in any given situation there is only one move that will produce substantial results.

Failure to forecast competitive reaction is a major reason for marketing failures.

So what can you do? How can you best cope with unpredictability? While you can’t predict the future, you can get a handle on trends, which is a way to take advantage of change.

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.

There’s a difference between “predicting” the future and “taking a chance” on the future.

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.

Your success puffs up your ego to such an extent that you put the famous name on other products. Result: early success and long-term failure as illustrated by the failure of Donald Trump.

Brilliant marketers have the ability to think like a prospect thinks. They put themselves in the shoes of their customers. They don’t impose their own view of the world on the situation.

A trend is like the tide—you don’t fight it.

When things are going well, a company doesn’t need the hype. When you need the hype, it usually means you’re in trouble.

Steve Jobs makes television news as well as the cover of many major publications. IBM, Ross Perot, and Canon have invested $130 million. Will Next be a winner? Of course not. Where is the opening? Next is the first in a new category of what?

Remember the helicopter hype after World War II? Every garage would house a helicopter, making roads, bridges, and the entire automobile industry obsolete overnight. Did Donald Trump get a helicopter? Did you get yours? (Donald actually did get his, but he had to give it back to the bank.)

Ideas without money are worthless. Well … not quite. But you have to use your idea to find the money, not the marketing help. The marketing can come later.

The more successful marketers front load their investment. In other words, they take no profit for two or three years as they plow all earnings back into marketing.

If you violate the immutable laws, you run the risk of failure. If you apply the immutable laws, you run the risk of being bad-mouthed, ignored, or even ostracized. Have patience. The immutable laws of marketing will help you achieve success. And success is the best revenge of all.

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