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Content Marketing & SEO Blog

Blog about startup growth strategies revolving around content marketing, SEO, CRO, and social media marketing.

The 22 immutable laws of marketing with my opinions

Sean Smith

"The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" is a book with 22 Innovative guerrilla marketing rules written by Al Ries and Jack Trout nearly 20 years ago that still stand evident today. This is a summary of the 22 laws, to give a clear understanding without having to toil through the book or buy it yourself. (though I do recommend you buy it and read it, it's seriously good) Here they are companied by my brief take on each of them.

1. The law of Leadership.

"It is better to be first than it is to be better" 

it is far more effective to enter a realm first, and be known as the first to do something rather than try to convince someone that your product is better. Everyone remembers Neil Armstrong as the first to walk on the moon, though many others have done it far more efficiently and arguably better. Nobody cares about the "better" moon walk, you could also say the same thing about Michael Jackson.. and his moon walk. Right, next. 

2. The law of Category.

 "If you can't be the first in a category, start a new category"

Like Steve Jobs with his iPad, we had mobile interface, it wasn't until Steve created an entirely new category of "tablets" that we had such a surge in large mobile interfaces. Jobs created the tablet category, he was the first to perfect it and thus Apple owns ~90% of the market share. 

3. the law of the Mind.

"It's better to be first in the mind of the consumer, than to be the first in the market"

Apple was not the first in the desktop pc market place, neither did they set out to be. They were the first in the consumer's mind when you think about a powerful desktop experience. iMac or Mac Pro, can you name another powerhouse setup by name? I know I jerry-rigged a ton of huge gaming server machines together in my day to play COD and WoW at 300fps, but would you really consider that a product that you would desire? Apple owned the space in the mind of the consumer, even though they had hardly any market share. 

4. the law of Perception

"Marketing is not a battle of products, it's a battle of perceptions"

There is no objective reality, there is no best product. All perceptions of quality are just that, perceptions. Manipulating perceptions is the way to be coined as the best. Charging far more than your competitor makes people believe you are of higher quality, or simply have a "better product."  Perceptions such as this can boost any marketing profile.

5. the law of Focus

"The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect's mind"

You burn your way into the consumer's mind by narrowing the "focus" to a single word or concept. "SEO" instead of internet marketing. iPad, not "super tablet of supreme awesomeness with huge effects and super gyros." Simplifying down to a level of supremacy in a space. 

6. the law of Exclusivity

"Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect's mind"

When a competitor owns a "coined" word, it is futile to attempt to own the same word. SEOmoz owned the acronym "SEO" and even when Hubspot coined the word "Inbound" SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin teamed up with the Hubspot CEO to create, associating SEOmoz with the coined word "Inbound" as Rand saw the market shifting towards a holistic "inbound" focus, rather than on SEO. As SEO as a term diminished in relevance, and the association with "Inbound" rose in credibility, Rand took the SEO out of SEOmoz's name. Luckily (but not by accident) MOZ had gained enough brand equity itself that all association from SEO still regards MOZ as the "SEOmoz" of yesteryear. MOZ essentially kept all equity from the SEO coined term as they moved over to the inbound focused company that it is today. In this case exclusivity was interestingly maneuvered to be associated to two companies that now dominate the space. Though they are merged by common interest of "" which was founded together. Interesting to see how a true son of marketing used his expertise to navigate around the edge of this immutable law.

7. the law of the Ladder

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

It may be better to be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond. Pagani surely started as a small fish in a big pond, entering into the Italian supercar arena against the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini to make his mark on the world of auto manufacturing. He used extraordinarily high prices, impeccable craftsmanship, partnerships with AMG for their engines (as to create some sense of scale and pre-ordained authority) and outrageous styling to jolt his creations into the forefront of the automotive industry. He knew his place on the ladder, going up against giants from his warehouse in Italy, and he played his cards excellently. 

8. the law of Duality

"In the long run, every market becomes a two-headed competition" 

In every new category is a ladder with many rungs, gradually the ladder becomes a two-rung face-off. Apple & Microsoft competing on desktop supremacy. Google and Bing on search engine supremacy. Amazon and Apple on e-reading. MOZ and Hubspot on inbound marketing software solutions. Google Drive and Dropbox on mass adoption Cloud storage. Each category eventually reaches a bottle-neck. The competitors locked in the bottle-neck will every-so-often swap out but the bottle-neck always remains. Myspace and Facebook, Facebook and Twitter, Twitter and LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ all in a dead-heat but on slightly different rungs of the ladder. There will always be a bottle-neck of higher-end competition, the real place to look for the next big thing is lower on the ladder.

9.  the law of Opposite.

"If you're shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader" 

The key for #2 is to leverage an opponents strength into a weakness. Samsung's Galaxy vs Apple's iPhone. "The next big thing is already here" campaign expresses this law in perfect view. It points out what is seemingly good about Apple and shows how it really isn't all that great. They poke fun at the consumers who wait in line to get Apple products for a long time, who go crazy over incremental improvements on new generation products, how Apple doesn't do out-of-scope things on their incremental improvements in their products before launching a completely different product. All of these things can be polarized to seem either an incredible up-side, or an annoying downside. The point is that the people Samsung were marketing after with this message, were all the people who already have a gripe with Apple, who already don't want to buy they products. Samsung just solidified all of those users who won't buy Apple into now Samsung users. I doubt one Apple fanboy saw that commercial and thought "Wow, they're right, screw Apple" no, it was for the other realm of techies who like their self-made gaming rigs and Linux based PCs to solidify the other edge of the market share. They shot for #2 and spiked their user-base in the process. 

10. the law of Division

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

The PC is a good point of this. The desktop computer created a new category, the personal computer. The personal computer was then split into desktop, and laptop. The mobile landscape split once the tablet was created, making smart-phones not the only mobile web interface anymore. Think about how many times the category for shoes has divided. Minimalist running shoes, basketball shoes, biking shoes, track shoes, soccer cleats, etc. I would be willing to wager that computers are just as important if not FAR more important than the invention of shoes were. There's sure to be many categories to come of computers that we haven't even thought of yet.

11. the law of Perspective

"Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time"

Long term effects are often the exact opposite of the short term effect. I worked at Aeropostale for a while, and in that time I realized how much I hated their marketing efforts and persona drivers. They weren't making quality products at high rates, instead they made low quality products in high quantity, and ALWAYS had huge "sales" running. These sales essentially just took off about 50% of the 500% markup they put on their products, but the consumer adopted an understanding that Aero always had sales going on so they had good "value." Which was completely bogus, but that was their marketing gimmick. This also trained all customers to buy in a funnel, where they would only buy the product that is on sale, so at any given moment triggering a sale on a targeted product would heavily increase sales towards their desired category. The same could be said about exclusivity in conjunction with this though. With companies like Bonobos who are VERY high quality, and not often have sales, when they do and what they have sales on, often fly off the shelves because of the quality you are getting, and a completely different "value" operation is created.

12. the law of Line Extension. 

"There's an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand"

A company that is tightly focused on selling a profitable product might find themselves thinly spread over many products and hemorrhaging cash. Being pressured to extend into other categories and thinly spreading your resources can cause a lapse in your market equity. Be very carefully about which way you branch out in your company. Make sure your new category will be able to survive on it's own, and not just that but thrive. Apple does a good job with this, Google blows a lot of money with this but doesn't seem to care and eventually adjusts, these companies have cushion though, they can fail and not feel the danger, startups can't. 

13. the law of Sacrifice. 

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

The three lines of sacrifice are: the product line, the target market and constant change. There is always a balancing act between these three, such as supply and demand when one scale tips, the others rise.  

14. the law of Attributes

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

Just like expensive and quality has it's worth as an attribute, cheap and quantity-focused has it's worth. Picking your attributes is a business decision and will ultimately effect your marketing potential and personas. 

15. the law of Candor

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

One of the most effective ways to get into a consumer's mind is to admit a negative and twist it into a positive. "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" "You ate it ralph" AlkaSeltzer nailed this one. Oh yeah? You ate the whole thing? It's okay, we've got a cover for that negative, here's AlkaSeltzer, problem meet answer. Done.

16. the law of Singularity

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

The only thing that works in marketing is a committed, single approach that is least expected by the competition and completely comprehendible to the target consumer. 

17. the law of Unpredictability

"Unless you write your competitors plans, you can't predict the future"

You can not predict the future, but you can get a handle on trends and take advantage of change. 

18. the law of Success

"Success often leads to arrogance, arrogance leads to failure"

Those who are market leaders substitute what they think for what the market wants, ultimately if the market doesn't conform to your ideals you will be sunk with this mentality. 

19. the law of  Failure.

"Failure is to be expected and accepted"

Realize that failure is the largest possible outcome to any venture, recognize it early and cut your losses. Sometimes it is better to drop things and move on rather than reorganize and try again. 

20. the law of Hype

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

When things are going well you do not need hype, when you do need hype you're usually in trouble. Hype marketing is now responsive marketing. Being quick can be the fastest way to make waves on the internet. See Oreo's "Dunk in the Dark" by 360i, that is hype marketing off of negative trend. Lights go out at the Superbowl, everybody hits their phones, Oreo puts out a message and instantly comforts millions. That is literally the best thing they could have done short of single handedly fixing the lights and sending over massive care-packages of Oreo's straight into the dome. 

21. the law of Acceleration

"Successful programs are not built on fads, they're built on trends"

Fad's get hype, but trend's stay around. Trend's get noticed, and that's the structure you want to build off of. If you build a business on the running room of a fad you will be out of business very quickly. 

22. the law of Resources

"Without adequate funding, an idea won't get off the ground"

The supposed reality is that a mediocre idea backed by a million dollars will get further than a great idea alone. I'm sorry but I have to completely disagree with this one. Tell it to Nick Woodman and his GoPro who is now worth over 1.3 billion dollars. Nick Woodman had 5,000 dollars to get the mold and to start the business of GoPro. It grew off of word-of-mouth, started because of a need for a camera while surfing and a lapse in the market, and went viral because of the content and passion that the community produced. Though it's easier to scale with something that is profitable from day 1, it doesn't take resources to create something incredible. It takes hustle, creativity, determination, passion and persistence. I agree with a lot of them, but this one is right out.  

Those are the "22 immutable laws of marketing" and though written 20 years ago, there can be some incredible current day relations made to every single one. Most stand evident today, some are up for matters of perspective, but all of them have their role to play. In the least it's food for thought and structure for creativity in your market.