Book Summary of the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries

Successful companies don’t solely rely on high-quality products and large marketing budgets. In their book published in 1993, marketing experts Al Ries and Jack Trout identified 22 laws that determine marketing success. The authors studied well-known and lesser-known brands for over 25 years to discover the strategies that lead to success and failure. These common principles have been condensed into the 22 immutable laws of marketing.

Convince Consumers That You’re the Only Viable Option

The initial four laws of marketing aim to make your brand the preferred choice in your market. Within every significant product category, there’s a single brand that consumers immediately associate with it, such as Hershey’s for chocolate or Scotch tape for cellophane tape. The most successful brands are the ones that are perceived as the defaults in their respective categories. Follow these laws to ensure that your product is the top choice among consumers.

Law #1 of marketing stresses the importance of being the first in your field, as first entrants are more successful and tend to remain market leaders over time.

Law #2 suggests creating a new category if you can’t be the first in your field, like Charles Schwab did by launching the first discount brokerage firm.

Law #3 emphasizes being the first brand in consumers’ minds, as this is crucial for success.

Law #4 states that perception is more important than fact in marketing. Consumers’ perception of your product is your most potent weapon, so it’s essential to build your marketing plan around how people form perceptions, using laws like #8 and #15. Marketing can manipulate people’s perceptions and realities.

Focus Your Message

The second set of marketing laws emphasizes the need to have a clear and unique marketing message that sets you apart from your competitors. By targeting a specific audience and focusing on a concise message, you can get the most traction in your marketing efforts. Use these laws to define your product in a way that is appealing to customers.

Law #5: Define Your Brand with One Word. Choose a simple, specific, and loaded word that sets you apart from competitors and implies desirable qualities. For example, Mercedes used ‘engineering’ to showcase innovations.

Law #6: Avoid competitors’ words. Using a word already associated with a competitor undermines creating a unique association between the word and your brand.

Law #7: Select the most valued attribute for your product, such as fighting cavities in toothpaste. If your competitor already claimed it, choose the next-best opposite attribute, like “whitening” or “fresh breath.” Avoid similar attributes to prevent being overshadowed.

Leverage Your Market Position

The following marketing laws explain how markets behave and how you can use this knowledge to improve your marketing strategy. Understanding your position in the market is key to crafting a successful message to consumers. These laws provide insights on how to leverage your market position for more effective marketing.

Law #8: Acknowledge your position in the market and use it to inform your advertising. Be honest with consumers about where you stand in the hierarchy of brands. Avis succeeded when it changed its campaign to say, “We’re No. 2, but we try harder.” This approach gave consumers a reason to choose Avis over the market leader.

Law #9: Over time, every market becomes a two-company race, with competitors fighting for the top two spots. It’s crucial to secure and maintain one of these spots to succeed.

Law #10: If you can’t be the market leader, embody the opposite of what they do best. Consumers are naturally drawn to the most popular brand or repelled by it. Stake your claim on the market share that wants something different by highlighting how your product is unique and better. For example, while Coca-Cola dominated the established cola market, Pepsi positioned itself as the fresh alternative for younger consumers.

Be Consistent

Consistency in product offerings is crucial for consumer trust. By focusing on positioning your product as the best and building a marketing campaign around it, customers will know what to expect from your brand. Changing your strategy or offerings will only confuse your customers and lead them to look for more familiar alternatives. Use the following laws to maintain consistency.

Law #11: As markets evolve, they tend to split into more specific categories. If a market leader wants to enter one of these new categories, they should use a new brand name to avoid confusing customers who associate the existing brand name with a specific attribute.

Law #12: Marketers must resist the temptation of short-term benefits and consider the long-term effects of their actions. For example, Miller High Life’s sales grew until they introduced Miller Lite. Although sales of Miller Lite tripled, sales of Miller High Life fell for 13 years, dropping below pre-Lite levels.

Law #13: Don’t launch new products in different categories under the same brand name. This can confuse customers and weaken your brand strength. For example, 7-Up’s market share more than halved when it introduced new flavors and diet versions of the drink.

Law #14: Running a successful marketing campaign requires discipline and sacrifice, as demonstrated by these laws.

To maintain a narrow, targeted focus, it’s essential to sacrifice certain products, messages, and ideas in three areas: product line, target market, and constant change.

Offering more products and services dilutes customers’ association with your brand. Targeted messages are more successful in expanding your customer base, and constantly changing your marketing strategy weakens your brand association. Stick to a strategy that has been serving you well for success.

Be Strategic About Your Overall Marketing Plan

Be strategic with your marketing plan by considering the big picture and your overarching tone and approach. Use these laws as a guide.

Law #15: Acknowledge negatives and turn them into positives. Denying them damages credibility. For example, Listerine embraced its awful taste with “The taste you hate twice a day,” implying it’s a powerful germ killer.

Law #16: Focus on bold moves and capitalize on weak spots of competitors. Top managers should be involved in marketing and ready to seize opportunities.

Law #17: Competitors can introduce unexpected changes, making it difficult to predict the future. Create a short-term plan focused on a unique word or concept, and pair it with a long-term direction that builds upon it to guide future plans. This reduces the risk of disruption from unpredictability.

Get on Top and Stay There

The final laws offer general business advice.

Law #18 emphasizes the importance of funding in successful marketing, even for established companies.

Law #19 advises embracing failure as an inevitable part of the journey to success.

Law #20 warns against believing hype, as media attention may not necessarily indicate a company’s success.

Finally, Law #21 urges businesses to follow trends rather than fads, as trends lead to long-term success while fads can be short-lived and harmful.

Law #22: Beware of Success

Success can lead to downfall in several ways:

  1. It inflates egos and can lead to decisions that harm the company.
  2. Growth creates demands on executives’ time, making it harder to stay involved in marketing decisions.
  3. As CEOs become more distant from the front lines, they may lose touch with important issues and challenges.