Littler Books cover of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk Summary

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk Summary and Quotes

Al Ries and Jack Trout

4.9 minutes to read • Updated May 22, 2024

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Master the art and science of marketing with the 22 principles that have shaped the world’s most powerful brands.

Bullet Point Summary

  1. The Law of Leadership: It's better to be first than it is to be better.
    1. Being first in a category is more important than having a better product. People tend to favor the first brand they encounter, even if later iterations are objectively superior. This holds true across various industries, from cars and computers to media and medicine.
  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.
    1. It's easier to promote a new category than compete with established brands.
    2. Charles Schwab wasn't successful because he was the first broker, he was successful because he was the first discount broker.
  3. The Law of the Mind: It's better to be first in the mind than it is to be first in the marketplace.
    1. Focus on creating a simple, memorable impression at the outset, as changing entrenched opinions is an uphill battle.
    2. IBM wasn't the first to introduce mainframe computers (it was Remington Rand), but better marketing made them the mindshare leader.
  4. The Law of Perception: Marketing is not a battle of products, it's a battle of perception.
    1. Objective truth doesn't exist, perceptions do. Changing minds is tough, so focus on shaping how customers first perceive your brand vs. fighting facts.
    2. While Honda sells cars in both the US and Japan, it ranks far lower in its home market due to differing consumer perceptions. In the US, Honda is known for cars, while in Japan, it's known for motorcycles, and Japanese consumers hesitate to buy a car from a motorcycle company.
  5. The Law of Focus: The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect's mind.
    1. Owning a word allows a company to stand for something specific, like BMW owning "driving" (“The ultimate driving machine” is their slogan). Owning a word helps brands become leaders and simplifies their message, but picking the right word is crucial.
  6. The Law of Exclusivity: Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect's mind.
    1. Focus on finding a unique word for your brand.
    2. Don't attempt to own a word already claimed by a competitor. You'll only reinforce their position. Examples like FedEx trying to take "worldwide" from DHL and Burger King chasing "fast" vs. McDonald's demonstrate the futility of fighting for pre-owned words.
  7. The Law of the Ladder: The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.
    1. Know where you stand in the prospect's mind and act accordingly. Don't pretend you're the top choice/rung when you're not.
    2. Car rental company Avis failed with generic "finest" claims due to its No. 2 position to Hertz. After owning their underdog status with the "We try harder" message, it turned losses into profits.
  8. The Law of Duality: In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race.
    1. Most markets settle into a two-horse race with a dominant leader and an upstart challenger.
    2. Brands on the third rung struggle and often disappear as customers gravitate towards the top two. Knowing this can help companies plan their strategies for long-term success.
    3. While exceptions exist, focusing on the top two spots is crucial for success in the long run.
  9. The Law of the Opposite: If you're shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.
    1. Study the leader and leverage its strengths into weaknesses. Don't try to emulate, offer the opposite. For example, if the leader is premium, you should consider being affordable, and vice versa.
    2. Beck's beer was not the first imported or German beer in the US. It repositioned itself for success with the slogan “You've tasted the German beer that's the most popular in America. Now taste the German beer that's the most popular in Germany.”
  10. The Law of Division: Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories.
    1. Categories in marketing constantly subdivide, becoming distinct entities with separate leaders. Companies trying to stretch established brands across these divisions often fail. Instead, success lies in embracing the Law of Division through targeted brands for each unique segment.
    2. Volkswagen's success with the smaller Beetle led them to overextend the brand with bigger models. This mistake to diversify and failure to adapt to the growing small-car market caused their US share to plummet from 67% to 4%.
  11. The Law of Perspective: Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.
    1. Sales, discounts, or coupons initially boost sales but might damage brand image and hurt long-term profits. Line extension can quickly boost sales of new products but often cannibalizes sales of existing products, eventually leading to decline.
  12. The Law of Line Extension: There's an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of a brand.
    1. Dominant brands like IBM, Microsoft, and GM often fall into the line extension trap by trying to enter too many new product categories and end up as less competitive "jacks of all trades," while more focused competitors thrive.
    2. Companies need the courage to launch new brands positioned as first in their categories or as clear alternatives to the leader.
  13. The Law of Sacrifice: You have to give up something in order to get something.
    1. In marketing, success often lies in sacrifice. You should focus on a specific product line, target market, and marketing message, instead of trying to appeal to everyone with everything. Examples like Federal Express focusing on overnight packages and Marlboro on cowboys illustrate how narrowing your focus can lead to greater market share than diversification.
    2. Staying consistent with your message over time builds brand recognition and prevents losing your position.
  14. The Law of Attributes: For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute.
    1. Don't copy your competitor. Find an opposite and unique attribute.
    2. If your competitor owns "cavities prevention" in toothpaste, focus on a less dominant but still valuable attribute like "whitening."
    3. Small attributes can grow big, like "small and personal" computers challenging IBM's "big and powerful" ones.
    4. Don't laugh at new, opposite attributes your competitor introduces, learn from them and adapt (e.g., Gillette entering the disposable razors market).
    5. Identify and focus on the opposite demographic (e.g, Burger King targeting adults instead of McDonald's focus on kids).
  15. The Law of Candor: When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.
    1. Candor disarms your audience and opens their minds to your message.
    2. Listerine admitted its bad taste ("The taste you hate twice a day") and emphasized its germ-killing power. This candor turned a weakness into a strength.
  16. The Law of Singularity: In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results.
    1. Focus on one bold stroke instead of scattered efforts.
    2. Coke's “New Coke” was a distraction and failure. Its success came from focusing on its original classic product.
  17. The Law of Unpredictability: Unless you write your competitors' plans, you can't predict the future.
    1. Predicting the future in marketing is futile due to the unpredictable competition.
    2. Focus on long-term trends, like Domino's did with home delivery and Healthy Choice did with healthy eating.
    3. Build organizational flexibility to adapt to change quickly.
  18. The Law of Success: Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.
    1. The arrogance from previous success can lead companies to ignore customer needs and market shifts.
    2. Stay objective and avoid injecting ego into marketing.
    3. CEOs must stay connected to the front lines and prioritize direct observations.
  19. The Law of Failure: Failure is to be expected and accepted.
    1. Companies often cling to failing ventures due to ego or personal agendas.
    2. Embrace experimentation and cultivate an environment where ideas are judged on merit, not personal gain.
  20. The Law of Hype: The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.
    1. New products that promise to revolutionize entire industries often fail to live up to the hype and disappear quickly.
    2. Real innovation arrives quietly and gradually, not with fanfare and front-page headlines.
    3. “When things are going well, a company doesn't need the hype. When you need the hype, it usually means you're in trouble.”
  21. The Law of Acceleration: Successful programs are not built on fads, they're built on trends.
    1. Fads are short-lived. Companies exploiting fads often over expand and crash when the fad fades.
    2. Focus on long-term demand. One way to maintain long-term demand is by never fully satisfying it.
    3. Elvis's manager, Colonel Parker, kept appearances and records rare, making each one a major event.
  22. The Law of Resources: Without adequate funding an idea won't get off the ground.
    1. “An idea without money is worthless.”
    2. “Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a great idea. But it was Mike Markkula's $91,000 that put Apple Computer on the map.”
    3. The rich tend to get richer because they have the resources in marketing to drive their ideas into the mind. Smaller marketers face an unfair fight against giant corporations' massive marketing budgets.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Resources