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The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing No Longer Apply

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The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing No Longer Apply

Augustine Fou | February 4, 2010 | 19 comments

The habits of modern consumers and their expectations have so drastically changed the landscape into which marketing and advertising campaigns are launched that what held true in the "golden age of advertising" no longer holds true at this, the dawn of the "golden age of the individual."

In the classic "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," Al Ries and Jack Trout expound on laws that are rooted in the ability to use storytelling to weave spellbinding brands and evoke emotion-filled loyalty. However, as the balance of power shifted away from advertisers to the people they used to target, the game has changed.

Increasingly, individuals prefer to do their own research rather than just take advertisers' word for it. Individuals need greater levels of detailed information than can be conveyed in a :30 spot, a one page ad, or a radio spot. More individuals are empowered with information that is likely to have been created by other individuals (e.g., product reviews, blog posts) instead of advertisers.

Today, we'll explore the first seven of the "22 Immutable Laws" and illustrate how most of them no longer apply or need to be drastically altered and adapted to the realities of the modern marketing landscape.

1. The Law of Leadership – It's better to be first than it is to be better.

False. Today, it's better to be better than it is to be first. There are many examples where fast followers successfully overtook the pioneer of a category.

Apple's iPod wasn't the first MP3 player, but it beat out the ones that came before it. Facebook wasn't the first social network, but it beat out substantial predecessors like MySpace and Friendster. Flickr wasn't the first online photo sharing site, but it beat out large incumbents like Snapfish, Ofoto, and Kodak Gallery. wasn't the first online coupon aggregator but a single "better" feature allowed it to easily overtake and never look back. That single feature was the ability for users to provide "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" feedback about whether a coupon code worked – solving the key problem that DealCatcher had, which was that it was littered with expired or invalid codes, making it time consuming for consumers to find actual valid codes. Today, better wins.

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.

This is consistent with the age-old wisdom of "small fish in a big pond" versus "big fish in a small pond." And this law is related to the first law. But the main challenge is defining the new pond and getting the consumers who were in the old, bigger pond to come to your pond. So, instead of the marketing problem being the fact that no one knows you (the small fish in the big pond), it becomes the fact that no one knows your pond (in which you are the big, or perhaps the only, fish).

Which is the harder marketing problem? Can it be said that Southwest Airlines created a new "pond" called low cost airline? Or that JetBlue was a low cost luxury airline? But at what point does the pond collapse into just "airlines" because every consumer expects every airline to be low cost, high quality, on time, etc.?

3. The Law of the Mind – It's better to be first in the mind than first in the marketplace.

This law is consistent with modern consumers because success in marketing is about when, and if, they remember you; not when you put products and services into the marketplace. The main problem is that advertisers can easily misinterpret the law to mean you can buy your way into the prospects' minds by shouting louder, more frequently, and at more people (i.e., the proverbial "reach and frequency" that some continue to buy, pun intended).

I liken traditional "push" advertising as a thief breaking into your home at dinnertime and shouting at your family that they should buy his digital camera since it's the "best thing since whole wheat bread." Are you more likely to listen to his advice on digital cameras or "bring the hurt" and kick the intruder out of your house?

Today, people will become aware of you when a friend tells them about you. People will remember you if you consistently deliver great products and services. I've cited Drobo as a perfect example of a new, complex technical product that was launched with zero marketing dollars but which got into the minds of the only people they needed to care about it – professional photographers whose livelihoods depended on risk-free, easy-to-use backup for their precious digital photos.

4. The Law of Perception – Marketing is not a battle of products, but a battle of perceptions.

Well, too bad that perceptions are now formed by individual consumers with help from their circles of influencers, and not by advertisers' too-clever-for-themselves, too-over-the-top-sleazy-I-meant-sexy, or too-brand-essence-perfumey-that-it-makes-me-gag ads. Marketing can, and should, be a battle of the products. Better products win. The products that can leverage feedback from actual customers and incorporate relevant innovations faster will win.

The biggest danger here is that if advertising manages to convince customers of something that isn't true and they find out, they will not only not buy the product, but they will also tell 10 of their friends and rant about it online so it's archived permanently for future potential customers to see. So, the battle of lasting perceptions is only won by winning the battle of products, and doing so consistently.

5. The Law of Focus – The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect's mind.

Again, true. But only in the scenario where the ownership of the word is earned through consistent brand stewardship, backed up by awesome products or services. And the word is usually not the word advertisers choose it to be, but rather what the consumer thinks it is.

Each individual consumer may have his or her own word for it. To one, Starbucks may be great coffee. To another, it may be home away from home (really, how many consumers actually call it their "third place"?) Even the most beloved brands may mean different things to different people.

To some, Apple may be great design; to another, easy-to-use.


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