The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

There are laws of nature, so why shouldn’t there be laws of marketing?

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing first recommended to me by a marketing professor. I still remember that he had this to say this about the book; “If Marketing were a religion, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing would be its Bible.” Wow.

Most of the digital marketers are literally clueless about marketing theory and the principles of marketing. This, I believe is, in fact, one of the reasons why some of the digital marketing campaigns fail. You can build an impressive airplane, but it will never leave the ground if you ignore the laws of physics, especially gravity. Why then, shouldn’t there also be laws of marketing that must be followed to launch and maintain winning brands? 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing is a great start to learning marketing theory. First published in 1993 by Al Ries and Jack Trout, the book is still relevant even after 25 years. It is a short read too, with only 143 pages.


Understanding marketing starts with understanding people. I believe Al Ries and Jack Trout really understand the people and human nature.

…to cope with the terrifying reality of being alone in the universe, people project themselves on the outside world. They “live” in the arena of books, movies, television, newspapers, magazines. They “belong” to clubs, organizations, institutions. They are “fans” of football players, NBA stars, singers, actors.” These outside representations of the world seem more real than the reality inside their own minds…

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Ries and Trout offer a compendium of twenty-two innovative rules for understanding and succeeding in the international marketplace. Here is a short summary and nuggets of marketing advice from the book. I highlighted my favorites.

“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.”

“The only reality you can be sure about is in your own perceptions. If the universe exists, it exists inside your own mind and the minds of others.”

Marketing is the science of convincing us that What You Get Is What You Want. – John Carter

  • The leading brand in any category is almost always the first brand into the prospect’s mind. E.g Hertz in rent-a-cars, IBM in computers, Coca-Cola in cola.
  • The basic issue in marketing is not convincing prospects that you have a better product or service. The basic issue in marketing is creating a category you can be first in.
  • It’s much easier to get into the mind first than to try to convince someone you have a better product than the one who got there first.
  • The law of leadership applies to any product, brand or category.
  • Imagine you didn’t know the name of the first college founded in America. You can always make a good guess by substituting leading for first. What’s the name of the leading college in the US? Most people would say Harvard, and that is indeed the name of the first college founded in America.
  • One reason why the first brand tends to maintain its leadership is that the name often becomes generic. Xerox, the first plain-paper copier became the name for all plain-paper copies. Kleenex. Coke. Scotch tape.

  • 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?”
  • Forget the brand. Think categories.
  • Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better.
  • Example: What’s the name of the third person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? You probably don’t know. Yet you do. It’s Amelia Earhart. But she isn’t known for that. She is known as the first woman to do so.

  • Being first in the mind is everything in marketing.
  • It’s better to be first in the mind than it is to be first in the marketplace.
  • The law of the mind modifies the law of leadership.
  • You can’t change a mind once it’s made up. The conventional solution is money. But it’s not. More money is wasted in marketing than any other human activity.
  • Having a simple, easy-to-remember name helps to get into the prospect’s minds.
  • The problem for would-be entrepreneurs is getting the revolutionary idea or concept into the prospect’s mind.

  • Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perception.
  • The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion. Marketing is a manipulation of these perceptions. This is why the natural, logical way to market a product is invariably wrong.
  • It’s an illusion. There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products.
  • What some marketing people see as the natural laws of marketing are based on a flawed premise that the product is the hero of the marketing program and that you’ll win or lose based on the merits of the product.

  • The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind.
  • Not a complicated word, or an invented word. Simplest words are the best, words taken right out of the dictionary.
  • You “burn” your way into the mind by narrowing the focus to a single word or concept.
  • The law of leadership enables the first brand or company to own a word in the mind of the prospect.
  • The leader owns the word that stands for the category.
  • If you’re not a leader, your word has to have a narrow focus.
  • Your word has to be “available” in your category. No one else can have a lock on it.
  • The most effective words are simple and benefit-oriented.
  • No matter how complicated the product, no matter how complicated the needs of the market, it’s always better to focus on one word or benefit rather than two or three or four.
  • While words stick in the mind, nothing lasts forever. There comes a time when a company must change words.
  • What won’t work is leaving your own word in search of a word owned by others.
  • The essence of marketing is narrowing the focus. You can’t stand for something if you chase after everything.
  • You can’t narrow the focus with quality or any other idea that doesn’t have proponents for the opposite point of view. For example, You can’t position yourself as an honest politician, because nobody is willing to take the opposite position.
  • Once you have your word, you must go out of your way to protect it in the marketplace.

  • Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind.
  • It’s wrong to think that if you spend enough money, you can own the idea.

  • The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder.
  • All products are not created equal.
  • There is a hierarchy in the mind that prospects use in making decisions.
  • For each category, there is a product ladder in the mind. On each rung is a brand name. For e.g car rental. Hertz is on the top rung, Avis is on the 2nd rung, and National on the third.
  • Your marketing strategy should depend on how soon you got into the mind and consequently which rung of the ladder you occupy.
  • Example: Avis admitted it was #2. Told prospects to go with them because they tried harder. They made money.
  • The mind is selective. Prospects use their ladders in deciding which information to accept and which information to reject.
  • In general, a mind only accepts new data that is consistent with its product ladder in that category. Everything else is ignored.
  • How many rungs are there on your ladder?
  • Products you use every day tend to be high-interest products with many rungs. And vice versa.
  • There’s a relationship between market share and your position on the ladder in the prospect’s mind.
  • Sometimes your own ladder or category might be too small. It might be better to be a small fish in a big pond than to be a big fish in a small pond. It’s sometimes better to be №3 on a big ladder than №1 on a small ladder.

  • In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race.
  • Early on, a new category is a ladder of many rungs. Gradually, the ladder becomes a two-rung affair. E.g Coke vs Pepsi.

  • If you’re shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.
  • Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity for a would-be №2 to turn the tables.
  • 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.
  • Too many potential №2 try to emulate the leader. This is an error. You must present yourself as an alternative.
  • The law of the opposite is a two-edged sword. It requires honing in on a weakness that your prospect will quickly acknowledge.
  • Marketing is often a battle for legitimacy. The first brand that captures the concept is often able to portray its competitors as illegitimate pretenders.
  • A good#2 cannot afford to be timid.

  • Over time, a category will divide and become two or more categories
  • Each segment is a separate, distinct entity. Each segment has its own reason for existence. Each segment has its own leader, which is rarely the same as the leader of the original category.
  • The way for the leader to maintain its dominance is to address each emerging category with a different brand name.

  • Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.
  • Many marketing moves exhibit the same phenomenon. The long-term effect is often the exact opposite of the short-term effect. For e.g a sale. A sale increase in business in the short-term, but there is increasing evidence that shows that sales educate customers not to buy at regular prices.

  • There’s an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of a brand.
  • One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that is highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thinly over many products and is losing money.
  • When you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably wind up in trouble.
  • Line extension usually involves taking the brand name of a successful and putting it on a new product you plan to introduce.
  • Marketing is a battle of perception, not product. In the mind, for example, A-1 is not the brand name, but the steak sauce itself.
  • Less is more. If you want to be successful today, you have to narrow the focus in order to build a position in the prospect’s mind.

  • You have to give up something in order to get something
  • There are 3 things to sacrifice: product line, target market, and constant change.
  • The generalist is weak.

  • For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute.
  • Too often a company attempts to emulate the leader. It’s much better to search for an opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader.
  • All attributes are not created equal. Some attributes are more important to customers than others. You must try and own the most important attribute.
  • You cannot predict the size of a new attribute’s share, so never laugh at one.

  • When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.
  • It goes against corporate and human nature to admit a problem. Yet one of the most effective ways to get into a prospect’s mind is to first admit a negative and twist it into a positive.
  • Candor is disarming.
  • Every negative statement you make about yourself is instantly accepted as truth (NOTE: This is a similar law stated in 48 Laws of Power.)
  • You have to prove a positive statement to the prospect’s satisfaction. No proof is needed for a negative statement.•When a company starts a message by admitting a problem, people tend to almost instinctively open their minds.
  • Example: Listerine used to advertise with “The taste you hate twice a day.” which set them up for selling the idea of killing a lot of germs.
  • The Law of Candor must be used carefully and with great skill.
  • Your negative must be widely perceived as negative.
  • It has to trigger an instant agreement with your prospect’s mind.
  • Next, you have to shift quickly to the positive. The purpose of candor isn’t to apologize. It is to set up a benefit that will convince your prospect.

  • In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results (similar to the 80/20 principle.)
  • Many marketing people see success as the sum total of a lot of small efforts beautifully executed. They think they can pick and choose from a number of different strategies and still be successful as long as they put enough effort into the program.
  • They seem to think the best approach is “get into everything.”
  • Trying harder is not the secret of marketing success.

  • Unless you write your competitor’s plans, you can’t predict the future.
  • Implicit in most marketing plans is an assumption about the future. Yet such marketing plans are usually wrong.
  • Most companies live from quarterly report to quarterly report. That’s a recipe for problems. Companies that live by the numbers die by the numbers.
  • Good short-term planning is coming up with that angle or word that differentiates your product or company. Then you set up a coherent long-term marketing direction that builds a program to maximize that idea or angle.
  • Not a long-term plan, but a long-term direction.
  • While you can’t predict the future, you can get a handle on trends, which is a way to take advantage of change.
  • The danger of working with trends is extrapolation. Many companies will jump to conclusions about how far a trend will go.
  • Equally as bad as extrapolation is the common practice of assuming the future will be a replay of the present.
  • One way to cope with an unpredictable world is to build an enormous amount of flexibility into your organization.
  • There is a difference between predicting the future and taking a chance on the future.

  • Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.
  • Ego is the enemy of successful marketing.
  • Objectivity is what is needed.
  • When people become successful, they tend to become less objective. They often substitute their own judgment for what the market wants.
  • Ego can be an effective driving force in building a business. What hurts is injecting your ego in the marketing process.
  • Brilliant marketers have the ability to think like how a prospect thinks. They put themselves in the shoes of their customers.

  • Failure is to be expected and accepted.
  • Too many companies try to fix things rather than drop things.
  • Admitting a mistake and not doing anything about it is bad for your career. A better strategy is to recognize failure early and cut losses.

  • The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.
  • When things are going well, a company doesn’t need the hype. When you need the hype, it usually means you’re in trouble.
  • Real revolutions in the industry don’t arrive at high noon with marching bands. They arrive unannounced in the middle of the night and sneak up on you.

  • Successful programs are not built on fads, they are built on trends.
  • A fad is like a wave in the ocean, and a trend is a tide. Like the wave, the fad is very visible but it goes up and down in a hurry. Like the tide, a trend is almost invisible but very powerful over the long-term.
  • A paradox: if you were faced with a rapidly rising business, with all the characteristics of a fad, the best thing you could do is to dampen the fad and stretch it out.

  • Without adequate funding, an idea won’t get off the ground.
  • You need money to get into a mind. And you need money to stay there.
  • First, get the idea, then get the money to exploit it.


A presentation form of this article is available on SlideShare.

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5 thoughts on “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”

  1. Hey Omer,

    Really great stuff here man. It’s amazing to me how simple some of the points mentioned here are, and yet many people continue to miss it or ignore it.

  2. Quite possibly one of the most impressive blog post entries I’ve ever read. Well done Omer, outstanding stuff.


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