Book Notes: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

As some of you know, I’m currently doing research for the sequel to Social Media is Bullshit.  The last time I did this, I was using (Remember them?) This time, I thought I’d do something different.

There’s currently over 200 books in front of me. Seriously, my Dad’s going to kill me because I’ve left stacks of books all over the fucking house like a messy hobo with a library card.

So, as I complete these books, instead of leaving my notes to rot in Evernote, I thought I’d post them here. The following are my notes from Al Ries and Jack Trout’s “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”.

I only plan to keep the books I like, and this one is definitely a keeper. So go check it out. No. That’s not an affiliate link. If you want to say thank you for me posting these, I DO encourage you to buy a Used copy of Social Media is Bullshit and do one of the following:

1. Read it and keep it.
2. Read it and donate to your local library.
3. Read it and share with your friend.

P.S. Pardon and random typos and spelling errors. These notes are not meant to be finished products. Just something I put together to read and review as I work on my book.

Book Notes

-The book came out in 1993, and it’s as useful today as it was then. (Some random dated things aside like a lot of the Trump references. Obviously, Trump is an awful businessman and human being, but you can’t really target him for criticism in the marketing space because he did get elected President. Much of that is due to the strength of his brand. That’s really the only dated thing that sticks out, and really people can debate whether or not Trout and Ries are still right in calling Trump out for sucking at business. See: p.67 on Trump)

-The dedication to the book is great: “Dedicated to the elimination of myths and misconceptions from the marketing process.”

– The Law of Leadership is that “it’s better to be first than it is to be better. It’s much easier to get into the mind first than to try to convince someone you have a better product than the one that did get there first.” (p. 3) Or put in a far funnier way from “Talladega Nights” (the greatest movie of our time): “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

-Why “If you’re not first, you’re last?” Because “one reason the first brand tends to maintain its leadership is the name often becomes generic” See: Band-aid, Xerox, Saran Wrap, and Q-Tips. Q-tips, by the way, are the devil according to an ear nose and throat doctor I once saw. (quote from p.6)

-“Regardless of reality, people perceive the first product into the mind as superior. Marketing is the battle of perception, not products.” (p. 8) “Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better” (P. 13).

-Plot twist though: You don’t necessarily have to be first to market. You have to be first in mind. (p.15). So like IBM which is the example they use in the book, but really if you look at like an AirBnB or an Uber or a Facebook. Facebook was not the first social network by any stretch, but that’s what we think of when we think of social networks. Netscape / Mosaic was not the first browser with a graphical user interface, but that’s the one we think about when we think about the “first” modern browser.  (This is called The Law of The Mind, and you “can’t change a mind once it’s made up” p.16)

-I really felt this was the most important thing said in this book: “There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion.” (p. 19). This is as true today as it was in 1993.

-Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products (P.23)

-“People are seldom, if ever, wrong. At least in their own minds. (P.21)

-Here’s the struggle: People make buying decisions based on “second-hand perceptions”. “Instead of using their own perceptions, they base their buying decisions on someone else’s perception of reality. This is known as the everybody knows principle”. i.e. “Everyone knows Japan makes better cars than the US” even though the buyer has no personal experience to back that up. They’re just repeating what the people around them think. (p.24) This is something that comes up in all the word of mouth marketing books. Monkey see. Monkey do.

-P.61 “It’s better to be early than late. You can’t get into your prospects mind first unless you’re prepared to spend some time waiting for things to develop” in a new category / marketplace.

-A major thing I wanted to touch on because it’s something I believe: MBAs ruin everything. P.65 – “In many other areas of life (spending money, taking drugs, having sex) the long-term effects of your actions are often the opposite of the short-term effects. Why then is it so hard to comprehend that marketing effects take place over an extended period of time?”

-YES! Thank you. For Christ’s sake. MBA’s ruin everything with this attempt quantify everything and all it does is produced mediocrity. (Obviously, I don’t mean ALL MBAs. The smart ones understand and appreciate that marketing is a big picture play and give it the time and patience required for a plan to succeed or fail.) I am convinced though that a lot of the bullshit Internet metrics we obsess over was created in part to please the MBAs who run brands and other potential partners with the ad dollars these tech companies want.

-P.69 (But I see this in a lot of books and other places) Keep it simple stupid. “One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that is highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thin over many products and is losing money. (The Law of Line Extension)

-P.71 “I rather be strong somewhere than weak everywhere” a manager said this to them. “When you try to be all things to all people you inevitably wind up in trouble.”

-Line extension is stupid, just ask A-1 (p.71). They spent $18M on a poultry line when A-1 had become generic for steak sauce (see The Law of Leadership) and was first in the minds of their customers. So why do people do this? Dumb executives looking for short term gains to please themselves and their shareholders.

-P.94 “What works in marketing is the same as what works in the military: The unexpected.” (This is in reference to The Law of Singularity, which is basically that one big bold move is what you need to do in marketing to succeed. On p.93. They reference “The line of least expectation” by B.H. Liddell Hart. Finding one bold stroke that is least expected by the enemy. “Finding one is difficult. Finding more than one is usually impossible.”

-p.96 “To find that singular idea or concept, marketing managers have to know what’s happening in the marketplace. They have to be down at the front in the mud of the battle. They have to know what’s working and what isn’t. They have to be involved.” One of the few things I’ve come across in the startup world that I really like is the CEO actively talking and interacting with the first one hundred customers or so. That’s incredibly smart and something that should be done more often for exactly the reason Trout and Ries talk about.

-In referencing GM, “When the financial people took over, the marketing program collapsed.” Along with it, so did their sales. We can see this today with the movie industry. Everything is a sequel, or a franchise, or has a shared universe because the MBAs / Large corporations are running the show and they know these films will draw people in because they’re known entities.  At the same time, although ticket sales were really strong in 2016, they’re weakening in the US market (there’s also an over-reliance on China and the international market) and there are serious signs of the industry struggling underneath.

-I love this line: Ego is the enemy of great marketing. Objectivity is what’s needed.” (p. 105)

-Something that drives me up a fucking wall is this meme about how tech companies don’t spend money on marketing and brag about that. (And this was also prevalent during the social media bubble from like 2008 to just recently where everyone thought they could skip marketing dollars in lieu of using social media to promote themselves. It’s bullshit. “Marketing is a game fought in the mind of the prospect. You need money to get into a mind. And you need money to stay in the mind once you get there. You’ll get further with a mediocre idea and a million dollars than with a great idea alone.” (p.125) See: ALL the Transformers movies and also Roman Reigns.

-This was something I’ve been talking about since Social Media is Bullshit came out, and these guys said it way back in 1993: “In marketing, the rich often get richer because they have the resources to drive their ideas into the mind.”(p.126) It’s also true for being able to spread lies and myths about marketing too.

-“How should it [small business / organization] approach the Law of Resources? The answer is simple: Spend enough.  In war, the military always errs on the high side. Do you know how many rations were left after Operation Desert Storm? A lot. So it is in marketing. You can’t save your way to success. The more successful marketers front load their investment. In other words, they take no profit for two or three years as they plow all earnings back into marketing.” (p.129)

-I really like that point about “you can’t save your way to success” because I’ve run into this time and time again of companies large and small not wanting to spend money on marketing because the MBA or the finance people don’t understand it / don’t see the value in it, or the brand is gun shy about spending that kind of money despite having near limitless resources in their budget.