The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing Summary

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Like most things in life, marketing has fundamental laws that need to be understood and used properly in order to create or grow a successful business.

Below are the 22 immutable laws of marketing.

These laws should be understood and used whenever someone is starting a new business, project, or venture of any sort.

The last thing you want to do is spend a ton of time and money on a new venture in order to have it fail rapidly because there are hundreds of other businesses doing the exact same thing you are.

Table of Contents

1. Law of Leadership- It’s Better to Be First Than it is to Be Better

  • The basic problem in successful marketing is finding a category you can be first in. This is the law of leadership and it’s better to be first than “better”.
  • We remember the first person to fly the Atlantic ocean solo (Charles Lindberg) but not the second person (Bert Hinkler)
  • Most companies fail because they take the Hinkler route and wait until a market is developed to enter with a me-too product
  • The leading brand in any category is almost always the first brand in the prospect’s mind for that category. Coke in cola, Uber in ride-sharing, Airbnb in house renting, Nike in athletic shoes
  • One reason the first brand maintains leadership is because the name becomes generic for the category. “Let’s Uber”, “do you have a Kleenex?”
  • If you’re introducing the first brand in a new category you should always select a name that can work generically as a verb
  • Marketing is a battle of perception, not products

2. Law of Category- If You Can’t Be First Set Up a New Category You Can Be First In

  • Amelia Earhart is known as the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo not the first person which Charles Lindberg owns. She is remembered because she was the first woman, woman being a new category.
  • If you didn’t get into the prospect’s mind first, find a new category you can be first in
  • IBM was the first in computers and DEC was the first in minicomputers
  • When you launch a new product or business the first question you should ask yourself is “what category is this product first in?” not “how is this product better than the competitors”.
  • When you’re first in a category, promote the category not the brand

3. The Law of The Mind- It’s Better to Be First in Mind Than First in Marketplace

  • The law of the mind modifies the law of leadership. Being first in the marketplace is important only to the extent that it allows you to be first in mind. For example, the first personal computer was the Altair but Apple came 2 years later and captured the personal computer category in the mind.
  • Marketing is a battle of perception and even if a product was first in the market if no one knows about it or promotes it as the product in that category then the category is still open to the brand/product that first captures the position in the mind. The first product can fail to capture the position in the mind and leave it open for a better product to capture.
  • First in the mind or first to capture the category= first to click in the consumer mind and fit the function correctly
  • You can’t change a mind once it’s made up, they rarely change once solidified
  • If you want to change a perception you cannot slowly build up a favorable opinion, you have to blast your way into the mind

4. The Law of Perception- Marketing is Not a Battle of Products But of Perceptions

  • All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of customers. Perception is reality and everything else is an illusion.
  • People cling firmly to the idea that reality is the world outside their mind and that the individual is one small speck on a global spaceship. It’s the opposite. The only reality you can be sure about is your own perceptions. If the universe exists, it exists inside your own mind and the minds of others. That’s the reality that marketing must deal with.
  • Most marketing mistakes stem from an assumption that you’re fighting a product battle rooted in reality
  • Only by studying how perceptions are formed in the mind and focusing your marketing programs on those perceptions can you overcome your basically incorrect marketing instincts

5. The Law of Focus- The Most Powerful Concept in Marketing is Owning a Word in the Prospects Mind

  • A company can be incredibly successful if it can find a way to own a word in the mind of the prospect
  • The law of leadership or the first brand to own a category enables the brand to own a word in the mind of the prospect
  • The leader owns the word that stands best for the category and the other successful companies own words that are in opposition or specific words that capture subcategories that the leader can’t focus on
  • It’s always better to focus on one word or phrase than 3-4
  • Crest=cavities, BMW=driving, Volvo=safety, Tesla=electric car, Uber=rideshare, Airbnb=home rental
  • The essence of marketing is narrowing the focus. You become stronger when you reduce the scope of your operations. You can’t stand for something if you chase after everything.

6. The Law of Exclusivity-  Two Companies Cannot Own the Same Word in The Mind

  • When a competitor owns a word or position in the prospect’s mind, it is futile to attempt to own the same word.
  • What often leads marketers down this trap is research
  • If some other company already owns the phrase, word, and mindshare for the best word in the category you need to focus on an opposite word or attribute

7. The Law of The Ladder- The Strategy to Use Depends on Which Rung You Occupy on the Ladder

  • Your marketing strategy should depend on how soon you got into the mind and consequently which rung of the ladder you occupy. The higher the better.
  • You have to acknowledge your position on the ladder and own it to place yourself directly against your competitor showcasing why the trait that makes you #2 is better than the #1 trait
  • When you own your own position and any weaknesses you start to make money
  • The mind is selective. Prospects use their ladders in deciding which information to accept and which information to reject. In general, a mind accepts only new data that is consistent with its product ladder in that category. Everything else is ignored
  • There’s a relationship between market share and your position on the ladder in the prospect’s mind. You tend to have twice the market share of the brand below you and half the market share of the brand above you.
  • 7 is the maximum number of rungs on the ladder as the average human mind can’t deal with more than 7 units at a time

8. The Law of Duality- In the Long Run, Every Market Becomes a Two-Horse Race

  • Early on a category is a ladder of many rungs. Gradually, the ladder becomes a two-rung affair
  • The customer believes that marketing is a battle of products. It’s this kind of thinking that keeps the two brands on top: “They must be the best, they’re the leaders”.

9. The Law of The Opposite- If You’re Shooting for Second Place, Your Strategy is Determined by the Leader

  • In strength there is weakness. Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity for a would-be No 2 to turn the tables
  • You must discover the essence of the leader and then present the opposite. Don’t try to emulate the leader
  • Sometimes being brutal is necessary to stake out the opposite position clearly in the minds of customers. You need to attack their position to show that you have an alternative option

10. The Law of Division- Over Time, a Category Will Divide and Become Two or More Categories

  • A category starts off as a single entity. Computers, for example. But over time, the category breaks up into other segments. Mainframes, minicomputers, workstations, personal computers, laptops, notebooks, and pen computers.
  • Each segment has its own leader
  • The way for the leader to maintain dominance is to address each emerging category with a different brand name

11. The Law of Perspective- Marketing Effects Take Place Over an Extended Period of Time

  • Chemically, alcohol is a strong depressant. But in the short term, by depressing a person’s inhibitions, alcohol acts as a stimulant.
  • Many marketing moves exhibit the same phenomenon. The long-term effects are often the exact opposite of the short-term effects
  • An example is a couponing for sales. You only keep coupons rolling out not to increase sales but to keep sales from falling off if you stop. Couponing is a drug. You continue to do it because the withdrawal symptoms are super painful.
  • Marketing effects are the same way and take place over a long period of time

12. The Law of Line Extension- There’s an Irresistible Pressure to Extend the Equity of the Brand

  • By far the most violated law in our book is the law of line extension. What’s even more diabolical is that line extension is a process that takes place continuously, with almost no conscious effort on the part of the corporation.
  • One day a company is tightly focused on a single product the next day the same company is spread thin over many products and is losing money.
  • Line extension is when you take a brand name of a successful product and extend it to another category of product
  • The leader in any category is the brand that is not line extended
  • If you want to get into a new category create a separate brand name that’s not associated with the successful brand name 

13. The Law of Sacrifice- You Have to Give Up Something in Order to Get Something

  • If you want to be successful you have to reduce your product line and give something up to own the top positions
  • If you sacrifice you can own the key word in the minds of customers and the key mindshare in the minds of customers for one category
  • We live in the age of many options and specialists for each category

14. The Law of Attributes- For Every Attribute, There is an Opposite, Effective Attribute

  • Too often companies attempt to emulate the leader. It’s much better to search for the opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader.
  • Try and own the most important attribute but if it’s taken go for the opposite

15. The Law of Candor- When You Admit a Negative, The Prospect Will Give You a Positive

  • One of the best ways to get into a prospect’s mind is to first admit a negative and then twist it into a positive. This develops trust and shows how a negative is a positive.
  • Candor is disarming when everyone else is full of shit
  • Nobody trusts lying marketers they trust how they perceive brands
  • You have to prove a positive statement but no proof is needed for a negative
  • An example is Listerine promoting that it tastes like crap but it kills the most germs. They admit people hate it but they focus on why that negative value is actually good.
  • The law of candor must be used carefully and with great skill. First, the negative must be widely perceived as a negative. It has to trigger an instant agreement in the prospect’s mind. Then you have to shift quickly to the positive. The purpose of candor isn’t to apologize, it’s to set up a benefit that will convince your prospect.

16. The Law Of Singularity- In Each Situation, Only One Move Will Produce Substantial Results

  • Trying harder is not the secret to marketing success or any success in general.
  • The only thing that works is the single bold stroke. Furthermore, in any given situation, there is only one move that will produce substantial results.
  • Successful generals study the battleground and look for that one bold stroke that is least expected by the enemy. Finding one is difficult. Finding more than one is usually impossible.
  • Most often there is only one place where the competitor is vulnerable and that place should be the focus of the entire invading force
  • What works in marketing is the same as what works in the military: the unexpected.

17. The Law of Unpredictability- Unless You Write Your Competitor’s Plans, You Can’t Predict The Future

  • Marketing plans based on what will happen in the future are usually wrong
  • The unexpected always happens, build flexibility

18. The Law of Success- Success Leads to Arrogance and Arrogance to Failure

  • Ego is the enemy of successful marketing
  • When people become successful they become less objective and substitute their judgment for what the market wants
  • Ego can be an effective driving force to build a business but it needs to stay out of the marketing process and think in terms of the customer

19. The Law of Failure- Failure is to Be Expected and Accepted 

  • Too many companies try to fix things instead of accepting and dropping 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 your losses
  • You make mistakes, you admit them, cut losses, and you keep coming after it
  • Be willing and ok to admit failure and keep moving

20. The Law of Hype- The Situation is Often the Opposite of the Way it Appears in The Press

  • When things are going well a company doesn’t need hype. When they are going bad the company needs to manufacture fake hype
  • When you need hype it means you are in trouble

21. The Law of Acceleration- Successful programs Are Not Built on Fads, They’re Built on Trends

  • A fad is a single wave and a trend is a tide
  • Trends are very powerful over the long term. Build your business on trends and ignore fads
  • If you are faced with a rapidly rising business with all the characteristics of a fad, the best thing you can do is dampen the fad. By dampening the fad, you stretch the fad out and it becomes more like a trend.
  • One way to maintain a long-term demand for your product is to never totally satisfy the demand. 
  • The best most profitable thing to ride in marketing is a long-term trend

22. The Law of Resources- Without Adequate Funding, an Idea Won’t Get Off The Ground

  • You need money to get into the mind of the prospect and money to maintain it
  • Ideas without money to fuel the fire are useless, you can get something started but in order to ignite the fire and capture the value before other companies capture mind share you need funding
  • In marketing, the rich get richer because they have the resources to drive their ideas into the minds of customers

Summary & Concluding Thoughts

When starting and researching a new business or any type of project this list of marketing laws is essential to remember in order to correctly position your brand and products for success.

The main points to remember are the law of category (if you’re not first then create a new category in the market), the law of the mind (you have to also be first in the mind for that category and own a word or phrase), and the law of focus (in order to succeed you must focus, sacrifice, and be willing to make bold moves in your specific category).

The worst thing you can do when starting a new project is to put yourself in a market where you are competing with hundreds of brands doing the exact same thing as you which will drive costs up, and profits down, ultimately leading to financial failure.

Before you commit to a new venture make sure you have thought through these marketing laws to determine where your brand and products stand in terms of category and positioning.

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.