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The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing No Longer Apply, Part 3

  |  April 1, 2010   |  Comments

Debunking the laws of singularity, unpredictability, success, failure, hype, acceleration, and resources. Last in a three part series.

We started this series on "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," by Al Ries and Jack Trout, with the following premise: the habits of modern consumers and their expectations have drastically changed the marketing and advertising landscape. What held true during the "golden age of advertising" no longer holds true with the dawn of the "golden age of the individual." Let's wrap up our analysis by reviewing the final seven laws - 16 through 22.

16. The Law of Singularity - In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results.

This is pretty much a right-on observation. But the examples of GM and Coke were illustrations of what not to do; and no real examples were provided of single, bold, company-saving moves. Not to worry, because in the current landscape, which has been changed by "digital," this law is no longer applicable. Given real-time information and analytics, innovations can and should occur more rapidly. Feedback loops are also shorter and faster, which means advertisers get immediate data on whether something is working or not. They don't need to make single, bold moves. Instead, they can run lots of small experiments and make minor course corrections to continuously optimize and innovate. Notice that you can optimize your marketing; but you must also innovate your product or service at the same time, in response to easily detectable customer feedback. The best companies actively solicit feedback and put it to good use - like Netflix's Fan Page on Facebook, which provides Netflix with a hotbed of new ideas, suggestions, and improvements. That's better than any focus group or traditional form of customer research.

17. The Law of Unpredictability - Unless you write your competitors' plans, you can't predict the future.

Well, duh. This is kind of obvious. And it really isn't a law; or at least one that would imply a set of meaningful actions. But again, not to worry, because this law is no longer applicable either. In a new digital world where advertising is no longer relevant to most consumers (see Adweek/Harris poll), it doesn't really matter what moves a competitive advertiser makes - e.g., shouting louder or carrying a bigger stick (bigger media buy). Most consumers will ignore it anyway. But when consumers do want or need something and they go online to look for it, whose stuff will they find? What is predictable is whether your content is properly "SEOed" (search engine optimized) and therefore, more easy-to-find. Otherwise, your advertising dollars will be driving sales for your competitor - your ads may have tickled a need or inspired a target customer to look up something online, but they ended up finding your competitor's information first in the search results.

18. The Law of Success - Success often leads to arrogance and arrogance leads to failure.

Well, duh, again. The examples of Donald Trump slapping his name on anything or Domino's Pizza trying to get into frozen pizza were failures for a host of other reasons. The real moral of the story is that companies big and small coming off of any successes big and small will tend to try to repeat the success by repeating the marketing program. Nothing could be further from the truth or less wise. GoDaddy has run edgy ads for the last six Super Bowls; Denny's has given away breakfast for the last two; and E-Trade has brought on a few new babies to lip-sync for what were funny ads the first time around. Those marketing campaigns may have gotten a laugh or a rise the first time, but has anyone noticed how short-lived the lift effect was or wondered whether the campaigns drove any sustainable lift in sales? (Many people reportedly enjoyed the free Denny's Grand Slam, and eagerly waited for next year's treat on-the-house.) And these may not be cases of successes which led to arrogance, which led to failures; they may well have been failures which led to failures to realize they were failures, which led to further failures.

19. The Law of Failure - Failure is to be expected and accepted.

It's true that "too many companies try to fix things rather than drop things." They try to preserve an existing product or business model that may have been successful in the past, rather than drop it or innovate it. This law is not terribly useful or practical. Why? It is not that companies should just expect and accept failure; it is really about what they should do about it. Given that digital tools, channels, and habits throw off more data than most companies know what to do with, astute advertisers should tap the wealth of data and potential insights to "fail fast," detect it, and move on to the next innovation. What happens if you can run thousands of experiments in a year rather than try to launch a handful of products a year? What happens when your feedback loop is immediate, and even provides you with suggested improvements, rather than glacial (like six months before you even know how many are estimated to have seen your ad)?

20. The Law of Hype - The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.

Duh, and not applicable any more. Consumers are too smart, too informed, and too empowered today to believe marketing messages at face value. They know those are hyperbole, hype, and half-truths, and therefore will research products and services themselves and find their own trustworthy sources to vet the details with. If a product or service is not kick-ass enough to back up the marketing and PR hype that surrounded it, it is guaranteed to be a failure.

21. The Law of Acceleration - Successful programs are not built on fads, they are built on trends.

This is not true. Fads can be enormous successes - like the Internet companies that sold before the first and second bubble bursts. The challenge is to know when to cash out. A more sustainable and rational strategy would be to build upon a known trend. And the single most important trend that advertisers and marketers need to build upon today is the universal empowerment of customers with new habits, expectations, tools, and information. We have moved away from a world of "push" advertising to a world of "pull" - where consumers pull the information they want when they want it. Any advertiser whose marketing mix still favors the "push" side entirely will fail, because they have not balanced that out with being findable when the customer looks for them, as dictated by the primal trend.

22. The Law of Resources - Without adequate funding, an idea won't get off the ground.

How appropriate that we end this series with a law which could not be further from the truth or less applicable than all the inapplicable (instead of immutable) laws that came before it, in this the "golden age of the customer." Countless examples of ideas have gotten off the ground and proven themselves to serve an audience and a need, with little to no funding. They didn't need a large marketing budget to shout loudly at a lot of people a lot of the time (reach and frequency). In fact, awesome companies like Drobo.com, SweetRiot.com, NRDC.org (Natural Resources Defense Council), and others let the right customers spread their word to the right customers, completely obviating the need for any marketing dollars. They innovated, listened, innovated some more, and partnered with their best customers - doing marketing without doing marketing.

Conclusion

So, as we saw over the course of our cognitive cross-examination of "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," some laws are contradictory to others while others were equivalent. Still others are not MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) with the collection, etc. But generally most are simply no longer applicable in the new digital world in which branding, storytelling, and all forms of push advertising need to be balanced with a focus on "pull" techniques, which better serve the new habits and expectations of modern consumers.

Here are some takeaways from the previous columns:

  • It is better to be better than it is to be first.
  • Which is a harder marketing problem? The fact that no one knows you (small fish in a big pond) or the fact that no one knows your pond (in which you are the big, or perhaps the only, fish)?
  • Traditional "push" advertising is like a thief breaking into your home at dinnertime and shouting at your family that his product is the best thing since sliced gefilte fish.
  • Success in marketing is when, and if, consumers remember you, remember to look for you, and remember to tell their friends about you.

Perhaps we should retitle this series the 22 Inapplicable Laws of Marketing.

Related Reading: "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing No Longer Apply, Part 1"

"The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing No Longer Apply, Part 2"

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Augustine Fou

Dr. Augustine Fou is the senior digital strategy advisor to CMOs, marketing executives, and global brands. Dr. Fou has over 15 years of Internet strategy consulting experience and is an expert in social media marketing strategy, data/analytics, and consumer insights, with specific knowledge in the consumer packaged goods, financial services/credit cards, food/beverage, retail/apparel, and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors.

He is a frequent panelist, moderator, and keynote speaker at industry conferences. Dr. Fou is also an Adjunct Professor at NYU in the School for Continuing and Professional Studies and at Rutgers University at the Center for Management Development, where he teaches executive courses on digital strategy and integrated marketing.

Dr. Fou completed his PhD at MIT at the age of 23. He started his career with McKinsey & Company and previously served as SVP, digital strategy lead, McCann/MRM Worldwide and group chief digital officer of Omnicom's Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG). He writes a blog "Rants, Raves about Digital Marketing" and can be found on Twitter at @acfou.

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