Two world-renowned marketing consultants and bestselling authors present the definitive rules of marketing.
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March 18, 1994
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Excerpt from The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries
The Law of Leadership
It's better to be first than it is to be better.
Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing prospects that you have a better product or service.
Not true. If you have a small market share and you have to do battle with larger, better-financed com-petitors, then your marketing strategy was probably faulty in the first place. You violated the first law of marketing.
The basic issue in marketing is creating a category you can be first in. It's the law of leadership: 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.
You can demonstrate the law of leadership by asking yourself two questions:
1) What's the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Charles Lindbergh, right?
2) What's the name of the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Not so easy to answer, is it?
The second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo was Bert Hinkler. Bert was a better pilot than Charlie--he flew faster, he consumed less fuel. Yet who has ever heard of Bert Hinkler? (He left home and Mrs. Hinkler hasn't heard from him since.)
In spite of the evident superiority of the Lindbergh approach, most companies go the Bert Hinkler route. They wait until a market develops. Then they jump in with a better product, often with their corporate name attached. In today's competitive environment, a me-too product with a line extension name has little hope of becoming a big, profitable brand (chapter 12: The Law of Line Extension).
The leading brand in any category is almost always the first brand into the prospect's mind. Hertz in rent-a-cars. IBM in computers. Coca-Cola in cola.
After World War II, Heineken was the first imported beer to make a name for itself in America. So four decades later, what is the No. 1 imported beer? The one that tastes the best? Or Heineken? There are 425 brands of imported beer sold in America. Surely one of these brands must taste better than Heineken, but does it really matter? Today, Heineken is still the No. 1 imported beer, with 30 percent of the market.
The first domestic light beer was Miller Lite. So what is the largest-selling light beer in America today? The one that tastes the best? Or the one that got into the mind first?
Not every first is going to become successful, however. Timing is an issue--your first could be too late. For example, USA Today is the first national newspaper, but it is unlikely to succeed. It has already lost $800 million and has never had a profitable year. In a television era, it may be too late for a national newspaper.
Some firsts are just bad ideas that will never go anywhere. Frosty Paws, the first ice cream for dogs, is unlikely to make it. The dogs love it, but the owners are the ones who buy the groceries, and they think that dogs don't need an ice cream of their own. They should be happy just to lick the plates.