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Marketing: Ries & Trout's 22 laws.

Shortly after Charles Lindbergh became the first solo flier to cross the Atlantic, a second aviator named Bert Hinkler made a similar flight. Hinkler flew faster, used less fuel, and generally outperformed Lindbergh. But Hinkler ended up as a footnote in the history books, while Lindbergh went on to become one of the great heroes of his time.

Bert Hinkler's fate contains an implicit warning about product positioning, according to market strategists A1 Ries and Jack Trout. Superior technical performance doesn't automatically translate into market leadership, they point out--and in fact a single-minded focus on "the product as hero" is usually fatal. "Most marketing mistakes stem from the assumption that you're fighting a product battle rooted in reality," they insist.

So what's the alternative to product-centric marketing? Reis and Trout have spent more than 25 years preaching (and practicing) marketing tactics based instead on principles of consumer psychology and corporate positioning. They've written three best-sellers and created campaigns for dozens of major clients. Their latest manifesto is a pithy 132-page book called "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," which promises to be one of the year's most talked-about marketing books. Some key points:

* The Immutable Law of Focus: In almost any industry, Ries and Trout argue, the big winners are companies (or brands) that consumers instantly associate with a single highly-focused concept--like Heinz and "ketchup," Volvo and "safety," and Federal Express and "overnight." But this kind of focused message, they add, also implies a willingness to downplay other messages, features, or even spin-off products. "Federal Express was able to put the word 'overnight' into the minds of its prospects because it sacrificed its product line and focused on overnight package delivery only."

* The Immutable Law of the Ladder: Products never exist in a vacuum; their ranking and position in the marketplace depend on a competitive "ladder" that consumers perceive when making choices. If a product doesn't own the top rung, say Ries and Trout, a good positioning message must define the product's relative position to the leader. Pepsi's "new generation" theme reflected the fact that most people who drink Coke, the market leader, are older consumers; the famous "Avis tries harder" campaign implied that the top car rental firm wasn't as service-oriented as its smaller rival. (If a market is in flux, however, there's a risk that a relative positioning message may become outdated. Borland originally defined Quattro Pro as the next-generation upgrade Lotus couldn't produce. When Lotus got its technology act together, Quattro's position in the market became ambiguous.)

* The Immutable Law of Line Extensions: In most companies, Ries and Trout point out, "there's irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand." Soft drink companies add new flavors, retailers like Sears expand into financial services, and computer companies like IBM dabble in such sidelines as copiers, telephones, videotext, and PC software. Line extensions typically look attractive because they generate fresh short-term revenue. But the almost-inevitable result of diluting a company's original positioning statement, warn Ries and Trout, is that consumers lose their sense of the company's focus. As a result, the company loses its competitive edge even in core markets. "Invariably, the leader in any category is the brand that is not line extended," they say.

* The Immutable Law of Hype: Companies often spend enormous effort positioning themselves for the press, typically by promising "revolutionary" breakthroughs in technology. But what really counts is whether the positioning message convinces customers to buy a new product. "Real revolutions don't arrive at high noon with marching bands and coverage on the 6:00 pm news," Ries and Trout argue. "Real revolutions arrive unannounced in the middle of the night and sneak up on you."

Al Ries and Jack Trout, "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," HarperBusiness, New York; $22.00.
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Title Annotation:"The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Date:Sep 30, 1993
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