In I993 Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the 22 Immutable Law of Marketing. Immutable laws – i.e. laws that cannot be changed over time. But can laws defined 23 years ago still be relevant today? We decided to find out by investigating each of the 22 Immutable Laws and giving our verdict as to whether they are, in fact, immutable.
First up, “The Law of Leadership: It’s better to be first, than it is to be better.”
Big M Verdict: NOT an immutable law
In 1993 Ries and Trout gave many great examples to back up their first law. Fast forward to 2016 and there many more examples that prove that being first to market does not necessarily pave the way to long term success.
Remember Friendster, the first social media platform to market? No we don’t really either, but it was first to market. Then came Myspace and of course Facebook. And there are many, many more examples. Netscape, was the first browser, Lycos, the first search engine, Rio the first mp3 player and Atari the original games console. All were first to market, yet their first mover advantage didn’t yield the results that Ries and Trout promised.
Why? Well, if you look at these examples, you might think it has something to do with technology. But actually it’s more fundamental than that. When Richard Rumelt met with Steve Jobs in 1997 and asked him about his strategy for the future, Jobs told him, “I am going to wait for the next big thing.” The introduction of the mp3 player was that thing and his response was to launch the iPod. Not the first mp3 player on the market, but 1000 songs in your pocket better.
To win, brands must be in tune with the consumer, continuously gaining insight into their changing needs, so they are able to offer the very best experience possible. Which explains why there are also many non-technology examples of this law no longer holding true. For example, Ries and Trout made the point that Heineken was the number one imported beer in America because it was the first imported beer to make a name for itself. But last year Corona outsold Heineken almost two to one in the US.
We believe it is possible to be second, third or even 100th to market and still win. If you stay close to the consumer and offer the very best consumer experience, you have more chance of success than if you are simply first.