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The Law of the Category. Is it still immutable?

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.

So. On to law number two, “the Law of the Category: If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.”

In their book, Ries and Trout gave many great examples to support this law. For example, Dell wasn’t the first computer company, but it was the first direct to consumer computer company. Charles Schwab wasn’t the first broker to open its doors, by it was the first discount broker.

Many great examples still exist today to support this law, so we did have to give this one some thought. In the end, we concluded that this law is NOT immutable because setting up a new category you can be first in, doesn’t always guarantee success. It’s much more complicated than that.

Firstly, timing is everything. You can set yourself up in business in a completely new category, but if your timing is off, then it just won’t fly.

Just look at Webvan, the first online grocery service. Webvan was the first to deliver products to customers' homes within a 30-minute window of their choosing. But Webvan went bankrupt in 2001 and was named by CNET as one of the biggest flops in dotcom history. One of the many reasons for its failure, was that it was launched just too early. Consumers weren’t ready for this type of service yet.

Secondly, just because you can create a new category, doesn’t mean you should.

You still need to make sure that you are answering a real consumer need and not just doing something for the sake of it. Companies can sometimes be guilty of creating new technology for technology’s sake, the smart watch being an obvious example. You simply can’t create need when there isn’t one.

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