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Three Really Immutable Laws of Mindshare

Midweek Motivator

100_100_timby Tim Moore


15 years ago Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote Twenty Two Immutable Laws of Marketing. In our firm we’re always looking for the latest edge but in that process we hear the echo, “some rules don’t change with the passage of time.” While for every “impossible” there’s a “possible” and for every “never” there’s a “sometimes,” when we look back at format branding battles in markets of all sizes, the order of incumbency seldom favors a challenger. This law-of-the-leader holds true for car dealerships, phone service, and radio formats. It’s also historically true in at least 85% of all radio format rivalries. The leader is sometimes temporarily upset, but seldom permanently displaced.

Here are our most-hallowed rules of mindshare (unchanged from Ries & Trout’s immutable and usually unbeatable realities).

It’s better to be first than it is to be better! If you lay hands on the aforementioned Ries & Trout classic you see a drawing of two ancient monoplanes under the chapter one headline. One monoplane you know (Lindbergh), the other you don’t (Hinkley). You know Lindbergh because he was first to solo-fly the Atlantic. But aviation history buffs record that Hinkley followed Lindbergh’s feat by flying the same solo flight in less time, far better navigation, and excellent aviating. Ninety years later…no one cares.

If you can’t be first in a category, be different! The same monoplanes appear on the front page of the subsequent chapter of that book; with one additional ancient monoplane; third in the stack of three. Under the third plane it says “Earhart.” Clearly she wasn’t first or second to solo the Atlantic; she was the first female. Ninety years-on, everyone cares because in every sense, she was “different.”

People have trouble articulating “better” when asked to differentiate one product from another, but they have little trouble discerning “different.” This is our rule; we preach it constantly and see it every time we conduct a focus panel. “So…what do you guys believe are the main differences between stations A and B?” You can make book on it. However radio-naïve the participants, they can and will share their take on why one brand is different from the other.

These three paragons of intelligent branding seem so simple and yet daily trade press is full of format “Hail Mary’s” defying these tenets carved in the Mt. Rushmore of marketing. One of our colleagues and original ADG partner Alan Mason is fond of using the “lily pad” analogy: “Are you making a five lily-pad jump when only one may be required?” It’s a homily worth remembering.

Often when in heated battle when your brand is on the short step of the medal stand, do you really need to implode your position jumping five lily pads trying to be better, or should you jump only one lily pad to be different? A brand is a terrible thing to waste.


Tim Moore

Managing Partner

Audience Development Group