The First Law of Marketing

When companies talk about positioning, whether it’s a product, service, or the company itself, it’s often done from a faulty perspective. Many marketers think that their job is to convince the market that their company’s product or service is better than the competition.

This type of thinking can only lead to one result: failure. You can only hope that this failure happens sooner than later, because you’ll waste more money on a strategy that die a slow death if you keep forging ahead against the conventional wisdom of the marketplace by throwing money and time at the problem.

This type of brute force marketing is an example of how many companies violate the first law of marketing, which is: If you can’t be first in a category, find a category you can be first in. Because in almost every market or product category, the leader in the category is the leader by a large margin. The gauge of this leadership position is often referred to as “share of mind.”

The First Step in Successful Marketing

The first step in successful positioning is to find a category, or in more mature markets, a better term might be “sub-category,” that you can be first in. This is also known as the Law of Leadership, which says, “It’s better to be first than it is to be better.

This law is based on a simple principle: It’s much easier to become first in the mind of the customer than it is to convince that customer that you are better than the perceived leader.

Here’s an example of the law of leadership using a historical example: What’s the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Charles Lindbergh, right?

Now, ask yourself this question: Who is the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Much harder to answer, right?

The second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo is Bert Hinkler, a name forever burned in the footnotes of American History. And that’s too bad, because Bert Hinkler was actually a more successful pilot than Charles Lindbergh. He flew across the Atlantic faster than Lindbergh, and he used less fuel. But because he wasn’t first, his name is not well known.

How to Gain Share of Mind

To put this in perspective, note that most companies use the Bert Hinkler method of marketing to try to gain marketshare. They wait until a market has developed. Then they jump into the market and try to convince the public that they are better than the leader. And it hardly ever works, and in those cases where some market share is gained, it’s generally at great expense.

The reality for marketers is that, once consumers have made up their mind about a product or service, it’s almost impossible to get them to change their opinion. But you can get them to consider you if they don’t perceive your product or brand is competing for that top spot in their share of mind space.

Think about it. Are you happy with your current share of market? Do you feel you’re wasting precious budget with a wing and a prayer growth strategy?

If so, take some time to analyze the market characteristics (probably based on the leader’s value proposition), then look at your brand characteristics. Find a functional, emotional or self-expressive benefit you offer that the competition doesn’t. Then define a market category based on the value proposition your product or service offers and promote that sub-category. The one in which you are the leader (and hopefully the only brand in the consideration set).

With time, and focus, there’s a good chance you will see positive results over time as long as you stay the course.

Bill Threlkeld

Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at

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