recently had the privilege to interview Al Ries, who is an
international marketing expert and author of 12 books on
marketing, advertising and PR (The 22-Immutable Laws of
Marketing, Positioning, The 22-Immutable Laws
of Branding, Marketing Warfare, The Fall of
Advertising & The Rise of PR, War in the Boardroom,
Al is also an internationally
renowned speaker and consultant to
many of the mega brands and corporations.
interview, Al shared many insights that I am excited to
share with all of you. I separated the interview into four
parts and below we start with part 1.
The first thing I wanted to talk about has to do with “the
law of focus” from your book, The 22-Immutable Laws of
Marketing. One sentence that jumped out at me is your
point about having the ability to think like a prospect. I
find that to be the biggest problem with many marketing
people. They miss the importance of thinking like their
prospects think, which is the exact viewpoint you need in
order to write successful marketing pieces.
Essentially, this gets right back to the first book you
mentioned, Positioning. Here it is, thirty-five years
later, and people are still doing the same thing. They
think of marketing as communication; “I’m communicating
something about my product or service that makes sense.”
But what we’ve been saying for years is that’s not the way
to look at it. You have to reverse the process. You have
to start with the mind of the prospect and you have to think
about what’s in their minds and relate what you are doing or
what your product has to offer, to what’s in their minds.
Hopefully, in the best of all
possible worlds, you look for an open hole in their minds.
Almost invariably, the big successful brands are the ones
that are not necessarily terrific at marketing or anything
else, but they find a hole and fill it. A perfect example
of this is in the category of energy drinks. The first
energy drink was Red Bull.
But before Red Bull came along,
there wasn’t even a category called “energy drinks.”
And that brings up another point;
consumers are more interested in categories than brands.
Yet, what do most marketers want to talk about? They want
to talk about their brands. “Hey, our brand is terrific!”
“Our brand is this; our brand is that.” But, most consumers
don’t think in terms of brands. When they order something in
a bar, they don’t think brand. They think category, “What
do I want to drink? Do I want a beer? Do I want a coke?
Do I want a gin and tonic?” In other words, they think
category first. They think, “I want an energy drink.” Then
they ask the bartender for a Red Bull.
So a lot of this has to do with
thinking like a consumer, and filling holes in people’s
minds. Telling them, in a sense, what they DON’T know as
opposed to what they DO know.
That’s a great point. And, when not understood by
marketers, companies can go miles off message of where they
need to be and fail miserably.
Al Ries: Think
about it from the PR point of view. I mean invariably your
clients tell you we got this product, we got this service
and we want you to publish it and we want you to do this and
we want you to do that. The best stories often are, if you
think about it, from the customer’s point of view, what are
they looking for? If you can figure out what they’re
looking for, it’s easy.
Exactly, and that’s the education we frequently go through
with clients; getting them to understand that the media
doesn’t care what their business or product is. The media’s
interest is in serving their public: their listeners,
viewers and readers. Their need is to provide information
that’s entertaining and informative to their audience in
order to keep them tuned in.
Al Ries: The
media is filling a hole on the page for the consumer, while
you’re filling a hole in the mind. It’s the same thing.
That’s exactly right. Another point I wanted to bring up is
the lack of understanding too many business owners have
about the importance of marketing, particularly with small
to mid-size companies. It seems they become so focused on
their products and for a variety of reasons, perhaps lack of
education about marketing as a primary one, they lose sight
of the need for marketing to occur as a continuous activity
for the company’s survival and success.
Al Ries: Here’s
why they do that. Everything about running a business,
especially a small business, is very, very short term. In
other words, I buy stuff today and sell it tomorrow or the
next week. I hire a person today and pick up the phone and
get something done or build something. I mean they’re very,
very short term, but marketing is long term. Nothing
happens right away. I mean you could have the very best
marketing in the world. You won’t see any results in the
first week or the first month, really. It sometimes takes
years and years, and most companies just don’t have the
patience to deal with marketing because it is long term.
Now some of the best marketing campaigns, like the ultimate
driving machine, are thirty-five years old, for goodness
sakes. Thirty-five years old and most of the successful
programs have been around like forever. Nike’s “Just Do
It!” How many companies have the patience to run a
marketing program for two or three or four decades? I mean
people change. For one thing, they lack patience.
Exactly! I think perhaps in today’s world where everything
moves fast (fast food, fast everything), long term marketing
just doesn’t fall into that state of mind.
Al Ries: Well
think about one of the trends that’s taking place in
business today and it’s a very, very strong trend… coupons
and discounts. Grouponicus, for example! Groupon is
enormously successful. I mean… they turned down an offer
for six billion dollars!
I know. I just saw that.
Al Ries: They’ve
been in business for years. That’s typical short-term
thinking with long-term consequences. Now in the
short-term, coupons will work. I mean short term you have a
coupon deal and next week you have lots of customers, but
what happens in the long term? Whenever you get a coupon
deal, you have business in the short term, but in the long
term, the customer just waits for the next coupon. Look at
Macy’s. They’re running 50% off deals, right? They might
have big crowds and they might rack up a lot of sales, but
next week or the week after, who’s going to go to Macy’s
unless they have a sale? It’s crazy, so in a sense, while
it works in the short term, it’s a little like cocaine. You
get a short term high, but a long term low. So if you don’t
look at the long term consequences of what you do—and this
holds true in your personal life too—you’re going to be in
deep trouble if you treat marketing as a short term
phenomenon. What can I do today that will make sales
tomorrow? You’re going to do exactly the wrong thing;
you’re going to be into coupons. You will have to be into
all sorts of stuff that doesn’t really make sense in the
Al, I love it. I think that’s such a critical point for
people… business owners… to understand. How do you feel
when companies have high prices, then they slash them
because they’re low on cash or cash flow, only to bring them
back up. What are your thoughts about that?
Al Ries: Well
let’s look at the industry that has done that the most. I
mean not so much short term, but they play what we call in
the retail business “the high/low” game. In other words,
high prices today and then we can have a big sale tomorrow.
We have lower prices tomorrow then we jack them up. We see
this a lot in the airline industry.
The airline industry, over
decades, has been practicing high/low pricing. In a sense,
where they have competition (let’s say a regional area),
they have low prices. Where they have no competition, they
have high prices. Has that worked for the airline
industry? No. The four largest airlines in America have all
But, the one airline that has been
consistently profitable for the last thirty-five years has
been Southwest; they’re basically like a little Wal-Mart.
They have low prices, but they don’t jack up the prices so
they can have discounts and coupons. They have everyday low
pricing. That’s a long-term strategy that works better than
the short-term strategy of low prices today and high prices
The reason that high/low doesn’t
work is you educate your consumer to wait for the low
price. In a sense, the consumer feels the low price is the
regular price and the high price is the rip-off price.
Now the airline and other
companies feel exactly the opposite way. They feel the high
price is the regular price and the low price is the discount
price. So consumers and companies don’t see eye-to-eye on
these things; consumers don’t think that way.
Al Ries Interview - Part 2
Marsha Friedman, CEO of EMSI, is a 20-year
veteran of the public relations industry, who provides PR
strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers,
authors and professional firms.
She is also the author of the book, Celebritize Yourself.
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