If you’re only going to read one book about marketing, make it The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.
Al Ries and Jack Trout have created a timeless classic that is relevant to any business owner or marketeer.
The authors refer to the law of category in the second chapter, creating the most profound marketing advice out there. Let me try to illustrate the point of product categories before we dive deeper.
Do you know who the third person to fly over the Atlantic is? The authors argue you know the answer. Who’s the 26th person in space? I’ll argue that you know this answer, too.
The third person to fly the Atlantic Ocean is Amelia Earhart. You probably know that, right? The authors argue that you know her because she’s the first woman to fly that distance. Neil Armstrong is the 26th man in space. You know him because he was also the first man on the moon.
Inventing and mastering a category is often more important than quality. Tim Ferriss developed the term lifestyle design and became one of the most famous non-fiction writers and internet personalities of the past decade. I wouldn’t nominate Tim Ferriss for a Pulitzer Prize, but I’d gladly order his books.
If you’re starting a new product or rebranding the old one, think of categories and master a new one. People usually don’t care about quality as much as they care about something new. We’re willing to engage with something fresh just because we’ve never had it before.
The Beer Industry and the Power of Product Category
The law of categories beautifully applies to the beer industry. Beer is one of the most popular beverages across the globe. Even if you’re not a drinker, you might value the story.
Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933. Three days later, Heineken was selling pale lager beer in the United States. The Dutch company had already dominated the global industry for almost 70 years.
Since that day, Heineken has been one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Heineken is arguably the most famous exported/imported pale lager, judging by sale numbers in over 70 countries. You can visit Heineken museums, buy Heineken memorabilia, and take Heineken beer tours in most industrialized nations.
Do you know what's the best selling beer in the U.S.? If you said Bud Light, you’re right. Bingo!
Anheuser-Busch InBev shipped more than 27 million barrels of Bud Light in 2019. The beer debuted in 1987 and took America by storm. More than 50 years after Heineken reached New York, Bud Light wins over American hearts. Both companies offer a similar product. The only difference is the category: Bud Light is a domestic beer, whereas Heineken is imported.
Consumers describe Bud Light as thin and watery, but also drinkable and refreshing. Bud Light has poor reviews of quality, but that doesn’t stop Anheuser-Busch from holding the throne of the beer industry.
Anheuser-Busch produced almost twice as much beer last year compared to Coors Light, the next beer in line. Molson Coors Brewing company shipped 14 million barrels in 2019, becoming the second beer by sales in the US.
Comparing Bud Light and Heineken:
- Both beers are pale light.
- Both brands are widely available.
- Quality is not the first thing in mind when you think of it.
- Both companies are industry leaders.
- Category: Bud Light is domestic. Heineken is a foreign beer in the US.
Choosing a new category is the path to the consumer’s heart. Al Ries and Jack Trout recommend advertising the category more than the product itself. You won’t have competition if you create your own arena.
The social media industry offers similar lessons. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are social media networks, but each platform dominates a different category.
Tim Ferris developed and advertised lifestyle design, even though he wasn’t the first writer offering work-life advice. The term lifestyle design has more than 14 million searches on Google, according to Ferriss.
Takeaway: Product Category
An individual category is the cornerstone of a widely successful business. You should strive to deliver a good service or a product. But consumers often seek something new and fresh.
The advice of Al Ries and Jack Trout is to create your category. If you’re a writer, find something unique to your own voice. Experiment with formatting, CTAs, personalized headlines, unique storytelling, frequency of published material, etc.
Heineken has successfully owned the category of imported beer since the end of Prohibition. Bud Light took the throne as the domestic product almost 50 years later. The products don’t differ in quality or taste. Heineken and Bud Light are watery and thin, but refreshing and drinkable beer.
Tim Ferris made millions by debuting the lifestyle design. He wasn’t the first man to talk about outsourcing or seeking fulfilled life over a bit of cash, but he definitely made a name for himself.
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