The Law of Focus: How Leading Brands Own Words (and Markets)

I’ve been reading through a book called “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” originally published in 1993, aka the same year I was born. It was republished and presumably updated in a 2009 release, but my copy is from a dusty set of thrift store shelves.

It’s fascinating reading something that is 20+ years old (27 or 28 to be more specific) that contains “immutable” laws which are unchanging (the definition of immutable).  I am as old as this books’ marketing advice.

The law of focus stuck out at me as particularly useful.

The Law of Focus – The idea that you can associate a brand with a word. You narrow the focus of what you’re offering to be super niche to a specific problem or audience.

What are the types of focus?

Choosing a word or two to focus on can come in a few different forms:

  • Benefit related
  • Service related
  • Audience related
  • Preferred brand

We’ve talked about how the first one to name a product often owns it. That’s why Google is synonymous with “search,” Kleenex means any disposable tissue for wiping one’s nose with, etc.

It’s related to the law of leadership, which I wrote about in this post.  But the law of focus hones your brand to a singular purpose.  A single word that is wrapped into your brand. Forget the elevator pitch, today’s market leaders have their single words locked down.

When choosing words that might become your brand’s word, ask the following questions:

  • Does this word have a narrow focus?
  • Is there already a leader in this space?
  • What are the implications of this word?
  • What comes to mind now when you hear this word?

Competition is key

One of the keys of the law of focus is that for your word, there must be a sort of counterargument or a competitor willing to take the opposing stance against your brand.

That’s why quality doesn’t work well as a concept unless you are selling very expensive, high-end products. You have to be top-of-the-line to compete for quality, as that is the most competitive space.

No one wants to take the opposite stance, which is “not quality” products. It’s the same reason that branding yourself as an “honest” mechanic doesn’t work well, because no one will admit they’re a dishonest mechanic.

Without the competitor in the space, the law of focus doesn’t work.

Your Focus Will Change

Your brand is likely already competing in a space for a word, even if you haven’t consciously chosen a word.

Using the law of focus can be invaluable for branding or rebranding efforts. It helps you and your team refocus your efforts on what you want your brand to be linked to.

Thomson Reuters is a good example to look at. I knew them originally as a journalism outlet back in college. But I noticed while working on a project a couple years ago that they had rebranded themselves as “The Information Company,” which represented a shift in the space they were in. Now instead of journalism or newspapers, Reuters is associated with information.

Not all brand shifts are so successful. Sometimes a brand will shift towards to a new word or space, and they will not be the first or the best. They could even lose the space they vacated in rebranding.  That’s how this concept is linked to the law of exclusivity, which states that two brands can’t own the same word.

Current B2B-Focused Leaders

  • Litmus – Litmus is a program that shows email designers how their emails appear in various email clients. Litmus tests originally were used to determine acidity or alkalinity. Litmus software shoes exactly how an email lands on the user end.  Litmus is associated with testing (specifically in emails) and so email testing is their word.
  • IBM – IBM is the original computer company. Therefore, they are always leading the market in the latest developments of hardware and software for computers. Computers is IBM’s space and word.
  • Google – Search is the main space this brand occupies, but Google has managed to create a suite of tools for the modern internet user, which is another big space.

My Thoughts On The Law of Focus

Being that the book claims these laws are immutable, I have enjoyed reading the book and noting the “current” examples from the 90s in the book.

They reference a budding category in software, which is groupware. They talk about how Lotus is the leader in the groupware space and how that company needs competition in the space to gain more success.  They briefly mention Microsoft products, but it’s clear the authors think Lotus will come out on top.

I write this on Microsoft Word, something I’ve been using since I was a literal child in computer class.

I hadn’t heard the term groupware before, but Microsoft Word is a leader in what I would call software suites or business suites. There’s value in observing how Lotus faded in obscurity, perhaps because the word it chose to brand around doesn’t exist 28 years later.


Actionable Advice

Focus is related to placing your brand in its lane. It’s narrowing the scope so your branding never misses.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and brainstorm words related to your brand and the space it occupies.

Aim for the truth and your goals with these words. Try to keep it to one word but two is okay in today’s hyper niche business landscape.




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