To Be First and Last

In my sophomore year of college, I picked up a slim paperback that would change my perspective entirely. "22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" by Ries & trout is a quick read, and its lessons are easy to grasp. It was my very first marketing book, and I referred to it often as I started up organizations, and then businesses. I still recommend it to clients and friends, and I know it has gotten a lot of attention because Tim Ferriss considers it one of the most important books for an entrepreneur to read. But he recommends the original 1993 version that I still read, even though it is incredibly dated.

The most important rule in the book is the first one: "The Law of Leadership." It says this: be first. We almost always remember the first: We remember Charles Lindbergh first and Neil Armstrong and George Washington and Harvard University. First is more powerful than best. I took that to heart, and included the word "first" in so many marketing materials and presentations.

But here's the thing. There is something so special about last. True, last is bittersweet, but I have come to realize how important last is to me. What is it they say? It is better to be last love than first love? It's true. Whenever I get the opportunity to be a part of the last of something, I almost always seize it, because I know that forever is a mighty long time. I don't want too many regrets.

So I signed up for tickets to Billy Joel's "Last Play at Shea," and was truly annoyed when he added a show after ours. What was worse than being at the "Second-to-Last Play at Shea?" Knowing that the final show ended with Paul McCartney, who headlined the first play at Shea Stadium with the Beatles. But I have gotten the chance to be a part of some memorable lasts, many surrounding Nassau and Queens venues. The Islanders final game at the Nassau Coliseum. Mike Piazza's last game as a Met. The Mets' final game in the 2015 World Series. And I will be attending the final performance ever by the 148-year-old Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus at Nassau Coliseum on May 21st. I first saw the circus as a 7 year old, also at the Coliseum, and I have never forgotten the magic I felt for the first time. I know the feelings will be a lot more ambivalent this time around.

I haven't read too many marketing books over the years, mainly because I am married to a marketing expert. But the last one I read a couple of years ago has really stuck with me. "Blue Ocean Strategy" posits the idea that there are red oceans and blue oceans. Red oceans are "territories" that are fought over and made bloody because everyone in a red ocean is vying for the same category. It's a shark-eat-shark world in the red ocean. A blue ocean is one in which you have the territory all to yourself. You have carved out a niche. This is a version of "The Law of the Category" in "22 Immutable Laws."

What is really interesting is that "Blue Ocean Strategy" discussed the circus as an illustration of carving out a niche. The traditional circus is under a big top, open to children of all ages, with animals and stars (Gunther Gebel-Williams, for instance), popcorn, and "low art." But if you emphasize certain elements of the circus--acrobatics and spectacle--and de-emphasize the others, taking away the animals, increasing the ticket prices, using symphonies and "high art," you carve out a blue ocean and arrive at Cirque Du Soleil. The last marketing book I read saw the writing on the wall: "The Greatest Show on Earth" would succumb to the red ocean.

As for "22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," the first marketing book I ever read? It was prescient, too, but wrongly so. One law turned out to be not so immutable. On page 106, "The Law of Success: Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure" discusses the pitfalls of early success:

"Your success puffs up your ego to such an extent that you put the famous name on other products. Result: early success and long-term failure as illustrated by the failure of Donald Trump... Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18"

Even the best books get it wrong. Give someone enough time and enough opportunities, and there's always the possibility he or she will defy immutable laws.