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02/01/2011 The Art of War (and Marketing)

I was in a meeting a few weeks ago, listening to someone talk about a proposal for some upcoming marketing.

“We’ll open with a media blitz. Once that first phase has settled, we’ll launch a geographically targeted campaign aimed at certain population and demographic centers. We’ll track all of this through our command and control center that will give up-to-the-minute results of our progress.”

It was only after I left this meeting that I realized that this person could have given this talk at the Pentagon, rather than in a marketing meetings. Which raises the question:

Are we really at war with consumers? 

It also raises another question. The strategy and tactics used above describe 20th century warfare, one that increasingly relied on great distances between the attacker and the attacked. Think of pilots flying B-52s over Vietnam, cruise missiles in the Gulf War, or drone attacks in Afghanistan.

20th century marketing modeled itself after the 20th century military model. In combat we’re seeing that model break down. In marketing, it’s already broken. 

Today we talk about asymmetric warfare. It’s where small groups of relatively powerless people can inflict harm, defeat or outlast a stronger adversary. In marketing, we talk about the Motrin Moms and Kevin Smith.

In modern warfare, we’re seeing a renewed need to actually spend time with local populations, building up their communities and helping them prosper as a way to win the military battle.

In modern marketing, we’re starting to see a beginning of an effort to focus on providing value and utility, as well as help to communities, with great help from digital and social media. Big brands have to stop thinking of attacking its consumers with blitzes (watch out London!) and to start winning the hearts and minds of people instead.

Of course this is what brands have claimed to do for decades. They’ve just done it through carpet-bombing and other violent advertising tactics.

How about this for a new year’s resolution, late that it may be:

Don’t use any military jargon in your marketing planning or speaking.
No more campaigns. No more blitzes. No more executions.

Let’s stop being at war with the people we market to. Let’s bet at peace with them instead.

Changing your language has a profound impact. The landscape has changed and so must we marketers. That is, unless the only thing you’re interested in are more medals to hang on your chest.



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