Brand stewards have long employed a litany of military terms -- Briefing, Strategy, Tactics, Campaign, Target, Territory, Launch, Positioning, and Saturation -- to discuss marketing efforts to outmaneuver the "enemy." The very etymology of the word "strategy" is military -- "the art of a general" -- but is a militaristic approach really appropriate to today’s world of marketing? And if marketing is "war," exactly who/what is the enemy, and does the language of warfare provide a useful metaphor in the age of consumers in control?
We might lay the blame on marketing pundits Al Ries and Jack Trout, whose seminal 1993 book, "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" -- equated victory with sales. There is much marketers can learn from military strategy, according to Ries and Trout, who recount several battles -- Marathon (490 B.C.) and the Normandy Invasion (1944) -- as metaphoric marketing lessons. They claim these famous battles illustrate the concepts of planning, maneuvering, and overpowering the opposition -- principles they claim are key to successful marketing.
But does the language of nineteenth-century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz provide a map to foster engagement and relationship building in the post command-and-control world? Surely trying to beat the enemy into submission isn’t the most effective solution in a social media-dominated world.
Things become even more interesting when we consider that the Holy Grail for marketers is engagement -- an effort to build meaningful relationships -- between people (aka consumers) and brands. And yet the way we think about marketing is diametrically opposed to the desired result. Ries and Trout argue that the real marketing battle takes place in the mind of the consumer, and to win a firm must successfully execute a superior strategy.
Unfortunately, warfare does not imply a joint effort between groups; rather, it implies a situation in which opposing groups fight it out until one side wins. The battle is exhausting. There are casualties as customers defect, lives are negatively affected, feelings hurt on all sides, and people frustrated. There is collateral damage as brand image suffers, product suffers, and jobs are lost.
Most significantly, people at war aren’t valued by the ones they are warring against. Worse, there are only two possible outcomes -- victory or surrender. But who wants to be in a dominated relationship? Who wants to surrender, accept the offer and have no say at all?
Marketers forgot to ask people for permission to play war games in their minds, but with the Internet people can simply shut the door on them. Nobody wants to be targeted. Nobody wants to be positioned. Nobody wants to be manipulated. The consumer increasingly has the power, and marketers with goods and services to sell need to start thinking of them again as customers.
Ries and Trout seem to have omitted a key component of successful brand building -- winning peoples’ hearts as well as their minds. And thinking and speaking as if marketing is warfare is not the way to win hearts; warfare implies hostility and marketers need better means to connect, like conversation and storytelling. So perhaps the time has come for brands to earn the right to become part of peoples’ worlds.
So here's the question -- what vocabulary can replace that of warfare? What conceptual structure might we base the vocabulary on? PR professionals and marketers are rapidly turning to conversations as the core of their relationship-building efforts. And what is a conversation if not a flirtation with one’s intended -- whose engagement and loyalty we seek? In this perhaps we have a clue.
One's vocabulary profoundly affects the way we approach things, consciously and subconsciously, so if we want to reinvent marketing based on lasting relationships with people rather than targeting "consumers," the language we employ is crucial.
Relationships -- even with brands -- are based on permission, trust and partnership, not the threat of force and conquest. So as we gaze yearningly at our partners this Valentine's Day, let's consider a new metaphoric language of marketing -- terms of endearment and the language of L-O-V-E.
I urge the romantics among you to take a few minutes to explore this exotic new marketing territory in a long list of terms of endearment.
Be creative. Feel free to coin your own terms. After all, a personalized term of endearment rings sweeter to the ear and definitely helps to create a special connection between you and your partner (your consumer).