About Face. Forward March

The military, like your cause marketing campaign, has a sense of mission. Sometimes the mission is very narrowly defined and time-limited. When a squad goes out on patrol at night, its mission may be reconnoiter, or intercept before returning to base in time for breakfast. Sometimes the military's mission is very broad and open-ended, like ending another country’s ability to wage asymmetrical warfare.

Given that similarity, causes and sponsors that do cause marketing might consider developing an approach to mission that the military uses called “commander’s intent.”

According to Wikipedia, commander’s intent describes “military focused operations and it is a publicly stated description of the end-state as it relates to forces (entities, people) and terrain, the purpose of the operation, and key tasks to accomplish. It is developed by a small group, e.g., staff, and a commander.”



Commander’s intent is not just the purpose and the aim of an action, it’s also about their implications. Perhaps most pointedly, the commander’s intent gives subordinates the basis for their own initiative. As such, commander’s intent must be understood two echelons down, says the same Wikipedia article.

We often think of military organizations being the quintessence of top-down leadership. But commander’s intent brings some nuance to that notion.

(All references to the military refer to the American military. I don’t have the breadth of experience or knowledge to say for sure the degree to which any of this also applies to the militaries of other countries, although I suspect that, like so many things in military doctrine, the Prussians probably had a hand in its development).

The U.S. military hasn’t always had the concept of commander’s intent. But the idea developed because crazy stuff happens in war. Opponents act in unpredictable ways. So do your troops. Weather and terrain play a factor. So does inadequate training, egos, and poor military intelligence, and a thousand more factors. Warfare is a very fluid environment. All the variables combine into something called the “fog of war,” a phrase that describes a state of gross uncertainty.

I’m not going to try and over-analogize here. War bears little semblance to what most causes do.

However, causes that do cause marketing and their sponsors could benefit from the idea of commander’s intent because uncertainty is a fact of modern cause marketing, too.

Only instead of commander’s intent, let’s take some of the martialness out of it and call it “campaign intent.”

Almost every cause marketing effort could benefit from the process of creating a campaign intent statement. It would be very clarifying. Both the cause and the sponsor and perhaps other stakeholders should have a hand in creating the campaign intent.

And, as in the commander’s intent, it should be understood and disseminated up and down the chain of command. That requirement means the campaign intent should be brief, pithy even. 

And since it has to be understood as least two echelons down from the top, it probably needs to pass what they used to call the “Jethro Test.” During my training as a military journalist, they taught us to write for Jethro, the not-so-bright member of the Clampett family on the long-ago TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” 

It has to be that plain-spoken because the campaign intent is going to be the measuring stick against which people up and down the chain of command will evaluate their choices and decisions.

So what might a campaign intent statement look like for something like General Mills Boxtops program?

“To give schools across the nation access to needed supplies and equipment while preserving pricing power for General Mills and its partners.”

1 comment about "About Face. Forward March".
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  1. Tom Aiello from MARCH, LLC, September 3, 2013 at 5:40 p.m.

    "Commander's Intent" is critical in cause programs. We ran a military veteran cause marketing program, and doubled positive coverage for the client by opportunistically highlighting their veteran employment practices! No part of the original program included this, but it was a clear part of the intent of the program. In the Army, we used Commander's Intent to allow individuals to take the initiative. The same risk/ reward exists in cause marketing if done properly!

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