In conversation with Ben Brain of Hannells last week I recalled a book I first read 30 years ago: ‘Marketing Warfare’ by Al Ries and Jack Trout. For certain it didn’t win any prizes for the quality of writing but the content, primarily based on Carl von Clausewitz (my favourite Prussian General) book ‘On War’ has me reaching for a reread most years.
In simple terms, Clausewitz suggested there are only four options in warfare and Ries & Trout suggest these also apply to marketing. Which one is right for you?
1. Defensive warfare. This is the option for market leaders and only for market leaders. I suggest that perhaps Zoopla might have mistakenly adopted this strategy when On the Market launched when instead, (Clausewitz would say) they should have continued to attack Rightmove. The best defensive strategy a leader can take is to attack itself. By challenging the existing products and services before the competitors do it renews and stays ahead.
2. Offensive warfare. This is the option for those in a number two or three position, typically not a new entrant. Rather than considering how to build market share, instead ask: “How do I decrease the leader’s share of the market?” The key to that is to find a weakness in the leader’s strength. You’ve read that correctly, a weakness in their strength. When Virgin Atlantic launched, Branson determined that BA’s strength in business travel opened up a position to pitch the new airline as the one you’d rather fly with personally. This also appealed to the younger business traveller as well as the family market.
Of course, the bigger your opponent the more likely they’ll have an Achilles heel. Find it and target it, launch an attack on as narrow a front as possible.
3. Flanking warfare. In essence it’s about identifying an unmet need, perhaps one that the customer hasn’t even worked out that they need. To be successful it requires meticulous planning and preparation and more, it needs to be a surprise attack. For example, you might not be the market leader but if they haven’t got a land and new homes operation could you outflank them in this segment? This option requires persistence. All too often companies quit once they’re ahead. Instead, they should drive on further and make the “flank” their own, become dominant at it. Flanking has many options – price, specialisation, product bundling, new commercial models to name just a few.
4. Guerilla warfare. The fourth and final option. It starts with finding the smallest viable niche, (or as Seth Godin calls it, the smallest viable audience). It’s often the area, product, service that the leader can’t be bothered to defend or has a relatively low value to them.
Having conquered a small, defined market then it’s imperative to not act like the leader. The advantage of guerilla warfare and marketing is speed of decision making and implementation.
Which one of these four should you be adopting right now?
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