Since the time that the ancient Greeks coined the word ‘strategos’, meaning to lead an army effectively, thousands of generals have used military strategy to conquer territories and gain power. These military strategies – outwitting competing forces and conserving resources while expanding influence provide an excellent resource for businesses as well. Most confrontations – whether military, business, or even athletic – involve a defence protecting its ground and an offence trying to overtake that ground. The key to both strategies is the efficient use of resources to accomplish the attack and overtake the territory.
The 2,500 years of recorded military history we find five ruling applications that are characteristic of all well executed military strategies – practical principles that you can use in your business to develop successful competitive strategies.
Last week, we reviewed the direct attack strategy and indirect attack strategy. Today we review the balance three strategies.
Envelopment is the military tactic of seizing objectives in the enemy’s rear with the goal of destroying specific enemy forces and denying them the ability to withdraw. Rather than attacking an enemy head-on as in a frontal assault, an envelopment seeks to exploit the enemy’s flanks, attacking them from multiple directions and avoiding where their defences are strongest.
A successful envelopment lessens the number of casualties suffered by the attacker while inducing a psychological shock on the defender and improving the chances to destroy them. An envelopment will consist of one or more enveloping forces, which attacks the enemy’s flank(s), and a fixing force, which attacks the enemy’s front and “fixes” them in place so that they cannot withdraw or shift their focus on the enveloping forces.
An envelopment strategy in business management consists of two stages:
nFirst, beginning as an indirect attack. The attacker focuses on a specific market segment for a point of entry.
Second, by identifying additional market segments and adding new products, the attacker then uses an expansion strategy to envelop the entire market.
In the consumer market, Seiko illustrates the indirect-envelopment combination. The Japanese company initially entered the watch market in one segment, digital watches and then enveloped the overall market by offering as many as 400 models of watches to penetrate every major watch outlet and customer segment – and generally overwhelmed their competitors.
Deception attack is an act to propagate beliefs that there is no direct attack forthcoming. Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda and sleight of hand, as well as distraction, camouflage, or concealment. This is the act of allowing an opponent to only react to the wrong circumstances. Diversionary attacks, feints, decoys: There are thousands of tricks that have successfully used and still have a role in the future.
The deception attack allows the attacker to circumvent its chief competitors and diversify into unrelated products or unrelated geographical markets for existing products.
For example, Eastman Kodak Co. successfully used a deception strategy approach into such diverse areas as electronics and biotechnology, with products as diverse as electronic publishing systems, cattle feed nutrients and anti-cancer drugs.
However, this relatively sudden move into diverse fields followed an ultra-conservative period in which Kodak temporarily stalled and competitors grabbed such markets as instant photography, 35mm cameras and video recorders. All of which were natural extensions of Kodak’s core business. The deception strategy does include a measure of risk because expansion into a range of unrelated fields can diminish a company’s strength in any single area.
Guerrilla warfare tends to involve the use of a small, mobile force against a large, unwieldy one. It is largely or entirely organised in small units that are dependent on the support of the local population. Tactically, the guerrilla army makes massive, repetitive attacks far from the opponent’s centre of gravity imposing a constant debilitating strain on the enemy.
Guerrilla attack involves small intermittent attacks on different markets. It is useful for a small company competing against a large corporation, or where a product with a small market share is combating a brand leader. It can also be executed by a larger organisation against its competitors.
Guerrilla attacks are characterised by a number of actions: selective price cuts, supply interference, executive raids, intensive promotional bursts and assorted legal actions. The aim is movement and surprise to create confusion and distraction and to cause the opposing manager to make mistakes.
With the discussion of attack techniques in mind, we can now bridge the vast historical perspective of military strategy with the more recent view of business. The military-marketing connection can be summed up in the following perceptive and parallel statements:
The object of war is a better state of peace. (Liddell hart)
The object of business is to create a customer. (Peter Drucker)
Speed is an essential ingredient in the effective application of marketing strategy. There are few cases of overlong, dragged-out campaigns that have been successful. Exhaustion – the draining of resources – has killed more companies than almost any other factor.
Extended deliberation, procrastination, cumbersome committees and long chains of command from home office to the field are all detriments to success. Drawn out efforts often divert interest, diminish enthusiasm and depress morale. Individuals become bored and their skills lose sharpness.
The gaps of time created through lack of action give competitors a greater chance to react and blunt your efforts. In today’s competitive business environment, it is in your best interest to evaluate, manoeuvre and concentrate your marketing forces quickly to gain the most profit at least cost in the shortest span of time. In one case, IBM acted quickly to invade Japanese markets, while bringing legal action against its Japanese competitor for illegally obtaining IBM’s operating codes.
The proverbs ‘Opportunities are fleeting’ or ‘The window of opportunity is open just for a short period’ have an intensified truth in today’s markets. Speed is essential for gaining the advantage and exploiting the advantage gained.
For maximum speed the essential ingredient is an efficient organisation that simplifies the system of control and, in particular, shortens the chain of command. Your own experience may well support the obvious conclusion that an organisation with many levels in its decision-making process cannot operate
This situation exists because each link in a chain of command carries four drawbacks: (1). Loss of time in getting information back. (2). Loss of time in sending orders forward. (3). The reduction of the top executive’s full knowledge of the situation. (4). Decrease in the top executive’s personal influence
Therefore, to make your marketing effort effective, reduce the chain of command. The fewer the intermediate levels, the more dynamic the operations tend to become. The result is improved effectiveness of the total marketing effort and increased flexibility
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at [email protected])