Literal lessons from the trenches
- By Mark Amtower
- Sep 20, 2016
I have a
fascination with military history, especially battles. My library includes Sun
Tzu (three different editions- my favorite is the James Clavell version), the
three volume set of von Clauswitz’s On
War, biographies of Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon,
Patton’s War As I Knew It, Eisenhower’s War in Europe, Marketing
Warfare (Trout and Ries), and more. You get the picture.
I’ve been reading Cornell history Professor Barry Strauss, who writes well and
extensively on ancient warfare, especially Greek and Roman. Imagine my surprise
when I open an email from MarketingProfs and find “Disruptive Marketing Lessons
from the Trojan Horse” by Professor Strauss.
So I ask
myself, “Mark, what have you seen in GovCon over the years that reflects good
military thinking?” Here are a few scenarios that came to mind.
The Importance of
Micron PC (MPC) in the mid-1990s produced some great
computers, but they were competing against some much bigger companies such as
Dell and Gateway. All three offered built-to-spec mail/phone order computers.
The CEO of Micron at that time was a former Dell executive and he wanted blood,
but under the guidance of the late, great Harry B. Heisler a plan was developed
and deployed to go after market share in the four agencies where MPC had a
strong beachhead, not to attack larger, much better financed companies across
the board. Advising Harry was fun; flying to Boise from Baltimore less so,
unless I was flying out with Tony Colangelo.
of developing the beachheads produced
very significant growth in each agency, more than doubling sales in each agency
over the next two years. Use your resources where you have that beachhead, and sell
where you are known.
Exploiting a Known
Weakness in Your Opponent
CDW launched the “G” division in the
early 2000s. In 2004 I was given a tour of the new warehouse in Chicago as part
of my introduction to my new client. The warehouse was a true “just in time”
delivery powerhouse, as they could get things out the door that day if the
order was in by 2 p.m. My tour guide was the president of CDWG, Jim Shanks.
During the tour we were discussing how to differentiate CDWG from GTSI and at
the end of the tour I had the answer. At that time GTSI had been the dominant
VAR for over twenty years.
“How long do
you think GTSI takes to ship products?” I asked Jim. He did not know, but I
did: Often as long as three weeks.
differentiator was “Order by 2:00PM and get it the next day.” Finding and exploiting the weakness
propelled CDWG past GTSI in a few short years.
same time CDWG was going after GTSI, Juniper
Networks deployed a guerrilla marketing campaign against Cisco. While it
had several elements, the most prominent was Farside-esque cartoons in Federal Computer Week. The cartoons took maybe one-eighth of a page
and were much less expensive that the two-page ads Cisco was buying. However,
the cartoons were what people started looking for in each issue, with every
cartoon offering a humorous barb. My personal favorite was a cat using a Cisco
router as a litter box.
I did not
advise Juniper so I don’t know the results, but I do know that there was a TON
of buzz around this campaign.
Successful guerrilla warfare involves
using unconventional tactics effectively, tactics your opponent does not expect and for which they
are not prepared.
marketing tactics to be successful you need to know the goal. I knew the goals
of MPC and CDWG and they were successful beyond the original intent. While I
loved the Juniper campaign, I don’t know how successful it was.
of whether your problem is a limited budget, and well-financed much bigger
opponent, or simply an entrenched enemy, there are usually ways to erode their
market share and possibly displace them altogether.
books have valuable marketing lessons.
Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.