The 'Counterinsurgency' Field Manual Should Be on Your Reading List

Three Examples of the Book's Practical Advice Worth Noting

By Published on .

Marketing executives often look to books written by military strategists when it comes to describing how to win in the marketplace. It's a rare CMO who has not heard of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" or Karl von Clausewitz's "On War" and quotes from these authors often are used to rally the marketing team in the face of tough competition. But military warfare has changed considerably since those works were written.

Today, warfare is an effort in counterinsurgency. Combatants may be hard to identify until it's too late, the most deadly weapons are improvised, and tactics shift constantly.

Perhaps it's time to update the CMO reading list with "Counterinsurgency," a military field manual released by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps. "Counterinsurgency" is filled with thoughtful observations and practical advice that apply to today's marketing conflicts. Here are three to whet your appetite:

Don't rely on conventional weapons to fight insurgents.

"Capabilities required for conventional success . . . may be of limited utility or even counterproductive in [counterinsurgency] operations."

After two restaurant employees posted a damaging video online in April 2009, Domino's could have tried to shut down all employees' use of social media. Instead, during its busiest sales season in December 2009, it launched a reformulated pizza recipe and marketing campaign -- fueled primarily by social media, including feeds sharing what consumers thought of the new pizza. A video documentary, "The Pizza Turnaround," starring Domino's employees, was featured prominently on its website and in aggressive media outreach efforts. By mid-2011, the campaign proved to yield sales increases for Domino's that significantly exceeded those of its major competitors. Because Domino's countered a social-media gaffe with an organizational strategic change, it fought insurgency to the benefit of its customers and its bottom line.

Professor Petraeus, coauthor of 'Counterinsurgency,' has plenty to teach you.
Professor Petraeus, coauthor of 'Counterinsurgency,' has plenty to teach you.

Build early-warning systems to catch insurgents in the act.

"One common feature of insurgencies is that the . . . [organization] that is being targeted generally takes a while to recognize that an insurgency is occurring. Insurgents take advantage of that time to build strength and gather support."

Recognizing the need to catch insurgents in the act, Dell launched a social-media monitoring center in 2010. Named the Dell Social Media Listening Command Center, it was designed to track more than 22 ,000 daily topic posts related to Dell, as well as mentions of Dell on Twitter. The information gathered by the center can be sliced and diced based on topics and subjects of conversation, sentiment, share of voice, geography and trends. The center complements the more than 5,000 Dell employees who had already been trained to actively listen to social media as part of their jobs. While the main intent of the Dell program is to engage consumers, it also catches insurgent attacks as they happen.

Help your team to become quick learners.

"Counterinsurgencies have been called learning competitions . . . the side that learns faster and adapts more rapidly -- the better learning organization -- usually wins."

When it comes to learning from mistakes, the champion may be the National Transportation Safety Board. Unlike many organizations that try to quickly put failures behind them, NTSB systematically investigates accidents to harvest lessons and make transportation safer. Through the use of "Go Teams" mobilized after any accident and dispatched to the accident site, the NTSB sifts through every single aspect of an incident. In the past 20 years, NTSB's quick learning and constantly evolving recommendations have led to a significant drop in fatal accidents as a percentage of miles flown, driven and ridden on rails or water.

In today's high-speed world, investments in building brands are not enough. Recent experience demonstrates that bad things will happen to good brands. Given the proliferation of intentional and unintentional acts of brand sabotage, learning from America's counter-insurgent operatives may be the best first step.

Jonathan Copulsky is a principal at Deloitte Consulting and author of "Brand Resilience: Managing Risk in a High-Speed World."

Most Popular
In this article: