The war that all start-ups fight: marketing

The marketing gurus, Al Ries and Jack Trout published their classic – Marketing Warfare, more than two decades ago. This week we use a small part of their gyan to help you gain some very deep, clear and powerful insights that you can use to market your product or service.

According to them, Marketing is war. And just as military generals who have won on the battlefields with different strategies, so must you, if you are a seller. It’s just that the enemy here is your competition and the battlefield is the consumer’s mind.

While the No. 1 in any business such as Xerox in copiers or IBM in computers will defend their space, the newbies in that space will have to get into offensive warfare. Given that a start-up is small, young and lacks the power and capabilities of an established successful giant, Guerilla warfare is among the most suited strategies to apply. Here are some of the principles of Guerilla Warfare:

Principle No. 1:
Find a segment of the market small enough to defend. It could be small geographically. Or in volume. Or in some aspect difficult for a large company to attack. A guerilla organization does not change the mathematics of the war (a big company still beats a small one), rather it tries to reduce the size of the battleground to achieve superiority of force – become a big fish in a small pond.

Principle No. 2:
No matter how successful you become, never act like a leader.

When the US went to war with Vietnam, they had 543,000 troops of which only 80,000 were combat soldiers, the rest served in supply and service functions. Much like a large company where half the employees provide service to the other half. A smaller part of the army is directed outside the company, at the enemy – the competition. Guerillas should use their size to their advantage by employing a larger part of their employees on the firing line. And resist the temptation to make up formal organization charts, job descriptions and other accruements of staff-heavy corporations. A lean organization is not just a tactic to put a larger force on the battlefield, it also dramatically improves the “quickness” to respond to changes in the marketplace.

Principle No. 3:
Be prepared to bug out at a moment’s notice. A company that runs away, lives to fight another day. Don’t hesitate to abandon a position or a product if the battle turns against you. A guerilla doesn’t have the resources to waste on a lost cause.

Types of Guerillas:

Geographical Guerillas:
Almost any national product can be attacked locally, a classic guerilla tactic.

Demographic Guerillas:
Another classic tactic. Appeal to a specific segment of the population, be it age, income, occupation etc.

Industry Guerillas:
Focus on a particular industry. In the computer business, this is known as vertical marketing. Some computer companies select a particular industry, say, banking, education, etc., and then design an entire computer system to solve problems specific to that industry.

Product Guerillas:
Many guerillas make money by concentrating on small markets with unique, one-of-a-kind products. Their sales never get large enough to tempt large companies.

High-End Guerillas:
There are plenty of guerillas in today’s affluent society at the high end of the market – Steinway pianos, Concord watches, etc. Many high-end guerillas hesitate to jump into this segment because they believe their product lacks the mystique to justify the extravagant prices. That’s confusing cause and effect. The mystique is not the cause that creates high demand and sales. The high quality and price create the mystique.

For a complete lesson on marketing, do read Marketing Warfare by Al Ries & Jack Trout.

 Contact us if you have a story to tell: rashmi.ghosh@tiepune.org

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