Why marketing execs could learn a lot from the military

The advertising industry uses the words 'campaign,' 'tactics' and 'strategy' so often you would think we invented them. But these are actually military words. So is the word 'integration.' The military, however, takes the principle of integration to a higher level. Could its example suggest an evolution in agency structure?

The advertising industry uses the words ‘campaign,’ ‘tactics’ and ‘strategy’ so often you would think we invented them. But these are actually military words. So is the word ‘integration.’ The military, however, takes the principle of integration to a higher level. Could its example suggest an evolution in agency structure?

Creating an integrated structure in the military was a painful process. When 5,000 Canadian troops were dropped on the rocky shores of Dieppe in 1942, they quickly discovered that integration wasn’t working in their favour. The original idea was to combine naval, air, armour and ground troops into a strategic unit to mount an attack on a well-defended port. But in reality, each only paid lip service to the concept while maintaining allegiance to their respective command.

Instead of a sustained aerial assault, co-ordinated when the men were hitting the beach, the air force arrived earlier, dropped a few bombs and then engaged in an air battle that led to great losses. Similarly, the navy arrived, but instead of the battleships needed to shell the guns hidden in the cliffs, a small group of destroyers caused a lot of annoyance with four-inch guns, but did little damage.

Intelligence didn’t get involved with respect to the nature of the beach – a seemingly minor detail unless you’re the guy trying to drive a tank on pebbles the size of baseballs. Of the 5,000 Canadians that landed on that beach, 3,367 became casualties, were killed, or became prisoners of war.

‘I am a Whole Marketer’ -

Co-operation versus Integration

Advertising agencies are like the navy, air force, and army – operating at level-one integration. They attempt to build the best brand-positioning mass media agency, co-locate a strong direct marketing arm, interactive shop, and PR wing. The brand position, the look, feel, tone and voice are derived from the mass media advertising and flow throughout all communications. The ability to make it work is based on good communication and co-operation.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s why the military in the U.S. went on to develop an integrated force not made up of parts, but rather a cohesive whole called the Marines. Ask a pilot, an armoured vehicle driver, the skipper of a hydrofoil or a soldier who they are, and they have one answer, ‘I am a Marine.’

They identify with the Corps, not the task they perform. At the heart of the concept is the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). It is a ‘total force in readiness,’ with one commander combining air, ground and naval weapons and platforms into a unit that is scalable and interoperable.

Think Lego – the MAGTF is made up of pieces that can be assembled according to task and to size. But for

Marines, specialization of task is not abdication to experts. They share a foundation training, the common Marine doctrine and they also know each other’s jobs – interoperability enables integration.

Note: the Marines were not designed to replace the army, navy and air force, but to multiply their effect in the battlefield. They are used when reaction speed is essential or to establish the beachhead to set the stage for the other forces to follow.

Account people: The proud.

The brave. The secret weapon.

How does an ad agency get to level-two integration? First, erase the concept of silos within the account management structure.

Create a career development path for account people that emphasizes a diverse range of experience across direct, brand, promotional and interactive disciplines. The importance is not in understanding each of the communication media, but in developing experience connecting them together for maximum effect.

Some people say it can’t be done. The differences in communication styles are too great. Again look to our analogy. A Marine commander is expected to manage F-18 fighter aircraft, amphibious armour vehicles, and troops on the beachhead. So it can be done, but to get there, there must be a commitment to preparing commanders to handle that kind of thinking. Marines embrace any experience that destroys their comfort zone.

Secondly, make sure that defining the objective is separate from any media-related activity. The Marines seek the silver bullet that disproportionately determines the outcome of conflict. To get there, they have to open up all the options to achieve the objective put in front of them. If their objective has been predefined by the use of a particular tactic, then they are blinded to other options, and the enemy can exploit the weakness of the favoured tactic.

Advertising agencies rarely develop plans where brand positioning (objective) doesn’t equal traditional mass media (tactic). Yet we all know that brands are built through moments of truth (the brand’s silver bullet) where the product lives up to promise. Only an integrated plan attempts to manage moments of truth and to extend the experience through word-of-mouth advertising (now known as viral marketing).

Third, a battle plan rarely survives intact in the face of an enemy. We must build flexibility and possible reactions into our marketing plan. One of the main principles of warfare as conducted by the Marines is speed; speed in planning, execution of the plan, communication and reaction to the unexpected.

In marketing, speed is only thought of in the planning and execution stages. The communication of results is slow and reaction to the unexpected in the results almost non-existent. Except in online media. Here the results are available very quickly, but are usually not acted upon. Only in a truly integrated plan could the speed of online be used effectively to enhance the whole plan – but only if the budgets remain flexible.

So why is this coming from the online marketing guy?

Online is already integrated. Arguably, it is the only medium that contains all the traditional advertising messages: brand advertising, direct advertising, point of purchase, and contests & promotions. It has even invented its own: viral marketing.

It is also the medium that truly offers measurable results. As direct marketing account people become better acquainted with brand advertising techniques on one hand, and with online marketing tactics on the other, they stand poised to become the first members of an evolved marketing force that resembles the Marines – in many of the most meaningful ways.

Chris Williams is director of online marketing, at Toronto-based Vickers & Benson Direct & Interactive. He can be reached at 416-480-7962 or via e-mail at cwilliams@vbdi.com