Where Have you Gone – General Clausewitz?

Like the refrain from the Simon and Garfunkel song, General Clausewitz has “left and gone away.” As the great philosopher of war, the retired Prussian general, Karl von Clausewitz wrote On War in 1832, outlining the strategic principles behind all successful wars. Warfare is based upon two immutable characteristics: strategy and tactics. And while the nature of war has changed considerably, Clausewitz’ ideas are still as relevant today.

It is interesting to note that Clausewitz saw the linkage to business, “War belongs to the province of business competition, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities.” While the classic definition of marketing leads to a focus on customer wants and needs, this approach to marketing strategy by itself is insufficient if a dozen other competing firms are already serving the same customer wants. A more successful strategy must also include being competitor-oriented.

Competitor strategy many times becomes a market research and competitive intelligence effort providing facts and figures on market share, new product launches, product and sales force assessments, management appointments, mergers and acquisitions. From this, creeping incrementalism, or being just a little bit better in the Red Ocean seems to be the normal approach to company business strategy and tactics.

The marketing plan, however, needs to go well beyond this to dissect each marketplace participant. It should also include a plan to defend against competitive strengths, the tactics and style of operation their competitors and key marketing people can be expected to employ. Better market intelligence is needed on how to anticipate competitive moves.

Marketing executives need to be prepared to wage marketing warfare, as generals do with military campaigns. Strategic planning is a critical element as companies define strategies and tactics to attack and flank their competition, defend their positions and decide when and how to wage guerilla warfare.

Finally, successful marketing leaders need to exhibit many of the same virtues that make a great military general – courage, loyalty and perseverance.

Clausewitz stated, “Some statesmen and generals try to avoid the decisive battle. History has destroyed this illusion.” While marketing does involve satisfying customer needs and wants, the true nature of marketing involves conflict between corporations. Business competition is a war, where failure leads to loss of market position, stature and profits.

In war, the competition is the enemy and the objective is to win the battle. You win by outwitting, outflanking and overpowering the enemy. Winning in business requires no less resolve and the mindset of a field general.

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© Rich Kohler 2017. All rights reserved. For copies, please contact Rich at rich@rich-kohler.com.

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