Are You Surprising the Competition – Part 2?

In an earlier post, I pointed out that Business Strategy can take two forms: (1) the direct approach and (2) the indirect approach. The former consists of a direct advance to the competition, culminating in a powerful marketing frontal attack designed to overpower them. The indirect approach involves coming at the opponent from a round-about direction that he is not totally prepared to resist. Throughout history, most great generals have consistently chosen the indirect approach, risking almost anything to catch the enemy with his guard down.

Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s maxim: “Mystify, mislead, surprise your enemy.” Clausewitz, the Prussian General maintained that to one degree or another, surprise is, without exception, the foundation of all military undertakings.

Hannibal led an army of 50,000 Carthaginian infantry and 9,000 cavalry on his famous march across the Pyrenees and Alps. He emerged in Northern Italy to defeat the great Roman commander Saipio’s troops on the bank of the river Ticinus. In a snowstorm, he crushed two Roman armies along the river Trebia.

Hannibal followed a shorter, but more dangerous route through treacherous marshes to come out on Roman consul Flaminius’s unprotected flank, rather than the certainty of meeting his opponents in a position of their choosing.  As the unsuspecting Romans marched into battle, the Carthaginians poured out of their hiding places and attacked from all sides, decimating them.

Business history also reveals the advantages of the indirect approach. Marketing failures have often resulted from head-on attacks against the entrenched positions of stronger marketing rivals. Even brute force and having sheer resources are often not enough to insure the right outcome.

Choosing the element of surprise, a company may quickly enter a market, with the intent of a decisive victory. The idea is to strike quickly and adjust the marketing strategy and tactics as you learn from your encounter.

Guerilla warfare advocates a sudden assault, ferocious fighting, and then an instantaneous break of contact before the larger opponent can exploit his strength – substantial resources, technology and power – and bring the weight of his material and numbers to bear. It builds upon the element of surprise.

All corporations, are trying to fight wars of quick decision – get to the marketplace first and avoid costly, protracted warfare with competitors. Small guerilla firms, more so than their larger competitors, need to make certain they win quickly. They cannot afford not to.

The element of surprise helps one to achieve a quick and favorable decision. Meticulous preplanning and preparation is the first condition of a quick win as Israel exhibited in its successful, lightning-quick six-day war.

Five guidelines for a quick guerilla attack:

• Seize the opportune moment

• Concentrate superior forces in a segment or area of expertise where you are the leader – act with your entire army

• Outflank the competition

• Operate on favorable terrain – ground of your own choosing where a relatively few determined people can stall an army (remember the 300 Spartans)

• Attack the competition where it has not established its position

The element of surprise has worked successfully throughout history, regardless of the field of play. Where might you change the game, and use the “element of surprise” to defeat an unsuspecting competitor?

You will never know, until you try.

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