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  • Five things the military & government can learn from sound marketing techniques

       July 26, 2010

    I was reading this article about the Afghanistan Wikileaks and this quote stuck out:

    Labour leadership candidate David Miliband, said the "war logs" showed that the war could not be won by military means alone.

    "We cannot kill our way out of an insurgency. Instead, the battle for power is fought in the minds of the local population, insurgents and western publics. The purpose of military effort and civilian improvement is to create the conditions for political settlement.

    "There is now a race against time to persuade the Afghan people that the correct strategy is in place and show our own people it can succeed. Better Afghan security forces, better police, better schooling and economic opportunities are all vital but not enough. None of them are durable or possible without a political settlement."

    Miliband, the former foreign secretary, said any peace settlement "must include the vanquished as well as the victors" and urged the government in Kabul to involve Afghans in "defining a political endgame".

    I'm troubled by this quote. Not because I don't believe it, but because I think it shows why we're going to join the ranks of countries who've failed in Asian land wars: not only don't we know how we're going to win, we don't even actually know what "winning" entails. How in the world do you know if you've "created the conditions for political settlement"?

    As is my custom, I'm going to fall back on marketing. Thinking about the war as if it were a marketing campaign helps to further highlight the mess we're in and see if there's anything we can do about it.

    • Understand your target market. If you're selling shoes, you need to understand the mysterious female psyche. While war is a little bit different, knowing your target is just as important. Typically the target market in a war would be something like: Germans and the goal would be to kill them. Simple enough. The problem with Afghanistan is that there are multiple target markets and we have different goals for each. For example, we want to get rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We want moderate Afghanis to like us. These goals can conflict, so it's important that we determine what's the primary goal and what's the secondary goal. In the early days of the war I think it was clear that the primary goal was to get rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But what is it now? If our goals are humanitarian and trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, is the best way to do that with the military? Couldn't we just open up Afghan Disney or literally employ a slick marketing campaign instead?

    • Have a measurable objective. What exactly are we trying to do? In Marketing, if you're trying to make sales by the end of the quarter, you don't measure your related advertising campaigns to see if you've raised your awareness. You measure sales. Sales sales sales. Likewise, if we're truly trying to create better schools and police in Afghanistan, we don't measure success by territory gained or al-Qaeda captured. If the war is just some giant P.R. campaign, then really couldn't we measure success via public opinion polls. Or maybe it's as simple as the using the ACSI ("How likely are you to recommend America to your friends?").

    • Test & learn. Great marketing organizations always have a place for test & learn. You try new campaigns on a small scale and then roll them out if they work. Maybe going into Asia's graveyard of invaders wasn't the way to go. Perhaps we should have invaded a smaller, but equally hostile, country first and applied those lessons to Afghanistan. Alternatively, within Afghanistan itself, we could employ a test & learn atmosphere. Perhaps in one region we concentrate on humanitarian efforts, while in another it's all about military objectives. We don't have to just "go big" all of the time.

    • Give things time to work. American marketers are now a week or two into BTS (Back to School). Somewhere, some executive is freaking out about results already and forcing his or her team through fire drills to make changes. Elsewhere, there's another executive who trusts that his or her team's months of planning shouldn't be undermined by a single weekend in July. In the long run, the latter team is going to be more successful. Reactionary management kills morale and momentum and creates confusion. From a War on Terror perspective, imagine the poor soldier who doesn't know from day to day whether he should be fighting the enemy or kissing babies, because the orders change.

    • Cut & run. That's not to say that sometimes things aren't working and you've got to make a change. The best marketing example I can think of is New Coke. Sure, Coke spent a lot of time and money developing New Coke. They had the resources to spend even more money to continuing to market the product. However, to their credit, they saw the writing on the wall and didn't put more money into a sinking ship. Maybe Afghanistan is our New Coke. We can keep pouring money into it, but the people are never going to want to drink it.

    Posted by kris at July 26, 2010 12:27 PM

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    #  July 26th, 2010 2:17 PM      BVBigBro
    We have one difference from other previous warring powers in Afghanistan, namely we were attacked by them. We thus never really had the option of doing nothing, and the option of cut and run carries the resulting risk that we will be attacked again; a risk likely increased by the act of running and the inevitable declaration of victory by our previous attackers. The only option to a political settlement is a total war resulting in the utter destruction of one side. We're not prepared to do that.

    #  July 26th, 2010 2:27 PM      kris
    I don't know. We could be attacked by one guy with a bomb. How do we eliminate that possibility? Are we better off spending billions in Afghanistan or are we better off, for example, spending billions to figure out a system so that when, for example, some panicked father calls the authorities to warn them that his crazy son is going to do something crazy that we make sure he doesn't get on a plane.

    I think the 9/11 attacks were pretty gross failures on the part of the CIA and the FBI and I don't necessarily see how Afghanistan does anything to prevent it from happening again other than by killing some people who may or may not have become terrorists.

    I get our initial response in Afghanistan, I just don't think we know what we're even trying to do there now.  
    #  July 26th, 2010 3:32 PM      james
    I have no idea what we're doing in Afghanistan. It's almost as if we're only there because of a general sense of "well, we can't leave now!" And with that sort of logic, we'll be there forever.



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