Principles of Offensive Warfare

Jun 12th, 2003 by Tony in Marketing Warfare

Offensive strategy is exactly the same as defensive strategy, except that it’s exactly the opposite. The two are so closely related it’s hard to separate them.

Leaders should play defensive, not offensive warfare. Offensive warfare is a game for the No. 2 or No. 3 company in a given field. This is a company strong enough to mount a sustained offensive against the leader. If your company is strong enough, it should play offensive war. There are three principles to guide you.

1: The main consideration is the strength of the leader’s position What a No. 2 or No. 3 company should do is focus on the leader. The leader’s product, the leader’s sales force, the leader’s pricing, the leader’s distribution. No matter how strong a No. 2 company is in a certain category or attribute, it cannot win if this is also where the leader is strong. What the leader owns is a position in the mind of the prospect. To win the battle of the mind, you must take away the leader’s position before you can substitute your own. It’s not enough for you to succeed; others must fail. Specifically, the leader.

2: Find a weakness in the leader’s strength and attack at that position

Sometimes leaders have weak points that are just weak points and not an inherent part of their strength. They may have overlooked the point, considered it unimportant or forgotten about it. But there is another kind of weakness, a weakness that gorws out of strength. As the Avis ads used to say, “Rent from Avis. The line at our counter is shorter.” Short of shooting some of its customers, it’s hard to see how Hertz can counter this strategy. This is a weakness inherent in Hertz’s position as the largest rent-a-car company, as it is for most leaders.

3: Launch the attack on as narrow a front as possible

The “full line” is a luxury only leaders can afford. Offensive warfare should be waged with narrow lines, as close to single products as possible. When you attack on a narrow front, you’re putting the principle of force to work for you. You are massing your forces to achieve a local superiority. The marketing army that tries to gain as much territory as fast as possible by attacking all at once on a wide front with a broad line of products will surely lose in the long run all the territory it has gained. And a lot more, too. Yet that’s exactly what many No. 2 or No. 3 companies try to do.

— Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare, Chapter 8

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