Principles of Guerrilla Warfare

Jun 16th, 2003 by Tony in Marketing Warfare

From China to Cuba to Vietnam, history teaches the power of a guerrilla movement. In business, too, a guerrilla has a reservoir of tactical advantages that allows the small company to flourish in the land of the giants. Size, of course, is relative. What’s more important than your own size is the size of your competition. The key to marketing warfare is to the tailor tactics to your competition, not to your own company.

1: Find a segment of the market small enough to defend

It could be small geographically. Or in volume. Or in some other aspect difficult for a larger company to attack. A guerrilla organisation does not change the mathematics of a marketing war (the big company still beats the small company.) Rather a guerrilla tries to reduce the size of the battleground in order to achieve a superiority of force. Try to pick a segment small enough so that you can become the leader. The tendency is to do the opposite, to try to grab as big a market as possible. This could be a mistake.

2: No matter how successful you become, never act like the leader

Most guerrilla companies are lucky their leaders didn’t go to the Harvard Business School to learn how to market like General Motors, General Electric, and General Dynamics. That’s not to say that the business schools of this world don’t produce excellent leaders. They do, for the big companies whose case histories make up the core of their curriculum. But the essence of guerrilla strategy and tactics is the opposite of what’s right for the Fortune 500 crowd. Some corporate employees spend years without ever meeting a customer or seeing a competitive salesperson. Guerrillas should exploit this weakness by getting as high a percentage of their personnel as possible on the firing line. This drastically improves the “quickness” of a guerrilla to respond to changes in the marketplace itself.

3: Be prepared to bug out at a moment’s notice

A company that runs away lives to fight another day. Don’t hesitate to abandon a position or a product if the battle turns against you. A guerrilla doesn’t have the resources to waste on a lost cause. Here’s where the advantage of flexibility and a lean organization really pays off. A guerrilla can often take up a new position without the internal pain and stress that a big company goes through. A lot of infighting has to take place before things get changed in a big company. A small company can change things around without making internal waves. Guerrillas should also use their flexibility to jump into a market quickly when they see
an opportunity.

— Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare, Chapter 10

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