“Marketing planning is constrained by both time and resources. P-A-C-E is a great tool for marketing teams to help drive creativity in the planning process to find alternate yet still effective methods to meet the business plan…”
Marketing is filled with people from a wide assortment of backgrounds such as professional sports, finance, anthropology, and the fine arts. I even recently watched a TED talk that used lessons from physics and applied them to marketing. As someone who teaches undergraduate marketing, I love the wide variety of disparate experiences and skill sets that are used to improve our understanding of customer needs, provide varied innovation paths with new product development, or identify a previously unmet need that offers an opportunity to a company. In marketing, different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives make us better.
My own background is a bit more non-traditional. I am a retired Army Special Forces (Green Beret) officer who has had a combat tour in Iraq as well as several years of peace enforcement duty in Bosnia and other duty stations around the globe. My training as a Green Beret focused heavily on ground combat training by leading a highly-trained team of 12 Special Forces soldiers who had specialties in weapons, engineering, medicine, communications, and intelligence. Furthermore, we trained on explosives, shooting, parachuting, high altitude skiing, and ocean navigation, to name just a few of the specialties. While in Iraq as a Green Beret, I helped plan and conduct missions from risky combat operations, to training, to employing foreign troops to fight terrorists. When I teach and practice marketing, I rely heavily on several of the skill sets that I learned and honed as a Special Forces soldier.
Competitive Intelligence Focuses the Organization on Understanding What the Competition Will Likely Do
One of the central lessons of the military is that operations are driven by a deep use and understanding of intelligence. Military intelligence is a deeply researched, multi-sourced, and consistently updated multi-media product. It aids in understanding, and estimates the probability of what the enemy can do, will most likely do, as well as what the local population feels about both the enemy and the friendly forces. If you asked the top ten leaders in a company who they feel their top three competitors are, what their competition is planning to do next, and what customers feel about the competitor’s top products, you would get a wide range of answers and definite inconsistencies. For the military, a regularly delivered and in-depth intelligence assessment focuses the entire organization on the competition and their most likely next steps. When I was in Iraq, my planning team and I would spend a minimum of two hours each day reading, discussing, and understanding the intelligence picture so that we could coordinate our entire actions as a team. This ensured everyone was focused on defeating the enemy’s primary threats. Great intelligence understands what the competition is currently doing, what they will do next, and what the greatest threats are, so the entire organization can focus in a uniform and consistent manner on ensuring that their plan succeeds.
Reconnaissance is the Key to a Successful Operation
Intelligence provides a fantastic starting point for planning an operation and understanding what the military commander wants to achieve. However, it is just that, a starting point. Once the intelligence has been read, the next essential step is to get out of the office and away from the computers to conduct a leader’s reconnaissance to verify and validate what has been learned. In Bosnia in the mid-1990’s, I helped support a program called the Joint Commission Observer (JCO) Program. The JCO program was a daily, ground-level reconnaissance program to get the true feel and ground level perspective of how well the population felt the NATO peacekeeping was going. It was made up of small teams of soldiers whose sole purpose was to go out into the towns of Bosnia to speak to business leaders, government leaders, police chiefs, community leaders, and religious leaders to understand how they felt the peacekeeping process was going. If your company does not have a regular program to meet, discuss, and observe your customers interacting with your products, then maybe the JCO program can inspire you to create a program to help you deeply understand your customer and how they view your products.
Use Commander’s Intent to Describe What Success Looks Like
The military loves planning – that is probably an understatement. However, the military also knows that plans need to be able to change immediately if the enemy shifts tactics, resources become scarce, or the weather changes. Therefore the military, like business, lives in a world where they want people to follow a plan because that ensures the best chance of success, but they also want their people to be capable of exercising considerable initiative when conditions change and the plan is no longer valid. Commander’s Intent fills that void by creating a description and definition of what a successful mission will look like. Military planning begins with a Mission Statement that describes the who, what, when, where, and why (the five W’s) of how a mission will be executed. Commander’s Intent then describes how the Commander (read: CEO) envisions the battlefield at the conclusion of the mission, describing in detail what success should look like. Commander’s Intent fully recognizes the level of chaos, lack of a complete information picture, potential changes in enemy situation, and other relevant factors that may make a plan obsolete when it is executed. The role of Commander’s Intent is to empower subordinates and guide their initiative and improvisation as they adapt the plan to the changed battlefield environment. It empowers initiative, improvisation, and adaptation by providing guidance on what a successful conclusion looks like. Commander’s Intent is a vital tool in chaotic, demanding, and dynamic environments.
Great Strategy Creates Options to Accomplish the Mission
Strategy is about finding, determining, and creating options that all reach the same goal or strategic outcome. During my Special Forces training, our instructors loved to use the “what if this happens?” questions on us. What if your primary helicopter for medical evacuation fails to arrive? What if the enemy is twice the estimated size than what was on the objective? To help anticipate and plan for all these possible “What If” events, we had the P-A-C-E planning process. P-A-C-E represents Primary-Alternate-Contingency-Emergency. P-A-C-E is a tool to ensure that you develop a minimum of four ways to ensure steps that are critical to your plan’s success get accomplished. In the late, 1990’s, I served as the Battalion Logistical Officer and I had the responsibility to deploy over 250 Special Forces and support personnel with all their equipment into Bosnia on the same day, so we could relieve another unit of their peace enforcement duties. The primary plan was to land in Sarajevo and move into our assigned areas. However, winter in the Balkans is snowy, cold, icy, and unpredictable, so the Sarajevo airport was closed. The use of the P-A-C-E planning process allowed me to land at three other airfields simultaneously and get the entire Battalion into place on time despite the weather. Marketing planning is constrained by both time and resources. P-A-C-E is a great tool for marketing teams to help drive creativity in the planning process to find alternate yet still effective methods to meet the business plan.
Train Your Team for the Challenges of Today and the Future
Training is a constant for the US Army. The training that the US Army practices is both formal and informal. Formal training is a professional school that teaches something specific, such as learning how to parachute or learning the basic skills of an Infantry Officer. Every soldier regularly attends this type of training every 3-4 years throughout their career. Formal training serves as the foundation, but the informal training that is provided by peers, outside specialists, and leaders form the walls. Both are necessary for an officer to excel within the military profession. Informal training includes professional reading, lectures, and hands-on learning. In the military, most training is hands-on and “do-as-I-do” training that reinforces the ability to perform during times of stress. The themes focus on training not only for the challenges of today, but also identifying and training to correct weaknesses in the organization, and identifying future challenges. When I was in Iraq, my team created a new analytical system to help us understand and create predictions on where we thought enemy attacks would occur next. Critical to the process was training others in how to use, understand, and improve this analytical system. Finally, others have to be trained in the skills that they need for their next positions in order to advance their careers and advance the proficiency of the organizations. In the Special Forces, we conducted cross training so the Communications Specialist could operate all the weapons and the Medical Specialist knew how to operate the various radios. This cross training allowed us an incredible amount of flexibility and confidence in our operational ability because everyone knew how to perform all the critical tasks. Training like this for marketing teams is critical because it both develops and retains talent and ultimately drives an improved product to the customer.
Coach and Develop Your Team for Leadership
The military places incredible emphasis on the concept of leadership by example. Leadership by example means that the leader personally sets the example in job performance and professionalism, both large and small, of what to do and how to do it. In the Army, the most senior leader always eats last – no matter what. In the leadership by example principle, a leader always ensures that every person is taken care of before himself or herself. Central to leadership by example is the concept of the leader as a mentor and as a coach. I believe a coach is the best concept for military leadership development, because a coach is concerned dually with the player and the performance of the team. A coach is always a regular active participant that looks to mitigate weaknesses and expand strengths so all players develop to be the best they can be. The recruitment motto of the US Army in the 1980s was for soldiers to “Be All That They Can Be” and the idea of the leader as a coach fully encapsulates this concept. When I was in Iraq, my unit had just completed the initial ground invasion, I had not slept for almost three days, and I was bone tired. A senior leader pulled me aside and asked what my next round of plans were and what I was going to do next. I stood there without an answer, he was right. I was thinking about today and I needed to start thinking of all my teams in the combat zone, and what I was going to do with them two, four, and eight weeks later. Think about how you coach and mentor your team. Are you looking to create great players in your organization?
Applying my military skills to the challenges of marketing has made me significantly better at my job. Using military tactics to enhance marketing functions to understand the competition better, using reconnaissance to truly understand customer needs, using the concept of Commander’s Intent to ensure we meet the CEO’s business objectives, creating options for a successful business outcome, training your team for the future challenges, and ensuring you are coaching and leading by example are all ways that military tactics make marketing better. Military skills sets applied to marketing challenges are another way to bring outside skill sets in to make marketing more effective.
Chad Storlie is an OpsLens Contributor and retired Lieutenant Colonel with 20-plus years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.
Chad is author of two books: “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success.” Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @Combattocorp.