Marketers Need Communications and Communicators Need Marketing


From time to time, practitioners in the field of marketing and communications get into a debate about the differences between marketing and communications and more importantly, about which takes prominence in an organization. First, let’s look at terminology. In order to clarify things, the term communications is somewhat of a misnomer. The field of endeavour is actually called “public relations” but a number of years ago, public relations became somewhat pejorative and fell out of favour. As a result, public relations organizations, especially in government and the nonprofit sectors, started calling what they do “communications”. For the purposes of this article and because of this shift, the term communications will be used.

There’s always been some degree of tension and competition between communications and marketing practitioners, especially when it comes to questions about which discipline ought to be dominant or which contributed more to their organization’s well-being. They also compete for scarce internal resources and for public attention. Some organizations use only one of these disciplines. Others use both. The degree to which they use them, and the specific ways in which they use them varies from organization to organization based on their purpose, size, and history.

Introduction of Marketing into the Public and Nonprofit Sectors

The concept of marketing in the public and nonprofit sectors was a bit of a late-comer. Marketing, up until the early nineties, was mostly associated with business. However, public sector and nonprofit marketing has become, in recent years, a burgeoning field.

For more information, see Judith Madill’s article in OptimumMarketing in Government or Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) article in Optimum The Case for Marketing in the Public Sector. There are also textbooks on both nonprofit and public sector marketing e.g. Kotler and Lee’s book on Public Sector Marketing and Andreasen and Kotler‘s book on Strategic Nonprofit Marketing .

Marketing vs. Communications

If an organization is a public sector or nonprofit organization and sees its primary goal as serving the public, then communications tends to be the more dominant function because building relationships with its publics is its over-riding concern. Most public sector/nonprofit organizations have a communications group or team, involved in public information, community relations, media relations, issues management, community and public affairs and in recent years social media engagement.

On the other hand, if you are a for-profit organization and your focus is the generation of sales, communications tends to be of secondary importance and is normally conducted to support and enhance marketing efforts. In a small company, there might not be a separate and identifiable communications group at all. In a medium to large corporation, you definitely have a good size marketing group with a smaller communications function.

Marketing in a for-profit generates sales of goods and services and directly contributes to the company’s profitability while communications coordinates relationships with various publics in order to gain public acceptance and approval of the company’s activities, including its sales activities.

Many people – even marketing and communication pros – find it difficult to distinguish marketing from communications. Some actually think they’re basically the same thing. Others, especially in the public sector, think that marketing could be useful as an arm of government engaged in selling products and services or involved in social marketing for behaviour change, but do not see the value-added that marketing can bring to the strategic communications function.

Adding to the confusion is the emersion of social media. The revolutionary, user-generated content has softened the formerly strict boundaries between marketing and communications.

Despite the confusion, there are important differences between marketing and communications. The following is a helpful, albeit non-exhaustive, list.

  • Focus. In general, marketing focuses on selling products and services. In the public and nonprofit sectors, it is also used for revenue generation, behaviour change campaigns, selling ideas, programs, and policies, while communications tend to focus on building relationships with various publics.
  • Function. Both marketing and communications are management functions. The two serve different purposes; however, in the private sector, marketing is a line function that directly contributes to an organization’s bottom line. Communications, on the other hand, tends to be a staff function that indirectly supports an organization’s goals and objectives. While in the public and nonprofit sector, we have the exact opposite where marketing usually comes under the communications function, although not always.
  • Target. Marketing’s target tends to focus on the customer/client/end-user. Marketers strive to meet the needs of the customer demands while communications target a range of publics and goals that collectively support an organization’s objectives. Examples of these publics (or stakeholders) include customers/clients/members, the media, employees, suppliers, the community, political leaders and various associations/organizations depending on the topic area.
  • Carry-over benefits. Communications’ major focus is to contribute to organizational success by building and maintaining a positive social, and political environment. Studies show a target audiences’ favorable perception – shaped by positive, well-placed news coverage (likely generated by communications) – benefits and “lifts” an organization’s marketing strategy.

Both marketing and communications play substantive roles in accomplishing corporate goals and objectives. Savvy leaders should learn – and appropriately integrate – marketing and communications into their corporate strategies to better achieve organizational success.

The lines between marketing and communications blur through social media, it’s possible that the fields will continue to have more and more overlaps and similarities. Organizations are using their Twitter streams and Facebook pages to both market themselves and carefully craft consumer perceptions. While media releases and marketing campaigns still show the differences between the two subjects, the new shiny mediums are blending the two together, complementing each other and making organizations more efficient and effective.

 In a Forbes article practitioners were asked to distinguish marketing and communications. Here’s what some marketing and communications-area experts said

Marketing is more proactive while communications tends to be a bit more reactive. Communications kicks in if there is news to report, a public relations crisis, a community that needs outreach, or a new product/service/program to promote. Marketing can help create responses that communications can then respond to.

The purpose of communications is to build relationships with all stakeholders – not just current and potential customers.  Communications smoothes the way.  It creates a favorable operating climate in which it is easier to market, expand and be viable. As marketing guru Al Ries says, PR lights the fire, marketing fans the flames.

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. Communications is the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.

All forms of communication should be integrated together – and that includes how you answer the phone, sign off on your email, post to Twitter and Facebook, etc. Communication and marketing should involve all available tools. Service to the public should also be considered part of your overall communications and marketing because if it sucks, nothing else that you say matters.

Effective marketers constantly think from the customer’s / client’s viewpoint and constantly ask, ‘”What’s in it for them?” and then listen with respect to what they say. That’s especially true for public sector and nonprofit marketers i.e.why should someone support your government program or policy or your nonprofit with money or in-kind support or promote your message or buy your products and services?

The truth is, you can’t market without doing a little communication, and you can’t do communications without a little marketing. The end goals—selling products, services, programs, policies or ideas and making people love your organization—are too intertwined: If what you are marketing is poorly conceived, your organization probably won’t be viewed favorably by the public, and if people aren’t connecting with your overall brand, they’re probably not going to buy what you are selling.


Value of Marketing to the Communications Function

To be sure, marketing, when done properly, starts with the audience and works back to a message that will motivate action. The assumption is that if you want someone to take an action, like buying your product, service, idea, policy or program or changing behaviour you need to appeal to THEIR needs vs. your own. You’re trying to gain mind share with an audience absolutely overloaded with information. If you want to own real estate in their brain, you better make your message all about them.

Just as important, a good marketing campaign needs to incorporate messaging that deals with a competitive landscape, taking into consideration that your audience has choices. If you want to excel, differentiation – how you are different from the others – is critical and a key element of branding (for more information see my blog on branding).

One of the factors that leads to a disdain for the marketing function in a nonprofit or public sector organization is ignorance. “Our good work will sell itself” is one of the many delusional beliefs that inhibits nonprofit and public sector organizations from incorporating marketing into their communication function.

Public sector and nonprofit organizations can and should learn something from business. Many companies have started and failed because they believed their brilliance or product excellence would sell itself. It just isn’t true.

Every organization, no matter the sector, struggles with exactly the same things:

  • How to make people aware of their existence
  • How to make people aware of why they should care about their existence
  • How to get people to take action to achieve a goal or mission

In the nonprofit sector, these cannot be achieved by a communication strategy alone. You are competing for the attention of your audience amongst organizations with a similar cause or a different cause, and distractions caused by the challenges of every day life including but not limited to work, family, friends and hobbies.

Effective marketing principles will help you compete effectively for the attention you desire and deserve by helping you to:

  • Better understand the current position you hold within the minds of the audience(s) you want to reach
  • Craft a complete marketing communication strategy around the needs of those you want to pay attention and/or take action
  • Encourage sponsorship by appealing to the needs of those businesses that serve the same communities you do

There is a strong need to educate senior managers in the public and nonprofit sectors about the value and applicability of strategic marketing management principles. This requires recognition across all levels of management of the value of marketing, both in terms of the potential impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of programs, services and outreach campaigns, as well as the benefits to their audiences.

Within the public and nonprofit sectors, there is wide recognition of the role and value of the communications function and many organizations develop communications plans outside of a marketing framework. This can be explained by the lack of understanding by public sector and nonprofit organizations of the value marketing brings to the communications function. There is clearly an opportunity to broaden the communications function in these organizations to include a strategic marketing mandate thereby re-positioning it as an expanded role and stretching the impact of communications efforts.

Marketing can be used to achieve the vision of better informing and engaging audiences by viewing communications within a broader strategic marketing framework. It can help to drive results in program uptake, program impact and behavioural change. And it can save money by helping executives and program/service managers make informed decisions around investment in their communication resources.

Many in the public and nonprofit sectors identify marketing with selling products, programs or services, or promotion and advertising. Others see the value of social marketing to change attitudes and behaviours. It is true that marketing can assist in generating revenue within these sectors or succeed in changing behaviours, but it can also be a useful paradigm for improving relationships with clients and the publics with whom these sectors interact.

Marketing as a discipline can be beneficial to the public and nonprofit sectors for the following four reasons:

  1. Existing and potential clients are guaranteed to play a major role in developing and implementing a program/product/service;
  2. All program elements are focused on behaviour change instead of settling for awareness alone;
  3. Initiatives tailored to specific segments of the market as opposed to the general public ensure efficient use of limited resources; and,
  4. The application of 4 Ps (product, price, place & promotion) will always ensure that the campaign will move beyond just communications / promotion to being developed strategically for specific audiences.

As both the public and nonprofit sectors continue to try to meet the challenges associated with demands for better and improved service delivery as well as new services and programs with budgetary constraints, new and different models of management and their associated tools and tactics need to be considered to help both sectors deliver more quality, speed, efficiency, and convenience to their audiences. Marketing presents a comprehensive, integrated and innovative approach from which to manage communications resources. The time has come for leaders in both the public and nonprofit sectors to recognize and embrace the lexicon and practice of strategic marketing in their sectors.

Jim Mintz is the Managing Partner of the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing where he presently works with a number of public sector and nonprofit clients.


Jim Mintz, Managing Partner / Senior Consultant

Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (

Tel: 343-291-1131  Direct: 613-291-1137 Mobile: 613-298-4549

Let’s connect on Twitter @jimmintz  Linkedin  Facebook 

Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM)

The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) offers strategic marketing and communications consulting services developed specifically for governments, non-profits, and associations. CEPSM has an exceptionally strong core senior consulting team that is complemented by a world class network of associates and partner organizations.

Marketing Workshops Spring 2017

Marketing 101 (for Marketers and Non-Marketers)

March 29, 2017

343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON,

This workshop will provide participants with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing. The workshop will teach participants how to develop a marketing  strategy and plan as well as how to transform a government/nonprofit organizations from using the traditional communications approach to an integrated, strategic marketing approach.

The workshop will focus on:

  • An overview of marketing;
  • Systematic processes and strategic elements for developing and implementing an action-oriented strategic marketing plan;
  • How to set realistic, practical marketing objectives and goals;
  • How to evaluate marketing efforts with practical ideas on how to improve execution;
  • How to develop a client-based mindset in a public sector or non-profit organization;
  • How to use market research to support a decision-making framework;
  • How to develop a system for measuring progress and monitoring performance.



Marketing workbooks for Public Sector & Non-Profit Marketers & Communicators


Social Marketing Planning to Change Attitudes and Behaviours Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for a successful social marketing program to change attitudes and behaviours. This content is the result of more than 30 years of direct experience in the social marketing arena.  It helps public sector, non-profit organizations and associations involved in marketing, communications, public awareness/education and outreach.

It will be very relevant to those responsible for influencing attitudes and behaviours to improve health, prevent injuries and diseases, protect the environment, prepare citizens for emergencies, convince youth to stay in school, and a multitude of today’s critical issues.

The workbook guides users through the process for creating a customized social marketing plan for their organization that will lead to successful implementation. It also features ideas on how to run a campaign on a very tight budget and the effective use of a logic model to monitor and evaluate your organization’s social marketing initiative. Conference site

To purchase workbook go to

Order Now and You’ll receive a PDF download immediately!


Alternatively, you can register on our MARCOM Conference site to attend an upcoming Introduction to Social Marketing Planning for Behaviour Change Workshop where we offer the workbook as part of the course

Marketing 101 for Marketers and Non-Marketers Workbook

The world of public sector and nonprofit marketing is rapidly changing. Increasing demands are being placed on managers to adapt to their new environments. The public and nonprofit sectors are adopting marketing approaches to help meet the challenges of complex and difficult mandates and satisfying client needs in the face of significantly diminishing resources.

The need for highly-skilled public sector and nonprofit marketing professionals continues to escalate. These are the people who must effectively bring their organization’s products, services and messages to the marketplace and bring efficiency, rigorous analysis and inspiration to the marketing process. Marketing is proving to be an effective management tool for guiding the evolutionary business processes for government departments, public sector agencies, nonprofit organizations and associations.

This workbook will provide you with an overview of public sector and nonprofit marketing and highlight the importance of market research to support a decision-making framework. Included will be the exploration of the strategic elements of a marketing plan and how to transform organizations from using the traditional communications approach to an integrated, strategic marketing approach. We will also look at branding which is an integral component in designing the marketing mix.

To purchase workbook, go to

How Will I Receive the Marketing 101 for Marketers and Non-Marketers Workbook?

Order Now and you will receive a PDF download immediately!

Alternatively, you can register on our Training Page to attend an upcoming Marketing  101 Workshop where we offer the workbook as part of the course.

About the Author: Jim Mintz a marketing veteran with over 30 years of experience is the Managing Partner of the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing





Marketing Strategy… the key to Success in Private & Public Sector Marketing

People are always confused with the role of marketing. A recent article by Al Ries in Ad Age makes some very interesting points.

For example who decides?

1) What products and services to offer;

2) What to name those products and services; and

3) What distribution channels to use to sell those products and services?

Clearly this is the role of marketing but Ries points out that with companies large and small, he doesn’t see many marketing people calling the shots on 1) Products; 2) Names; and 3) Distribution.

Instead, Ries points out that unfortunately marketing people tend to focus on “communications” issues. They spend most of their time figuring out how to interest prospects in their organizations products and services.

The Mantra for our organization (i.e. Centre for Public Sector Marketing) is “Strategy before Tactics” and we clearly understand the need and importance of communications but they are only the tactics of a marketing program. The other half, the more important half, is strategy.

As Reis points out the two are related. In order to improve the communications, it often is necessary to make changes in strategy. In products, names, pricing, distribution, etc. And who is in a better position to suggest such changes than an experienced marketing person?

But as Reis point out it is top management people who are calling the shots on marketing strategy? And in most cases management people who are not trained or knowledgeable about marketing. Would top management without an engineering background make engineering decisions, probably not? But marketing … no problem.

Reis describes the most recent Presidential race for the GOP as an example of lack of marketing strategy.

“So far, there are eight Republican presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman.

Do you know the verbal position of any of these eight?

I don’t think they have any.

Doesn’t anyone remember “Change we can believe in?” After Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, I would have thought that any future presidential candidate would summarize his or her campaign with a few memorable words. But so far, no one has.Apparently, nobody wants to be tied down to a single idea or concept. Everybody wants to be free to expand their campaigns in all directions, depending on which way the wind blows.

Take Jon Huntsman. “He resigned  as the U.S. ambassador to China, but already Jon Huntsman has a logo, a musical theme, a small arsenal of promotional videos, a Hollywood narrator and a line of travel mugs, lapel pins, baseball caps and T-shirts emblazoned with the distinctive H of his infant presidential campaign. He even has a generation named after himself. Generation H, his campaign calls it.”

Jon Huntsman has everything except a marketing strategy. Source

See my blog Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns

What is strategy anyway?

 According to Wikipedia Strategy, a word of military origin refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. How a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms and conditions that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy, which is part of the four levels of warfare: political goals or grand strategy, strategy, operations, and tactics. Strategy has been extended beyond its traditional fields, military and grand strategy, to business, economics, game theory and other fields.

Ries discusses the Marketing Warfare material that came out of his book by the same name.

He quotes the famous Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, the world’s most-famous military strategist, “Keep the forces concentrated in an overpowering mass. The fundamental idea always to be aimed at before all and as far as possible.”

He explains it this way “strategy is like a garden hose with an adjustable nozzle. Turn it one way to increase the concentration and out comes a powerful stream of water that could knock down a child. Turn it the other way and out comes a fine mist that wouldn’t harm a butterfly.He points out that almost every military strategist recommends “concentration of forces,” while almost every business strategist recommends “scatteration of forces.” Everything about marketing strategy parallels military strategy. The principle of force. The superiority of the defense. The advantage of flanking. And most importantly, the principle of focus.” 

There is one difference. Marketing is about brands, not companies. Apple has become the world’s most-valuable company, not by expanding the Apple brand, but by launching new brands: Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Is this what marketing has become? A discipline that execute strategies designed by somebody else?Source

Let me know what you think.


Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns

I constantly hear political pundits talking about marketing in relation to politics but the truth is that most people I have met who run political campaigns here in the nation’s capital have probably never read a marketing book and think that communications strategy and marketing strategy is the same thing. They’re not.

So, to my readers who hopefully read my blogs because they think they may learn something about marketing in the public arena, I will try to bring some marketing thinking to the present Canadian election campaign. The Marketing Warfare approach to marketing which was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout will be very helpful in explaining how the marketing approach can be helpful to better understand how to develop an effective strategy for a political campaign.

First, some background on the Marketing Warfare concept.

In Marketing Warfare Al Ries and Jack Trout argue that marketing is war and that the marketing concept’s customer-oriented philosophy is inadequate. Rather, companies would do better by becoming competitor-oriented. If the key to success were to introduce products closest to those wanted by customers, then the market leader would simply be the company that performed the best market research. Clearly, much more is required.

To illustrate their point, Ries and Trout compare marketing to a football game. If a team simply identifies the goal line and moves the ball toward it without regard to the competing team, they most likely will be blocked in their efforts. To win the game, the team must focus its efforts on outwitting, outflanking, or over-powering the other side. This is the case in football, war, and marketing, according to Marketing Warfare. Because of the importance of the competition faced by the firm, a good marketing plan should include an extensive section on competitors.

There’s a saying that it is easier to get to the top than to stay there. Ries and Trout disagree, arguing that once at the top, a company can use the power of its leadership position to stay there. The larger company has the resources to outnumber smaller competitors. It can advertise more, perform more R&D, open more sales outlets, etc. This is not to say that smaller companies do not stand a chance. Rather, smaller companies must recognize the principle of force and attempt to win the battle by means of a superior strategy, not by brute force.

Some managers may believe that they can overcome a larger competitor through superior employees. Ries and Trout maintain that while it may be possible to assemble a small group of star performers, on a larger scale the employee abilities will approach the mean. Another argument is that a better product will overcome other weaknesses. Again, Ries and Trout disagree. Once consumers already have in their minds that a product is number one, it is extremely difficult for another product, even if superior, to take over that number one place in the consumer’s mind.

The way to win the battle is not only to recruit superior employees (although this is a good thing to do) or to develop a superior product. Rather, Ries and Trout argue that to win the battle, a company must successfully execute a superior strategy. Source

Now this is pretty basic marketing strategy but many people who do not understand marketing think that marketing is about creating better or more compelling products. This may sound logical to the uninitiated but marketers know that this is not necessarily true.

Now think of the Canadian political situation.  You have the Conservatives, Liberals, New Democratic Party (NDP), Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Greens as well as a number of other fringe parties but for this blog we will use these five.

Ries and Trout argue that marketing battles do not take place in geographic areas. Rather, marketing battles take place in the mind of the consumer. Ries and Trout propose that the most important information is to know which positions are held by which organizations in the mind of the consumer. In other words, who holds the high ground?

Ries and Trout discuss four strategies for fighting a marketing war:

  • defensive
  • offensive
  • flanking
  • guerrilla

A company’s market share relative to that of competitors determines which strategy is appropriate. There often is a significant market share gap between two competitors such that each has more market share compared to the next weaker competitor. Because of this large gap, the principle of force plays an important role in the choice of each firm’s strategy. Source

For this discussion, we will deal with the 5 political parties mentioned above.

In such an environment, each of the five parties has a different objective:

  • Number 1 market domination: This would be the Conservatives who are clearly the leaders
  • Number 2 increased market share: This is clearly the Liberals who are clearly number 2
  • Number 3 survival:  This is the NDP
  • Number 4 survival: The Greens and the BQ who are small players except the Bloc is the major player i.e. in the Defensive position in one market in Canada which makes them somewhat of an anomaly.

According to Ries and Trout, the main competitor is the market leader that holds the majority of the market share i.e.  The government. The best strategy for such an organization is a defensive one. Note the Conservatives are clearly in a defensive mode trying to protect their lead and not take too many chances. They are happy where they are for the most part and with a little bump can win a majority which is their endgame.

The number two best strategy is an offensive attack (i.e. the Liberals) on the market leader organization. The reason is that the gaining of market share from the number three organization is unlikely to make a large impact on the much larger number two organization. However, there are potentially significant rewards if market share can be gained from the dominant organization – the Conservatives. Some may argue that the Liberals and NDP share the vote (2 left of centre parties) and they also split the vote allowing the Conservatives to come up the middle. By eliminating the competition i.e. Number 3, puts them head to head with the Number 1 leader.

The number three organization is too small to sustain an offensive attack on a larger organization. (Although, this seems to be what the NDP seem to be doing and going down in the polls). Its best strategy often is to launch a flanking attack, avoiding direct competition, for example, by launching a program that is positioned very differently from those of the larger parties. That is clearly what the NDP should be doing.

The smallest organization probably does not have sufficient resources to launch any type of sustained attack. If it launched a flanking product, a larger competitor likely would launch a similar one and would have the resources to win more voters. The smallest organization would do best to pursue a guerrilla strategy, identifying a segment that is large enough to be interesting to them (i.e. the Quebec voters for the Bloc and Environmentalists for the Greens) but not large enough to attract too much competition from any of the larger organizations except in very niche markets. As mentioned above the BQ are in the offensive position in Quebec, necessitating the Conservatives and Liberals to run an Offensive campaign in that market.

So what are the key strategies for the political parties?

A defensive strategy is appropriate for the market leader. Ries and Trout outline three basic principles of defensive marketing warfare:

  1. Defensive strategies should only be pursued by the market leader. It is self-defeating for an organization to pretend that it is the market leader for the purpose of strategy selection. The market leader is the organization who has attained that position in the mind of the consumer.
  2. Attacking yourself is the best defensive strategy. Introducing programs better than your existing ones preempt similar moves by the competition. Even if the new programs or policies have less impact that your existing programs, it accomplishes the more important long-term goal of protecting the organization’s market share.
  3. The leader should always block strong offensive moves made by competitors. If the leader fails to do so, the competitor may become entrenched and permanently maintain market share.

An offensive strategy is appropriate for an organization that is number 2 in the market. Ries and Trout present the following three principles of offensive strategy:

  1. The challenger’s primary concern should be the strength of the leader’s position, not the challenger’s own strengths and weaknesses.
  2. The challenger should seek a weakness in the leader’s strength – not simply a weakness in the leader’s position.
  3. Attack on as narrow a front as possible. Avoid a broad attack at all costs.

The strength of the leader’s position is of primary importance because the leader has the top position in the mind of the consumer, and it is this position that must be attacked.

A weakness in the leader’s strength must be found. Simply attacking any weakness is insufficient. For example, the leader may develop policies or programs which are similar to the challenger. The leader usually has the resources to defend against an attack against its weaknesses, whereas there may be weaknesses inherent in the leader’s strengths that cannot be defended.

The challenger should attack on as narrow a front as possible. Generally, this means focusing on programs and policies where the leader is weak and cannot adopt as it would destroy their overall strategy. For example the political program in their red book if offered by the Conservatives would conflict with their basic strategy not to mention their conservative principles. The reason for keeping the attack narrow is the principle of force; a narrow attack allows the challenger to concentrate its resources in the narrow area, and in that area may present more force than the leader. Many number two political parties ignore this principle and try to increase market share by broadening their programs and policies to compete in more areas, often with disastrous consequences. A narrow attack is particularly effective when the leader has attempted to be all things to all people with their programs and policies. Many Conservatives feel that the party has become very much like the Liberals. Sometimes referred to as “Liberal Light” to describe the middle of the road policies which normally would not be associated with a Conservative party? In that situation, a challenger can identify a segment within the leader’s market and offer a program and policy that serves only that segment. The challenger then stands a chance of winning a position in the voter’s mind for that more narrow class of program.

A flanking attack is not a direct attack on the leader, but rather, an attack in an area where the leader has not established a strong position. Ries and Trout present the following three flanking principles:

  1. A flanking move is best made in an uncontested area. The product should be in a new category that does not compete directly with the leader and should be the first to target the segment.
  2. A flanking move should have an element of surprise. Surprise is important to prevent the leader from using its enormous resources to counter the move before it gains momentum.
  3. Follow-through (pursuit) is equally as important as the attack itself. The organization should follow-through and focus on solidifying its position once it is established before competitors launch competing products. Too often, political parties turn their attention to the programs and policies that are not performing well rather than strengthening the position of the winners. If the party does not have the resources to strengthen its newly won position, then perhaps it should have used a guerrilla strategy instead of a flanking one.

A flanking move does not require a totally new program. Instead, the program only needs to be different enough to carve its own position. Flanking is not a low-risk strategy. Market acceptance of an innovative program is unknown, and test marketing must be kept to a minimum to guard the element of surprise. Whether the leader will take prompt action in response is an unknown. Being well-tuned to the political environment is helpful since their public speeches often provide clues about their stance on potential programs. This is where the NDP should have a strategy which is very different from its competitors’ and needs to find policies and programs that are totally different that the Conservatives and Liberals.

Guerrilla marketing differs from a flanking campaign in that the guerrilla move is relatively small and differs significantly from the leader’s position. Guerrilla marketing is appropriate for organizations that, relative to the competition, are too small to launch offensive or flanking moves. Ries and Trout list the following three principles of guerrilla marketing warfare:

  1. Identify a segment that is small enough to defend. For example, the scope can be limited geographically, demographically, etc.
  2. Never act like the leader, even if successful in the guerrilla attack. Some parties that make a guerrilla move are successful in it and begin to act like the leader, building a larger, bureaucratic organization that slows it down and increases overhead costs. A guerrilla should resist the temptation to give up its lean and nimble organization.
  3. Be ready to enter or exit on short notice. If the market for the program takes a negative turn, the guerrilla should exit quickly rather than waste resources. Because the guerrilla has a nimble organization, it is better able to make a quick exit without suffering huge losses. Similarly, the guerrilla can respond more quickly to a market opportunity without spending months or years having committees analyze it. Guerrilla opportunities sometimes arise when a large organization discontinue marketing an idea or program, leaving a gap on which the guerrilla can capitalize if it acts quickly. For example the Liberals seem to have abandoned the environment leaving a large opening for the Greens (the problem is that the Environment is no longer top of mind among the voters, but that could change).

The idea of guerrilla marketing is to direct resources into a limited area, using the principle of force to win that area.

Demographic guerrillas target a specific segment of the population. Guerrillas target a specific field or issue using vertical marketing to tailor a program to the special needs of that niche. The focus is narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow. They may offer a unique program for which there is a small market.

Strategy can be developed using a top-down or a bottom-up approach. Ries and Trout argue for the bottom-up approach because a deep knowledge of the tactics actually used is needed to formulate a strategy that has the goal of achieving tactical objectives. More specifically, Ries and Trout argue that the sole purpose of a strategy is to put the forces in motion to overpower the competitor at the point of contact using the principle of force. In the marketing arena, it means overpowering the competitor in a specific position in the mind of the voter.

As I have mentioned in many of my other blogs marketing is about STRATEGY and NOT TACTICS. Ries and Trout explain that a good strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics. Mediocre tactics are usually sufficient for a good strategy. Even the best possible tactics are unlikely to compensate for a poor strategy. In political campaigns, advertising can be considered a tactic and many campaign managers falsely assume that success depends almost entirely on the quality of the advertising campaign. If a strategy requires top-notch tactics to win the battle, Ries and Trout maintain that such a strategy is unsound because tactical brilliance is rare.

Any strategy should take into account the probable response of the competitor. The best way to protect against a response is to attack the weakness in the leader’s strength so that the leader cannot respond without giving up its strength.

To support the argument of a bottom-up strategy, Ries and Trout point out that many large organizations incorrectly believe that they can do anything if they simply allocate enough resources. History shows otherwise and they give many examples in the business world. Such diversions they say “shift resources away from the point of battle where they are needed. This is one of the dangers that can be avoided by a bottom-up strategy based on what can be accomplished on the tactical level.”

Ries and Trout believe in having relatively few people involved in the strategic process. The organization needs a strong “marketing general” to formulate the strategy from the tactical realities. A marketing general has the following characteristics:

  • Flexibility – to adjust the strategy to the situation.
  • Courage – to make a decision and stand by it.
  • Boldness – to act without hesitation when the time is right.
  • Knows the facts – in order to formulate strategy from the ground up.
  • Knows the rules – but internalize them so they can be forgotten.
  • Lucky – marketing warfare has an element of chance; a good strategy only makes the odds more favourable.


Ries’ and Trout’s work in the business world have interesting and useful commonalities between political marketing strategy and business marketing strategy. The appropriate marketing strategy in business and politics depends on the organization’s position relative to its opponents. In developing its strategy, the political party must objectively determine its position in the market. Once this is done, a defensive, offensive, flanking, or guerrilla strategy can be selected depending on their position relative to the competition. It also helps if you have a marketing strategist running your campaign.

Recommended Reading

Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare

Note the book has been around for many years and many of the examples are 20 years old but the thinking behind the strategies is still relevant