Same battlefield, but way cooler weapons. Back in the old days — that’s nearly four decades ago — we so-called hired guns lacked anything approaching today’s sophisticated weaponry. What used to take us months to pull together for a little startup company — researching the competition, validating weakness against a statistically significant sample, creating an attack strategy, going to typesetters and color separators, waiting for proofs and then scaling a “dial-a-yield nuke” against an overwhelmingly better-funded/better-staffed/dug-in giant company — can now be done in about 50 hours.
I characterize my sweet sixteen (I had to resist the urge to say “suite sixteen”) preferred armaments as a combination Malcolm Gladwell And Freakonomics In a Box. Yes, there are others that I can’t wait to take for a test strafing run, but the following have served me well:
- Google Alerts provide 24/7 situational awareness.
- Social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) create a reputation-based economy and give you trending tripwires before the mainstream news media even knows there is a story.
- Instant surveys (Survey Monkey, etc.) allow overnight war games that are totally invisible to your competition.
- Instant analytics (I’m partial to Quantum Leap Innovations, but disclosure demands I confess to sitting on their board) lets you predict campaign outcome and ROI based on war-game metrics and trending social media patterns.
- Click tracking and spot-media bidding for banner space (aka MediaMath) finally lets you connect one-on-one to your prospects and do so invisibly to your competition.
- Smartphones put an HD video camera in every yokel’s pocket.
- FinalCutPro and Adobe Aftereffects put a full movie production studio on every desktop.
- Quark, InDesign, Dreamweaver, HTML5, Photoshop and $1-per-image royalty-free libraries assure customer-facing professionalism.
- Crowdsource funding — Kickstarter, Indegogo, MedStartr — drives a real stake in the VC community’s heart, especially later this year when crowdsource equity funding comes into play. Completely fund a good idea in 30 days, rather than spending months going hat in hand to a group that will probably shop your unborn baby to every conceivable competitor.
- CRM squared — Salesforce, Marketto, etc. — assures startups big-time scalability and measurability in marketing execution.
- Connect And Sell guarantees five to 10 conversations per hour with only the people to whom you want to speak, and you don’t pay if they don’t deliver.
- Instant hired guns — Elance, Odesk and DesignCrowd — deliver top creative talent on demand and with overnight execution.
- Technical experts in any category — Zintro, Maven — are a click away.
- Bulk Internet Hosting accounts — Network Solutions, GoDaddy, etc. — allow you to reserve a URL and have a stick-it-in-your-eye website up within 90 minutes.
- I can manage all the above on my iPad from anywhere, using LogMeIn, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts.
- Black Hat conferences and free webinars give a serious heads-up to worst-case technology scenarios my clients can shove down the throats of their established competition.
Before dissecting a 2014 scenario, it is important to put The Order of Battle into historical context.
While I “accidently” succeeded with my own high-tech startup in 1976 — somehow causing enough stir to be a guest on every major television talk show and have my exploits featured on the front page of every major newspaper in the country — I didn’t truly learn disciplined guerrilla warfare until I helped get tax limitation passed in 1980 Massachusetts. My teachers were two raw-meat-eating/take-no-prisoners warriors named Dick Morris and Tony Schwartz.
Dick Morris managed the campaign and taught me rhetorical war gaming. Interestingly, he’s the only person I know who made the cover of Time Magazine two weeks in a row. First on September 2, 1996, as “the man who has Clinton’s ear.” Then, the very next week, September 9, 1996, he resigned in disgrace after letting a prostitute listen in on his private conversations with the president.
To his credit, back in Massachusetts, he always advised that, “When you get caught, don’t try to lie your way out of it. Tell the truth and beg forgiveness, because ‘Americans love to forgive a reformed sinner.’” Dick took his own advice and is now a best-selling author and political commentator. Yeah, I use this story a lot when I teach Sunday school lessons on honesty and repentance.
My other mentor was the late Tony Schwartz, whose famous Daisy television ad ran just one time on one network yet destroyed Barry Goldwater’s bid for presidency. Tony had represented every presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson, and I was nervous that he’d have trouble with a conservative initiative like tax limitation. When I asked him about this in his New York City brownstone, Tony laughed and said, “You’re going to pay me $25,000, and I’ll be what you want me to be.” Period. He taught how to turn Dick Morris’s rhetorical war games into hard-hitting ads that strike just the right responsive chord.
Clearly, I used these tools effectively over my career. But the weapons available for guerrilla warfare have dramatically changed the Order of Battle. Oh, we perform the same functions. But we can execute … no pun intended … instantly.
I have just been retained by a man who wants to run for president in 2016. The year is significant, because it’ll mark my 40th anniversary doing this. Kind of like Moses wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. So after four decades doing this stuff, could this be my promised land?
Sure, any election is a long shot, kind of the ultimate startup. But I’ve spent my life nurturing startups, led by men of vision and no small amount of Chutzpah (with a capital “C” for the cojones). Oracle’s Larry Ellison. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff. IntraLinks’ Patrick Wack. BIGFIX’s Dave Robbins. It’s only appropriate that I apply the lessons learned waging guerrilla wars and see if I can actually help the next … POTUS.
2014 Guerrilla warfare scenario
You have assembled your senior management team at an off-site luxury hotel and decided to give your best and brightest a break from all the self-serving departmental slide decks. You bring in some self-proclaimed marketing genius who has signed an NDA (so you’d let him see your slide decks in advance), and give him half a day to put on a “workshop.”
Worst case, it’s comic relief to let him insult everyone in sight and demonstrate what could happen if you hadn’t invested in that expensive real estate called “the moral high ground” (Larry Ellison’s comment to Steve Jobs). And at best, this bloodthirsty troglodyte might give one or two ideas you could clean up for use in polite company. What could go wrong? Right?
Within 10 minutes of the workshop, your CEO is thinking, “Why are we all in this handcart and where are we going so fast?” Your presenter just asked what your competition could possibly do to put your company on the ropes. And the CEO answered, accompanied by nods of agreement from the team, that nothing stands in the way of your world domination and that you simply have to execute your tried-and-true game plan. That’s when things … well … go to hell in a handcart.
Your presenter pops up a slide and says, “Oh yeah? If I were your competition, here’s what I would do.”
To which your CEO turns to the senior VP of marketing who convinced him to put this presenter on the agenda and says, “This guy is under NDA, right?” The VP nods in the affirmative, and the CEO looks around: “This does not leave this room, people! Understood?” More nodding as a nervous twitter gains volume.
“Well I, for one, don’t believe that particular attack against us would work,” says Billy Bob, your VP of eastern sales.
“According to the rhetorical war game survey I fielded two days ago,” says the presenter [referring to weapon #3 above as he puts up a new slide], “new customer acquisition would come to a grinding halt for you.”
“We’d still make our numbers from existing customers,” says Billy Bob, defensively.
“Not according to this next slide,” says the presenter. “Based on analytics from the twitterverse [weapon #2 and #4 above], renewals from existing customers will drop by at least 50 percent.”
Your CFO cautiously raises his hand, “Wouldn’t the competition you just mentioned have to change their business model to do that?”
The sighs of relief are short lived. The presenter puts up another slide: “Maybe. But the following domain names are available, and new competition could be killing you in three of your key markets within 60 days [weapons #9, #10 and #14].”
“Yeah, but they couldn’t reach our customers’ decision makers for a couple of years,” says Billy Bob.
“Not true,” says the presenter. “They could use targeted calling from publicly available lists [weapon #11] as well as bulk discount buying of banner ads [weapon #5] and swarm your decision makers like a pack of locusts within a month.”
“Awh come on …” begins Billy Bob.
“Shut up, Billy Bob,” interrupts the CEO. Then to the presenter: “Okay buddy. You’ve preached us into hell. Now what do you suggest we do to get out?”
“Let me show you a couple of things that would knock down ladders to potential new competitors,” says the presenter, flashing slides of URLs you should tie up before someone else does [weapon #14]. After which he shows actual execution suggestions of the tightest comps and Web videos you’ve ever seen [weapons #6, #7, #8 and #15] and the rhetorical war game research [weapons #3, #4] to back it up. Just then his smartphone beeps with a Google Alert [weapon #1] and he says, “You may want to move in a hurry, because a Black Hat researcher [weapon #16] just announced a vulnerability in your flagship product that a startup could exploit [weapons #12 and #13] with very little capital investment.”
Is all of the above an exaggeration? Sure it is. I’ve aggregated half-a-dozen real-life incidents to make a point: Guerrilla warfare in 2014 is a clear and present danger to any established company and their shareholders. Ignore this reality at your own peril.
A final request and some bribery
Like I wrote above, I’ve been put on retainer by a political candidate whose goal is to win the 2016 presidential election. A rhetorical war game survey I fielded just this week indicates that the endorsement of my candidate’s main platform from Bill Gates would put him over the top. So here’s the offer: To anyone who can arrange for me (along with my candidate) to have a five-minute conversation with Bill Gates, the goal of which is a simple legitimizing endorsement of an idea, I will send you a copy of my novel, “Daddy’s Little Felons,” along with (when my candidate announces) a PDF copy of the candidate’s singularly remarkable platform. I’ll also guarantee you a front-row seat at my candidate’s inauguration in January of 2017, as well as tickets to the inaugural ball and a dance with the new FLOTUS (First Lady Of The United States). Thank you.
Rick Bennett is the one-man ad agency that took Oracle from $15 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. He created Salesforce.com’s pre-IPO ads attacking Siebel. He sat on Safeguard Scientifics’ technology board and sits on the Quantum Leap Innovations board of directors. His cybercrime novel, “Daddy’s Little Felons,” is available at Amazon (Kindle and paperback). He currently provides guerrilla warfare marketing advice to a yet-unannounced candidate for the 2016 presidential race. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his tweets @RickBennett.