151 years, two great armies met on a battlefield in southern Pennsylvania. While neither commander recognized it at the time but the Battle of Gettysburg would have a profound impact on American history. So what does this have to do with marketing? Many will fail to see the connection between this great Civil War battle and modern online marketing but the connections are there. In this article I will review 10 lessons that we can take from the Battle of Gettysburg and show you how to apply it to and improve your own marketing efforts. Establish Credibility Prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, commanders on both sides were extremely well known and respected. Robert E. Lee was given an almost mystical reputation as not only the son of a famous Revolutionary War hero but also one as an able commander and brilliant strategist who saw combat first hand during the Mexican-American War where he earned three brevets for gallantry. He was widely considered one of the finest officers in the U.S. Army so much so that at the onset of hostilities between North and South he was asked to lead Federal forces. The same can be said for General Wenfield Hancock, one of General Meade’s Corps Commanders at Gettysburg. Hancock established a strong reputation for himself by leading his men directly into combat at the Battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Leading from the front rather than behind, differentiated Hancock from many other officers. The same story can be said for countless officers. Businesses must do the same and create a reputation for themselves. Similar to what these brave men did. In today’s business world it is fairly easy to start a business. This has caused many customers to be initially wary of businesses that they are not familiar with. One way to avoid this is by establishing a reputation and strengthening your own credibility. While you won’t be leading men into combat, you will be conducting battle in the marketing world where victory goes to those are able to set themselves apart from their competitors. This is where content marketing comes into play. You will be leading a charge of content rather than men and your weapons will be words in the form of testimonials, articles, white papers and presentations. Businesses that are able to show that they are the experts in a given field by providing educational content quickly establish themselves as authorities and their credibility is set. But this isn’t all that there is to establishing credibility. Even when not in battle, the men mentioned before would continue to live up to the reputation that they established for themselves. You must do the same with excellent customer support. Do Proper Reconnaissance Generals across history have deemed a “proper reconnaissance” the first prerequisite for victory. At the Battle of Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee and his Confederate forces were at a marked disadvantage. In those days, the cavalry were the eyes of the army, protecting its flanks while on the march and far ahead of the main body observing the terrain and any enemy movements. While moving north into Pennsylvania, the Confederate Army was marching blind. Its cavalry under General J.E.B Stuart was missing and unheard from for days. Stuart’s cavalry was sent to watch the movement of the Union Army. What they were doing on the other hand was anything but and as a result Lee was marching into enemy territory without any sort of knowledge or intelligence as to what was in front of them. In fact, the Battle of Gettysburg occurred because of this ignorance. The Confederates through that the town was defended only by militia when in reality it was cavalry under General John Buford with reinforcements fast approaching. The Union forces knew what was coming their way while the Confederates had not a clue as to what lay in that tiny town of Gettysburg. Once Lee realized he was facing off against the Union Army he allowed himself to be pulled into a battle he himself admitted that he was not prepared for. It was his quick thinking that prevented disaster for the Confederates on that first day. In modern marketing, intelligence and reconnaissance are still two crucial areas for a successful marketing campaign. Prior to any launch, it is best to conduct “reconnaissance” on your competitors. See what they are doing, what they are promoting and how they are doing it. This will allow you to develop a campaign to counter theirs. This is also something that is not a “one and done”. Reconnaissance and intelligence gathering should be an ongoing effort. The more you know about your competitors and your customers, the more successful your marketing will be. Evaluate the Obstacle Even before his invasion of the North, General Lee knew his enemy well. One can even say he knew them better than they knew themselves. This allowed him to outmaneuver the Army of the Potomac time and time again while Union commanders could never quite get a grasp on the military genius of Robert E. Lee. The same can be said of Union General Ulysses S. Grant. They knew their enemy intimately and thus knew how they would behave and enabled them to counter those moves. Union General Meade knew that General Lee was focused on offensive maneuvers rather than defensive and once his “blood was up” he would attack a strong position regardless of the losses. This sentiment was echoed by Lee himself prior to Pickett’s Charge when General James Longstreet suggested moving around the flank of the Union Army which Lee dismissed saying that if the enemy was in front of them tomorrow that is where they will attack them. Meade knew Lee would attack and positioned his forces to bring devastation upon the Confederate forces. Marketers must be the same way. You must not just think about your company but you must also think about your competitors. Look at your top competitors and see what makes them tick. Look at their history. What kind of promotions do they run? At what discount levels? How often do they run promotions? What is their USP? Use tools such as Compete and Spyfu to get an understanding of what they are doing on paid search and SEO. Sign up for their promotional emails. The more you know about them, the more you will be able to counter their moves and accurately predict their future movements. Establish Your Position The first lesson that we can take from Gettysburg is to establish your position. During the three days of battle, the Union Army under General George Meade was continuously forced back by Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces. For many, it looked like the Union army was to be routed once again but Meade, a former engineer in his civil life, knew the advantages of the land that he was being forced on. Cemetery Ridge was high ground anchored in the north by Cemetery Hill and in the South by low hills called the Round Tops of which famous Little Round Top is a part and both of which were occupied by Union forces. A low stone wall on the northern stretch of the ridge provided added protection while the “fishhook ” shape of the Union battle line on this ridge allowed strong interior lines and ease of communication. On the other hand, the Confederate Army positioned themselves on the forested Seminary Ridge which was separated from the Union Army by approximately one mile of open fields. To attack the Union forces meant a mile march across open fields and in the face of intense gun and artillery fire. It is no surprise that the Confederates were repulsed with a casualty rate of over 50%. Modern marketers should take from Meade’s example and establish a strong position for their brands. Positioning has always been key in the art of marketing. It is both the means and process by which you create an identity for your product or service in the minds of potential customers. For successful marketing, you must carve out a position in the minds of customers and then create product designs, advertising and pricing that reinforces that position and defends it against advancing competitors. Do Not Go Head to Head One key lesson of Gettysburg and one that Robert E. Lee learned the hard way is not to go head-to-head against your enemy. On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee arranged his forces for a grand “charge” against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett’s Charge involved over 12,500 men advancing over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire. Although some Confederates were able to breach the low stone wall on Cemetery Ridge that shielded many of the Union soldiers, they could not maintain their hold and were quickly repulsed. It was a decisive defeat that ended the three-day battle and turned the war back to the Union’s favor. Many businesses are making the same mistake Lee made on that warm day in 1863, they seek to go head-to head with their competitors in a modern battle of attrition with price being weapon of choice. Competing on price alone is a surefire way to destroy your margin and begin a race to bottom from which many businesses do not recover and are forced to remain the low-cost provider or risk losing all their customers. Prior to the infamous charge by Pickett’s Division, General James Longstreet proposed to General Lee that the Confederate Army should move south around the right flank of the Union Army. Longstreet knew that the primary weakness of the Union Army was its fear of the Confederates Army placing itself between it and Washington DC. Moving South would cause Washington to Panic and force Meade into attacking the Confederates which would have devastated the Union Army. A similar tactic was used by Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville where General Lee kept the Union forces occupied while Jackson crept around and attacked it on its flank causing the entire Union line to collapse. Your marketing should follow a similar path. Keep your competitors busy with occasional promotional pricing while most of your marketing is geared towards exploiting one of their weaknesses. One MarketingModo client did this perfectly. They were a printing company that previously competed only on price with a competitor they would never be able to beat in just pricing terms. The competitor was simply too large and had economies of scale the smaller company could not compete with but they did have a weakness that MarketingModo was able to discover and exploit. That weakness was the quality of their product. They were so large that the quality of their product suffered and their social channels were inundated with a constant stream of complaints. We had our client focus on the higher quality of their product. This was our way of hitting the competitor on the flanks where they least expected it. Make Use of Synergy In the Battle of Gettysburg, both Union and Confederate commanders made maximum use of all military arms at their disposal. They had cavalry, artillery and of course, the infantry. Gettysburg saw all three at play. The Confederates launched a 2-hour artillery barrage aimed directly at the center of the Union line. This would break up the concentration of Union forces enough for an infantry push to break through. The cavalry would then follow up and turn a retreat into a rout and give the Confederates the victory that they desperately needed. We know now that this did not happen for that was the general idea of what General Lee would have liked to see happen. Poor execution on the part of his commanders who did not make use of the synergy of the various military arms doomed it to failure. This perhaps gives us one of the most important lessons that the battle can teach today’s marketers. Make use of the synergy existing between your various marketing channels. Too many marketers fail to launch truly integrated marketing campaigns. For example, an email campaign is just thought of as an email campaign with little or no thought given including social media, affiliate or content marketing. The modern marketer has a much wider range of tools in his or her arsenal than did Robert E Lee. Make use of them and make sure you use them together. Include social media and landing pages in your email campaigns. Use your SEO keywords as part of your paid search efforts and vice versa. Mention your affiliate program on your site and your social media pages. They are countless ways of integrating your marketing efforts. Your marketing channels should not exist in a silo. Break them out and having them working with and strengthening each other. If you fail to do this your efforts will see the same result as Lee’s forces in Gettysburg. Your efforts will be disjointed and you will lack the needed strength when it is needed most. History can provide today’s generation many valuable insights. What to do and what not to do. Many do not realize how history can be just as easily applied to marketing as it can be to other areas. Review history’s greatest battles and you will see many of these common traits in the victor in nearly all of them.
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