Here I discuss the tenets of a unique approach to marketing that draws from military doctrine and history. We all know that there are significant parallels between business strategy and military strategy and these levels of planning are a large contributor to these parallels. One of the most popular business books of all time is The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the 5th century BC that is attributed to Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.
Today, I want to open the description of the Asymmetric Marketing Framework by discussing the three levels of operational focus:
The Strategic Level is the highest and most conceptual of the levels. It is defined as “The planning and execution of the contest between business competitors.” Strategy is a principal tool to secure the organizational objectives of the enterprise, as set forth by its key stakeholders (owners, shareholders, the board of directors, etc.).
It is larger in perspective than the Operational or Tactical levels. The Strategic Level involves using business resources such as people, equipment, technology, capital, and information against the opponent’s resources to gain supremacy or to reduce the opponent’s will to compete.
One view on the difference between strategy and tactics is that the art of strategy defines the goals to achieve, while tactics define the methods used to achieve the goals.
Strategic, operational, and tactical levels exist on the same continuum. All deal with distance, time, and force, but strategy is large scale, can endure over long time periods, and often includes societal elements, while tactics are smaller in scale and involve fewer elements, often executed over hours, days, or weeks.
The Operational Level or “Operational Art,” represents the level of operations that connects the details of tactics with the goals of strategy.
Military doctrine defines Operational Art as “the cognitive approach by commanders and staffs – supported by their skill, knowledge, experience, creativity, and judgment – to develop strategies, campaigns, and operations to organize and employ military forces by integrating ends, ways, and means.”
We have adapted the military doctrine as follows: The Asymmetric Framework at the Operational Level evaluates business ends, ways, and means to plan and execute operations and campaigns to support achievement of strategic goals.
Operational Art employs four key elements: time, space, means, and purpose. Each element is found in greater granularity at the Operational Level than at the other levels. While it is often interesting to consider these elements individually, it is only when all four elements are woven together intimately that it is possible to appreciate the elegance of the approach truly.
Operational level plans link the tactical employment of resources to strategic objectives. Planning at this level involves broader dimensions of time and space than tactical level planning. It is often more complex and less defined.
The Tactical Level is the science and art of organizing a business enterprise, along with the techniques for combining and using assets and resources, to prevail over a competitor in the marketplace.
Tactical decisions are those made to achieve the greatest immediate value while strategic decisions are made to produce the highest overall value. In the military vernacular, concepts such as creating and using obstacles and defenses; using ground to best advantage; and how to maneuver units on the battlefield, are all basic tactical concepts. The business version of these principles are often very similar – the use of deception, timing, maneuvering to avoid a competitor’s strength, using capital to gain critical mass, etc. are some examples.
Fundamentals of Planning
Business competition consists of the interplay between two or more opposing organizations – each seeking to accomplish their objectives while preventing the other from doing the same. Every leader needs a high degree of creativity to win over a capable competitor.
The fundamentals of planning are:
- Leaders must focus the planning
- Planning is continuous
- Planning is time sensitive
- Keep plans simple
- Build flexible plans
- Design bold plans
These fundamentals provide rigor to a process that is often purely creative, and they provide a crucial connection between concept and application. The degree that each fundamental applies to any given plan is dependent upon the situation.
The ability to understand and employ a planning and operational framework for your business is key to effective and efficient execution. Hopefully, this model will provide you with some concepts and ideas that will help you plan an asymmetric approach to defeating your competition.