A Guest Post by John Durfee
The “freedom” in Operation Iraqi Freedom didn’t start out that way. We came in looking for WMD’s and to free an oppressed people. Afterwards, we realized national security lay in the continued stability of the region and the country, which had been driven into chaos. The mission turned from a matter of finding WMDs to rebuilding a broken society and infrastructure. We turned from a fighting force to one that suddenly had to win the hearts and minds of the local people. The lessons I learned in Iraq are directly applicable to the modern day marketing, where you’re winning the trust of the customer landscape.
Blend In and Talk the Talk
A component of winning the Iraqi people’s trust was to blend in. The adage “when in Rome” comes to mind. We were encouraged to ‘nativize’ by growing out our beards and to wear local clothes like the large shawl-like shemaghs.
In the same way, you don’t want to address your customers as someone separate from their group trying to sell them something. Do research, and understand the lingo and terminology. Imagine trying to sell a surfboard. Would an avid surfboarder be more receptive to a message from a stranger who explains things dryly, or a message from someone with just as much passion and fervor as they do about it?
Nevermind the Set-Backs
No matter how hard we tried in our mission, I learned we couldn’t please everyone. We would keep trying by rebuilt roads and providing necessary protection to civilians. Yet no matter how much we tried, some locals always met us with fear, suspicion, and hostility. It was fine if they didn’t like us, just as long as they weren’t shooting at us. However, it always made me wonder the different reasons why. It could’ve been for a legitimate reason, or purely based on fear and emotional reaction from group opinion. While I couldn’t change the opinions of every person, knowing who these people were enabled us to pay extra attention to who they were affiliated with.
This lesson is just as important in a marketing environment. When doing research on public opinion, those who are most vocally against you provide a valuable source of information. They could have been a previous customer who received a broken product and who never reached the proper channels to get it repaired. Instead they held in that grudge until they had a viable way of spreading their experience (either on a product review, blog or review site, or word of mouth). They could be someone who heard from a friend of a friend about an order gone awry. Or they could be someone who provides valuable constructive criticism on how to improve your company’s brand, products, or image. In any case, It gives you a chance to reach out as well as getting a more rounded view of how your company is viewed, for both better and worse.
Thank you, John, for your service … and for this guest post.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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