Friday, January 22, 2010

Four Marketing Lessons from the US Navy…

Ripples appear along the fuselage of a US Navy...

Image via Wikipedia

Quick background:

I was invited by the US Navy to participate in their “Distinguished Civilian Program” because I am a “prominent blogger” (their words, not mine, I promise).

The incredible offer?

Spend 24 hours on the USS Stennis aircraft carrier, get briefed by an admiral, the captain of the ship, watch the day and night flight operations and get a deeper understanding of the sacrifice made by the dedicated sailors on board. (Here’s how Guy Kawasaki captured it when he was invited a few months ago).

Plus, I would have the opportunity to meet some people whose work I greatly admire in my field, including Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter and Chip Heath, author of one of my favorite books ever, Made to Stick, plus a slew of other really great folks in the marketing/social media world. (Jeremiah made a Twitter list of the folks slated to be on board together.)

So, what can we learn from the Navy?

  1. The Navy understands that it is an attention economy.
    The old model of having their story (broadcast via TV ads, for example) may not be the best way to tell their message. So, they are investing time and effort to identify, create, and activate Raving Fans (aka Community Driven Marketing)
  2. Recognize that “everyone is in marketing.”
    By bringing us on board and having the chance to meet sailors and officers, they recognize that “everyone is in marketing,” one of the core tenets of Dandelion Marketing. The Navy could tell us a story that was “sanitized and scrubbed” or they can let us tell it as we see it, by talking to real people, to add a level of authenticity to it to increase the credibility.
  3. Use your assets to build community.
    Not everyone has an aircraft carrier, but you do have things which your network would like to see in action. Bring together like-minded people around a “social object” and allow those connections to grow with each other. By applying Reed’s law to their community, the Navy grows the value of their network and their brand.

So, the plans were laid. Tickets bought. I was all set to arrive at the Naval Air Station in San Diego at 8am on Sunday, Jan. 24th.

Until this email came in, which was the last marketing lesson:

I'm sorry to inform you that due to weather conditions in the northwestern U.S., USS STENNIS was unable to get underway as planned, which has a direct impact on your scheduled embark.

Your group was to fly aboard the carrier as part of the first wave of flight operations. However, due to the one-day delay in the ship's departure, there will no longer be any flight operations on the 24th, which means we are unable to accomplish the overnight embark on the 24th.

I'm sorry for any issues or hardships this cancellation may cause you, but this is something that is beyond our control.

4.   When things go bad, just be upfront and honest about it.
They emailed AND called. And they used a truly human, personal voice to do it. They knew we would be disappointed and that came across in the communications. (And this is the Navy we’re talking about here!)

In preparation for the trip, I had been watching the PBS series Carrier and one of the phrases that stuck with me from the sailors was that “in the military, you have to learn to roll with the punches,” and that is what we’re all doing.

In the meantime, the Navy managed to create some positive Word of Mouth and cultivate me (and many of the others) as a Raving Fan…and we didn’t even have to get on the ship! (but we still want to! and we’re hopeful for a future date.)

My hunch is that your organization is less formal than the US Navy. If they can do it, so can you. Just go get an aircraft carrier and you are on your way ;-)

[I should add that my kids were thrilled that the trip was cancelled, since I’ll be home and we can watch the AFC/NFC championship games together-I’ve done a decent job of creating football Raving Fans in that category, if I do say so myself.)

Post was written while listening (intentionally) to: SmashMouth - - I get knocked down!.mp3

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