Balancing Overwhelming Force Against Expertise

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Times Square. (Image: Bob Knorpp)

The basic equation for marketing has been simple for a very long time: Get a lot of people to pay attention, make what you show them really interesting, then hope that a percentage of them will do what you ask.

It’s all about brute force. It’s all about a numbers game. You play the percentages in a smart way and you’re bound to win at anything. And it’s the perfect analogy for how people tend to solve problems of finesse and relationship with figurative (and literal) nuclear weapons.

I recently wrote a piece over on the Ad Age site about how we marketers are still too in love with mass scale in advertising. I don’t want to rehash the entirety of my argument there. But I do want to talk about one particular comment from a reader.

In agreeing with me, the commenter used the analogy of the military’s renaissance regarding brute force. In his response he explained that the U.S. military for decades had achieved success after success through the use of The Doctrine of Overwhelming Force.  The premise is as simple as the marketing equation: Throw enough bodies at an enemy, equip these soldiers well, and you are bound to win.

The trouble with this tactic is waste. The human toll of such strategies is overwhelming. For instance, while D-Day was a tremendous military victory, it came at the expense of uncounted lives. So the military began exploring new tactics. And from this came an emphasis on special forces — small units of highly specialized and thoroughly trained individuals who could effect the impact desired with minimal casualties through thoughtful and considered action.

This comment really got me thinking. Suddenly I was no longer dealing with the idea of mass vs. targeted marketing or even military strategy, but about something much bigger. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve taken on problems that would have been best dealt with by the use of considered and targeted responses, and instead applied overwhelming force. I can’t tell you how many relationships I’ve damaged and problems I’ve caused by applying the full force of my will and resources to “fixing” things, when listening and planning would have saved us all uncounted hours of pain.

This militaristic analogy that so eloquently put the problem into human terms, helped to emphasize what we all should know by now — that taking the easy route is almost never the best course, whether it be a battle, a marketing program or life as a whole. You can usually win with overwhelming force, but at what cost?

We are called to be experts in life, not to skate by with the minimum. And as experts — specialists — we should know better than to expect true success without bringing our best and most considered approach to every problem in life.

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