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What Agincourt teaches us about effective marketing

October 25, 2011
Battle of Agincourt by Michael Smith

Agincourt - how disciplined teams can overcome all the odds

Today, 25th October, is the anniversary of the battle of Agincourt (or Azincourt) and, despite recent revisionist theories reducing the size of the French army, this great English victory is still seen as one of the most remarkable of all times. For marketers, curiously, it also holds a message – you can do a lot with a little.

Whether one views the size of the French army as 60,000, the more likely 25,000 or the revisionist 10-12,000 (or fewer), the ability of a diseased and starving force of 5-6,000 English/Welsh/Irish to defeat an army of skilled, rested and well-armoured knights is remarkable.

Agincourt teaches us – as indeed does the Battle of Britain or Trafalgar – that fortune favours the brave. Timidity and cautiousness results in time for the enemy to consider, re-group and find an alternative. In marketing, we substitute competitors for the enemy, or even the customers: the point is that to achieve what we want we have to act with certainty.

At Agincourt, Henry V had few advantages. The terrain didn’t favour him initially, his army had been starved for days, and the French army had forced him way off course. What he did have was the ability to make quick decisions – he advanced his army so close to the French that he not only provoked them to attack but also he provoked them to attack a position which was stronger than if he’d stayed put. He also had a force of highly disciplined archers and a small force of well-trained knights to focus on areas where the French broke through.

If we translate this to marketing, what can we learn? Firstly, small is often better and easier to focus and leverage. We all know that mass campaigns cause large losses and are often seen as a branding “blunderbuss” rather than a focused sniper’s rifle. Targeted marketing works better.

Secondly, by knowing your own position in the market, your brand credibility is all the stronger. Few brands in publishing are mega brands; many are brands with limited brand collateral. The brands which are strongest are those which have emotional meaning – sufficient for customers to purchase willingly and for competitors to envy.

Thirdly, publishers which engage staff punch well above their weight. So many publishing companies today have become complacent in the area of internal brand management. Those companies which engage staff in brand ethics and brand projection will produce staff who deliver focused marketing collateral.

Fourthly, it always pays to plan. As the saying goes, fail to plan and plan to fail. Talk to many publishers and it becomes pretty clear that the nearest many get to a marketing plan is a spreadsheet showing how the marketing budget will be spent during the year. Often these plans are structured on a legacy basis – “we’ve always done this” – but as any CIM graduate will tell you, a marketing plan is much bigger than the marketing department, it’s about the whole company.

Fifthly, flexibility and mobility leads to victory. Having a plan is one thing but knowing how to change it when the going gets tough is crucial. Marketing departments who understand KPIs and metrics know best what to do when the dashboard lights show a crisis ahead. A trained staff delivers results significantly beyond their size.

Sixth, risk taking – and a culture of risk taking – delivers strong engagement. Empower your marketing team to advance tactics and learn from results – this will create battle-hardened experience which will build into an invaluable corporate memory bank of skills. At Agincourt, for example, the archers were able to enter the French army both to attack and to retrieve arrows – yet they were then able to be managed as a fighting force  to shoot more arrows in a disciplined fashion.

Today, marketing for publishers has become a difficult game – especially for those publishers who have surrendered their souls to become totally reliant on the book trade and the e-retailers. So every marketing pound or dollar must work extra hard for slim pickings in the pocket price.

Those publishers who can leverage message, response, data, social interaction, brand and price in a manner that will convince a sceptical buying public will win the day. Small teams must leverage big results like never before.

As Henry V says in Shakespeare’s play: “We are but warriors for the working day.” The question for publishers and their marketing departments is this: Are you up for the fight?


Image: Battle of Agincourt – one of a series by Michael Smith. Copyright MTA Smith 2011 all rights reserved

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