Market Entry Strategy: What Barbie and War Have in Common

It may sound odd, but there are direct parallels between marketing and military strategy.

The successes and failures of warfare and of foreign policy can guide us as marketers and brand owners. A brand entering a new market must draw lessons from the history books. Here is an example.

In 1941, the Nazi military commanders were confident of a quick and easy victory against the Soviet Union. They had quickly taken over the Baltic States and most of the Ukraine. With millions of ground troops at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow – why would they think any differently? Their misguided strategic assumptions led to their ultimate demise. So why did things go wrong? The Nazis did not understand their terrain. The Russian winter is harsh and Germany couldn’t equip their 3.6m million troops who were stationed over a vast land mass.

This fatal miscalculation and lack of understanding of their environment led to their downfall. There are numerous examples where the military strength of a nation is left redundant in the face of unknown terrain. Russia faced something similar themselves when they went to war with Japan in 1904. The American military invention in Vietnam ended up lasting two decades and ended in miserable and prolonged defeat. This is an extreme comparison when we relate it back to marketing, but consider that the people behind most enterprises risk everything to build their dream. They put their assets and their personal lives on the line to achieve success. So, it’s not without merit to treat marketing strategy like war. Whether it’s Barbie in Shanghai, Pret-A-Manger in Japan, or Starbucks in Israel – brands that do not fully understand the market they enter from a socio-economic, political and cultural perspective will fail.

This is why research into your market and insight into your target audiences is so vital. It’s also why a full audit of the brands in your competitive set is mandatory. Why have others failed? Why have others succeeded? Learn from the mistakes of others.

Mapping where your brand sits in the current marketplace is an important part of marketing strategy. Understanding your competitive advantages and leveraging your strengths and opportunities will see you through when you enter foreign territory as a new brand.

Positioning frameworks will illuminate the hotspots for your brand among your competitors. Marketing Objectives Setting formulates a progressive plan. Your resulting strategy navigates how you’re going to get there. Communications is the vehicle to achieve your objectives based solidly on your brand positioning.

It all circles back to a) the market you operate in, and b) understanding your target audience.

Know your terrain.