“Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not”
– Hilaire Belloc (1898)

Last several months I have been 100% focused on a radical update to our marketing methodology & tooling.

While revising and restructuring our checklists & templates I kept thinking of the best ways to communicate the overall value. Analogies from military history kept coming up and I realized the introduction of machine guns in late 19th century was the metaphor I have been looking for.

The iconic Hilaire Belloc quote above was written about the colonial wars in Africa. I couldn’t find good visuals about use of Maxim gun in colonial warfare, but fortunately the Last Samurai (2003) movie provided the breathtaking footage of samurai warriors charging headlong into a battery of earlier Gatling guns.

Watch this short clip from the movie to see what happened, to get into the right mindset:

You may ask how exactly is this relevant to marketing and advertising?

Let’s break it down and draw the comparisons (while skipping any moral issues about warfare)

Who Were the Samurai?

The Samurai were the elite warrior class of feudal Japan. They have been famous for their long katana swords, fearsome fighting styles, and bushido code of honor. Historic reconstructions have often rated their weapons and tactics as superior to European knights. However, samurai armies have not been renown or celebrated for their strategy & tactics. The emphasis of samurai living and warring has always been on developing exceptional individuals whose heroics and dedication would make up for weaker process and organization.

Doesn’t this sound like the problem with many modern marketers? Plenty of highly (or not-so-highly) skilled individuals spend their days moving in random directions jumping from market research, to copywriting, to bid optimization, to targeting tweaks and so on. Leaving no definitive record of what is being done and why. Unable to analyze test results and draw the right conclusions. Relying on creative heroics rather than systems, just like the samurai swinging their swords without seeing the whole battlefield.

Why Machine Gun Was a Game-Changer?

Samurai did fine fighting other samurai, and settled into a period of isolation, complacency and arrogance. Until the Westerners arrived with modern firepower and completely upended Japanese society. Machine guns (and other weapons), completely devalued the existing skills and tactics of samurai. It no longer mattered how fast you could draw your katana, if you were up against a weapon firing between 200 and 900 rounds per minute. Traditional samurai heroics were simply overpowered by superior technology, processes and organization.

Now, if you are a marketer or business owner looking for that one magic quick fix to deliver a return on investment (ROI), you are no different than samurai who hope that practicing katana skills would preserve their way of life. Better systems, processes and technology (if applied right) would overpower hopeless heroics every time. There is nothing in marketing process that could not be deconstructed into components, and then re-assembled in new and better ways, as I have previewed for our creative development process.

How Did They Fare In the Clash?

The video above says it all. There was no path to victory for the unreformed samurai attacking superior firepower. The ironic twist is that in this case they were fighting the new Japanese state that recognized its deficiencies and pursued the course of reform. The true reason for death of these “Last Samurai” (based on a real historic character) was their stubbornness and unwillingness to change. Their former colleagues, who bought those machine guns and fit into the new order, did pretty well (till their own downfall, which is another story).

Competition in business and advertising has much in common with warfare, except the losses are only economic. With the rising media costs, increasing audience fatigue and ever-changing ad formats & tools, it is no longer possible to stay competitive by just relying on limited tactics. If you are unwilling to invest in strategy & process, you are going to get slaughtered by competitors who do. Just like those hapless samurai charging into Gatling fire.

Which Side Would You Rather Be On?

The choice is simple. You can keep searching for those “magic quick fixes”, switching aimlessly between uncoordinated tactics, missing great opportunities under your nose and getting eclipsed by competition able to get their act together. Or you could make a commitment to developing comprehensive strategy and executing it with a fast-iteration process. Get a machine gun, don’t be the guy who attacks it with a sword!

Want early access to our new “marketing process weapon”? Then get in touch!

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Dmitriy Kruglyak

President at TargetChoice LLC
Data Geek. Process Fanatic. Growth Hacker

Making Advertising Profitable for Businesses

Building Marketing Tech since 1998
Dmitriy Kruglyak
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