Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I see attack politics and attack marketing as pretty much the same thing. Or, a distinction without much of a difference, anyway. Politicians generally attack enemies who threaten their getting elected or getting some policy implemented. If you aren't a threat, though, you are basically ignored in that system. And if you are a little guy trying to attack powerful politicians, you are generally ignored, too. This is why collective protest is a necessary prerequisite for change. Strength comes in numbers. You have to make yourself a threat to even get noticed, and that has to happen well before you have a shot at changing things (whatever your thing is). But from the politicians point of view, since they have the power, it seems the attack principle dictates that they shouldn`t want to give too much exposure to a competitor or group they don`t support, so many politicians actually tend to attack pretty carefully. The rhetorically skilled know this very well. They think out a few moves ahead. Who should do the attacking? What`s the venue of the attack? What will the counter punch look like? Where will it come from? And when? What does it mean when no counter attack comes back at all and instead they are met with silence? And heck, what if the opponent praises in return instead of attacking as expected? The answers to these questions are imprecise at best.
I used to do competitive marketing, and I went through this exact same process. However, I always told my clients that attacks are best done by third parties and only in response to a precipitating attack. In other words, you don`t attack first. It`s not worth the headline. Instead, you be the one responding. Here`s why: those who attack first generally give away at least some of their position, and that gives you much more flexibility to respond. Unskilled politicians and marketers make this mistake all the time when they shoot their mouths off, but the concept holds up pretty well over time. I`ve said before that I think people attack for basically two reasons: (1) they are afraid that someone smaller than them may grow up and kick their butt, or (2) they are small themselves and want to pick a fight with a big guy to get attention. Either way, if you study your attacker you can learn a lot.
It's a game, granted. And everyone in it knows this. Most attacks can be quite easily turned around with some basic facts and logic. But rationality is irrelevant in the arena of delivering really good emotional propaganda for the purpose of influencing behavior. That's why attacks can work in some cases if they generate a strong reaction from the attacked. Attacks spread fear. And many times that fear shapes how people think if it`s not characterized properly. In fact, the term used to describe this process is sometimes called FUD -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It`s a silly sounding term, but it should be taken seriously because the best propagandists out there can be rather dangerous people if they have a power base and resources supporting them (a country, a company, an interest group, a foundation, a university, a union, whatever). In other cases, however, attacks and fear mongering backfire badly, and we saw this in the recent political campaign in our country where pols on both sides(BJP & Congress) took some things too far and the people (remember the people?) called them out on it.
So, what should you do if you are attacked in the marketplace? First, stop. Think. Don`t react immediately with the first counter attack you can think of in the first publication you can find. You`ve been attacked so you now have the upper hand for a period of time (not forever, though). What is the attack telling you about your attacker? Is he or she responding go your attack? If so, you deserve the counter attack so enjoy your stupid little fight. If not, though, something else is going on and you may be in a much better position than you think. It means that you got someone`s attention for some reason. You may have not even intended to get this attention, but that`s what the attack may mean and that`s valuable competitive intelligence if you can confirm it. Remember, if you were really irrelevant, chances are you`d be ignored. So, dig right there before responding and respond to defend and deflect not to attack back. And if you can praise the attacker (or his product or community or company or whatever) so much the better. Attackers are generally simple minded and angry and unable to deal with praise as a response. Alternatively, your attacker could just be engaging in bad marketing or politicking. Consider that too. Either way, you have the upper hand if you do the responding, not the attacking.