By Tami Siewruk

Warfare is one of the most common analogies used to describe the marketing process.  Most of us have read books and articles with titles like “Guerilla Marketing” or “Strategic Marketing”, and most of us suspect (especially when budgeting time rolls around) that our corporate conference rooms aren’t that different from military command centers during a conflict.  The analogy works so well because it’s not much of a stretch.  Marketing is the most powerful piece of ammunition in our arsenal—and where there’s power, there’s competition!  What’s warfare if not competition taken to its highest extreme?

I’m really detail-oriented by nature, and “plan your work, and then work your plan” is a message that I believe strongly in.  This has served me tremendously well in marketing, because I’ve seen proof time and time again that there’s nothing like a good marketing plan to ensure success.  On a fundamental level, in order to ensure success and maintain an effective marketing position, it’s important to think the process through—from start to finish—before you make a move.  In a word, strategize.  You can’t have a good fight without a good strategy.

Now, strategy is a grown-up word.  Strategizing is something that adults do because growing up means taking control of one’s own destiny and destiny isn’t easily steered without a plan.  Unfortunately, in learning how to strategize like grown-ups, we often forget how to act like children—on instinct.

My goal in writing is to help you bring a little of your childhood back into your adult actions, and make your marketing efforts far more successful as a result.  We’ll be relying on the same old tried-and-true warfare analogy, but we’re going to make it a little more fun by mixing in the rules of a good old-fashioned game that man of us played as children:  Tug of War!

How to play Tug of War

Lesson One: To win the game, play by the rules that are known to be effective.
It has always been amusing to me that as small children, each of us had an innate understanding of the correct strategy for playing and winning a game like “Tug of War”.  We might not have had the strength or weight to be able to pull the other person or persons across the line, but what we lacked in brawn, we made up for in instinct.  Sometimes, we sat down, or gave in just enough to let the other team think we were easy “pull-overs”—then inches from the line, we gave it all we had and pulled our way to a surprise victory.  We didn’t know that we were strategizing when we whispered to each other to slack off for a count of ten, and then pull like crazy, but we knew how to win.

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose a great deal of understanding along the way.  We forget the deceptively simple rules of staying on top.  It happens to sports teams.  It happens to armies.  It happens to companies.  It happens to brands.

The rules are simple:
·    Rule 1 – Hold on tight.
·    Rule 2 – Don’t let go.
·    Rule 3 – Use all of the ammunition at your disposal.
·    Rule 4 – Leverage your allies.
·    Rule 5 – Move secretly and deceptively.
·    Rule 6 – Don’t let the enemy gain momentum.
·    Rule 7 – Don’t let the enemy see you sweat.

These are also the rules for Tug of War, and they’re also the rules for maintaining market leadership … but first and foremost, to benefit from them, you must have the will to be the leader.

You Must Value the Position.

Lesson Two:  Know the value of winning.

Is it important to maintain your company and or communities’ leading position?  What bad things might happen to you if you don’t?  If the answers are unclear, create various winning and losing scenarios, and assess the importance.
Assuming that you do value the position, and do want to defend it forever, we offer the following:

Rule 1 – Hold on tight.

In Tug of War, holding on tight requires that you get a good grip, and keep it.  You cannot expect to win by simply watching the line.  You must keep your eye on all the players to see how they are reacting — and even when the tug gets stronger and harder to hold, you’d better maintain a good grip and tug right back as hard as you can.

In a Tug of War, you must also protect maintain a good foothold.  Footholds in apartment marketing fall into three general categories:  target residents, apartment and community variations, and advertising channels.  Leave the competition no convenient means by which to gain a winning foothold.

Rule 2 – Don’t let go.

In direct hand-to-hand combat, the tall heavy guy has certain undeniable advantages of leverage.  In a Tug of War, the same kinds of advantages are magnified.

Everything is harder for the guy who is holding on the opposite side.  Always keep your opponent in site.  In the Tug of War game, this means pulling harder and longer or with substantially stronger and heavier teammates.  In marketing, this means continually training and developing your team in order to maintain a competitive advantage.

Rule 3 – Use all the ammunition at your disposal.

It’s hard to win at Tug of War if you’re only using your hands and the guys on the other side are using their arms and legs.  The relative strength and superiority of teammates is vitally important.  In Tug of War marketing, your valuable ammo includes (but is by no means limited to) your teammates, apartments/community, marketing and leasing techniques, and budgetary decisions/spending.  Here’s where some of the rules of true warfare come into play:

Apartments/Community – You cannot protect the line with inferior Apartments.  Our recommendation to anyone who wants to maintain market leadership is to work twice as hard as the next guy to improve and maintain the community.  Your apartments do not have to be 100% superior, but they must offer some unique feature(s) that makes them more appealing to your target residents.

Marketing & Leasing Techniques – The second line of defense is vested in your marketing strategy.  Fight with superior selling techniques.  Within each technique, have the most advanced idea or concept.  For instance, if advertising is important, have dramatically better copy than the competition.  Remember, you don’t have to use all weapons, just those that work best for you, and those that work better than your enemy’s.  Remember also that the element of surprise didn’t become a key defense strategy by accident – it’s in your best interest to the be first to develop new, even more effective “weapons”, so an aggressive development and testing program should be part of your strategy.

Spending – It takes strength to fight off challenges.  Just having bodies in the right place is not enough.  They must be strong bodies.  You can’t save resources when you are losing the battle.  You must use the reserves.  You can save resources only during times when no battle is being fought.  Too many companies forget that sometimes the decision of how much you will spend and where isn’t entirely yours to make – sometimes that decision is made for you by your competitors.

Rule 4 – Leverage your allies.

It is a lot easier to play Tug of War if half of the neighborhood decides to help you win.  The same is true for an apartment community.  Focus on building alliances with the major local employers, merchants, city offices (like your local chamber of commerce), and other businesses in your neighborhood.  Get them on your side.

Rule 5 – Move secretly and deceptively.

Remember what we said about the element of surprise?  A surprised enemy is a weak enemy.  The element of surprise has two dimensions for successfully playing Tug of War.

First, do not let the enemy see where you are heading unless it is in your advantage to do so for deceptive purposes.  The principle is: look strong when you are weak, look weak when you are strong.

Second, know the enemy.  A strong market leader knows more about the competitor than the competitor knows about himself!  If there is any mystery in your mind about why your competitors are succeeding or behaving the way they do, find out.  Know what they are doing and why.

In a real war, intelligence and information are the most important elements of a successful strategy, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.  In market warfare, competitive research, knowledge, and analysis are your intelligence agents.  Take your steps one at a time, and as quietly as possible.  There’s only one reason to shout to the enemy that you’re throwing down your sword, and that’s to lure him out into the open so you can blow him away with your new cannon.

Rule 6 – Don’t let the enemy gain momentum.

This is a concept that we’re all pretty familiar with form our experiences with sports or other games.  Energy is a function of momentum.  Energy fuels the will to win.  In Tug of War, if you let the other team pull you too long and too far in their direction, they then benefit from what is known in psychology as the goal gradient. The opposite is true also.  An enemy making no progress gets demoralized.  A demoralized enemy is much easier to beat.  For every inch you’re pulled in the wrong direction, pull the other team two inches back!  Energy increases as you near the finish.  Take advantage of it by channeling all of your strength into that winning tug!

Rule 7 – Don’t let the enemy see you sweat.

Finally, even when you are in critical stages of near defeat, it is clearly in the leader’s best interests to look cool, assured, and filled with boundless reserve energy for the fight.  Never let a shark smell blood.  Never let the other team see you struggling to hang on.  The same is true for a competitor.  Remember that in any fiscal period, somebody at the competitor’s office has the decisional authority to decide what resources they will continue to risk in the battle for your leading position.  Rarely is there absolutely no money left, all credit used.  There is always more for the person who has the courage to risk it.  If you look tired, or in any way not up to the fight, they will decide to pursue you with renewed vigor, and that decision will directly affect the resources needed to defend yourself.  Send the kind of clear messages that discourage would-be competition.

Marketing is a war – a Tug of War.  It’s a little bit of pull and yield, a little bit of give and take… the secret is to always pull and take more than you yield or give, and that requires a sound strategy.  I hope these rules serve you as well as they’ve served me.  Hold on to the rope, get a good foothold, keep your eye on the other team, and pull with all your might!

Tami Siewruk is the founder and Chief Imagination Officer of Multifamilypro, Inc.  For more information on Multifamilypro’s products, and events, please visit