Winning the battle to be heard: Ulysses S. Grant and your messaging strategy

I’ve been reading the memoir of Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Army in the Civil War, and became the 18th President. It’s a wonderfully written book, with numerous insights into how the war was ultimately won. What is especially striking is how Grant shows that the outcomes of battles were often determined before forces even engaged, by their strategic positioning. The same can be said of your brand marketing initiatives.

Before you start firing off volleys of ads and emails and waving online banners and trying to blow up on social media, it makes sense to ask: are we positioned for maximum return? Only a very few companies have the budgets to simply overwhelm the marketplace with their brand of noise. The rest have to be strategic about differentiating themselves from the noise, so their message gets heard by their audiences and moves them to take meaningful action.

Grant gives considerable recognition to the bravery and determination of the soldiers on both sides, but even the most dedicated and able soldiers couldn’t overcome the strategic disadvantages they faced in the field. Not for long. Reading his book leaves me as impressed by the planners and engineers who got people and armaments in position for battle as by the front line fighters themselves. Again and again Grant shows how the outcomes of battles were determined by the positioning of forces going into them.

War is a matter of life and death and marketing is only about the life and death of brands, but strategic positioning plays just as critical a role. The right messaging strategy can go a long way to determining the success of the brand by strategically differentiating it, so that every single communication is meaningful and on purpose.

That doesn’t mean that gripping graphics and hot headlines aren’t important, or that social media hits suddenly don’t matter. What it means it that the messaging strategy you go to market with will be a huge determiner of how effective your creative and tactical choices are. Because if you’re not telling the right story, it doesn’t matter how great of a storyteller you are, or how loud you’re talking, you’re not going to ring in the results.

U.S. Grant turns out to be a great storyteller as well as a military strategist. And he had help from one of the greatest American writers ever, Mark Twain, who was his publisher. So don’t be afraid to reach out for expertise that can help make your messaging more successful.

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