Thirty years of Marketing Warfare and beer

Once or twice a year, I peruse the contents of my collection of vintage business books and reflect on what’s changed since they were published, and what Marketing Lessons might be re-told. It fascinates me to review the top marketing philosophies and strategies from the past, and compare them to the approaches of today. Recently, I flipped through one of my favorite classics, Marketing Warfare, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. The book takes the position that marketing is war and marketers must be doing battle both to gain customers and beat out their competition.

As I browsed through the chapters, two observations called to me:

1 – How profoundly entire industries can change, and the transformations that companies are forced to make to remain competitive.

2 – How much business terms and technologies evolve.

Throughout the book, Trout and Ries use case studies to support their Do’s and Don’ts. I found one to be quite interesting three decades later, the brewing industry.  At the time, there were hundreds of small brewers that were being consolidated into a half dozen national brands. Today’s microbrew and craft beer industry is a 180 degree reversal of that trend. The number of players in the market – and those upcoming – is simply staggering.

 This case study illustrates that, while new products have been created in 30 years, the actual industry has gone through a complete transformative cycle in a relatively short amount of time.  Companies must match the speed at which industries change – which means marketing teams must learn to operate at a quickened pace as well.


The authors dedicate a good portion of the book pointing out examples of approaches, taking the position that companies must implement the right strategy to meet their business objectives – based upon their position in the market. Much of the strategic reasoning is still applied in Marketing today. Terms from 30 years ago are fascinating to examine.  Phrases like “Narrow Front Attacks, Flanking, and Using Reserves,” have almost become extinct.

While it may be fun to think about some of these dated phrases, companies are still borrowing concepts and terminology from the military to promote their offerings.

  • Surveillance: Technology has provided us more and more software to monitor competitors, and target audiences. Companies like SpyFu in the world of Search, and the multitude of social media listening platforms that enable tracking of the competition.  Organizations now have more business surveillance solutions that ever at their fingertips to “spy” on the competition and prospects.
  • Drones: These devices are an example demonstrating how the military technology of yesteryear is disrupting markets today. They interfere with traditional concepts of the supply chain, impact governmental regulations and are causing marketers to be on the lookout for new opportunities. Yes, they’re controversial, but compare drones to the motor car, which was shunned and considered taboo at first. Fear outweighed optimism for years, but any Top 3 list of biggest industries includes the auto industry.
  • Cyber-War – (In business): Hackers are hell-bent on disrupting companies and industries, leading to the development of an entirely new market sector. Data protection and anti-breach solutions are thriving, leading to a change in the way marketers position their products. Marketers within target companies also have to learn new terms and technology in order to protect their commerce backbones, and customer data, as referenced in my annual security post.


So, in many ways, the approach taken by Trout and Ries is still relevant today, as marketers need to be aware that they’re most definitely at war versus their competition. But a corollary is that successful marketing means being willing to adapt to market influences. Use the new lessons alongside the old to ensure success in your endeavors.

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