Unordinary Thinking No. 13 – Going on the front foot

Not letting events just happen to you.

Taking control of a situation and not being a victim.

Deciding to be proactive and finding the best way to hit the ball back.

These are all states of minds.  They are specific behaviours and a way of thinking that individuals and companies can choose to exhibit and practise.  They can lead to powerful, different outcomes and create positive advantage for organisations.  Consider the following.

The late 50s and early 60s was the time of the Cold War.  Two ideologies and two main protagonists:  the USA and the USSR.  However Fidel Castro’s Cuba, given its proximity to the US coastline, occupied much of Washington’s thinking.  The US government were intent on trying to precipitate a popular uprising against Castro and force the overthrow of his government.

Over the years, numerous strategies and tactics were employed by the Americans to try and persuade the Cuban people of the merits of democracy and the benefits of US life.  One such initiative however, had an unforeseen consequence.  The US government loudly made it clear that any Cuban citizen who braved the sea journey and arrived on its shores would be granted citizenship.  Intended as a positive public relations story for the world, it did not really end up that way.  The Cuban hierarchy sensed an opportunity: overnight, they released all the inmates from their prisons, gave them a couple of boats, and waved goodbye and good luck to them on their journey to a new life in the land of the free.  Not what the Americans had in mind I suspect.

A second anecdote from the world of marketing.  The Virgin brand has been around a long time now and has maintained a justified reputation for looking to do things differently (see our recent post on Virgin Money’s recent entry into UK banking).  It seems they have a culture which values pitting their thinking against the other players in their markets, putting customers first, and maybe making life difficult for the competition.  The following is, in my opinion, one of their best demonstrations of this.

In the mid-eighties, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic were locked in a battle for the lucrative transatlantic market.  As the summer season came around, British Airways ran a big promotion giving away 5,200 seats for travel on June 10th.  Not having been there at the time, I am unsure of the exact commercial objectives of the promotion.  However, it seems fair to guess that garnering some positive news coverage and a halo effect of letting so many people fly for free would be obvious benefits.  I wonder what the reaction at BA was when they saw Virgin’s ads the next day?

“It has always been Virgin’s policy to encourage you to fly to London for as little as possible. So on June 10 we encourage you to fly British Airways.  As for the rest of the year, we look forward to seeing you aboard Virgin Atlantic.  For the best service possible.  At the lowest possible fare.”

The promotion generated lots of media coverage for BA.  And each time it was mentioned, guess what?  So was Virgin’s response.

We are all capable of thinking in a way that is front foot and proactive-it is an attitude rather than a tactical device.  It is not defined by the market norms or the strength of your competition.  It is simply about being unsatisfied with other people setting the agenda, often simply to retain the status quo, and figuring out how to move the conversation to a place which benefits you and your customers.

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

For more information on how we can help you, contact or, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.

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