Etymology—the study of word origins—has always been a hobby of mine, in part because I like to show off how smart I am. But even more than that, I find that knowing a word's history helps me think about what it really means, and how it relates to both its current meaning and our own frame of mind. Besides, it's an easy win whenever I can't think of a better topic for this column.
The other day, I was looking through my email at all the messages from vendors, analysts, and news agencies when I fixated on the idea of email campaigns. It didn't hurt that several of the messages mentioned campaign management in one form or another, or that the political world is geared up for the 2013 campaign season. Campaign, campaign, campaign...why do we keep coming back to that word?
Definition: a series of operations undertaken to achieve a set goal. From French campagne, Italian campagna, field, military operation; from Late Latin campania, open country, battlefield; from Latin campus, field.
We can infer that the most common use of the word throughout history has been in the military sense. After all, political campaigns haven't been around nearly as long as military ones.
So if it's a campaign, whether military, political, or marketing, there's a set goal in mind. What's that, you say? Marketing campaigns don't have a set goal? Fine, I'll rephrase it: Good marketing campaigns have a set goal. There's a reason why.
Let's assume you've heard of Sun Tzu, whose The Art of War is the greatest treatise on strategy and warfare as an instrument of statecraft. The higher you are on your company's organizational chart, the more likely it is you've read the book. This is because some deep thinkers decided that running a company is just like leading an ancient army. (These are the same people who think Machiavelli's The Prince was written as actual advice and apply it to business and politics, but what of it?) Despite the subject matter not necessarily fitting the audience, there is some good advice to be found there.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
What Master Sun is saying here is that one should never embark on a campaign without a plan. Define what you want to achieve and how to get there, then take the field. If you start an attack (or a business initiative) just because you have the resources and a vague idea that you will benefit, you've already lost. The phrase "Let's see what happens" should never enter your mind—you need to plan for what you want to achieve, and try to account for what can get in the way of that goal. You know broadly what will happen, and you have considered the alternatives enough that you can adjust for surprises and keep control of the situation.
There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
This is another piece of useful wisdom, and it relates to the first one. War (or business) takes resources, and has an effect on the people making it happen. The longer the campaign runs, the greater a drain it is in relation to what you can realistically achieve. Even worse, an extended campaign can make you lose focus on your goals, and the campaign becomes its own goal—fighting to achieve military victories, not political ends. Run short, punchy business campaigns; take the gains you achieve; then move on.
You may be interested to know that the root words for campaign are the same as for champagne. From this, we can reason that you shouldn't pop the bubbly until the fight is won. Or, in the words of another great field leader, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."
Marshall Lager is the one-man army in command of social CRM advisory firm Third Idea Consulting, where he is known as "The Office Fox." Just ask him. Direct all communiques to firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.twitter.com/Lager.