What does Colditz teach us about Web Marketing?

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What does Colditz teach us about Web Marketing

Colditz Castle was used by Germany to house ‘dangerous’ Prisoners of War (POWs) during the Second World War.

It was a very secure facility, and the Germans considered Colditz to be escape-proof.

Despite the castle’s natural security advantages and the rigorous efforts of its chief security officer, there were successful escapes from Colditz because…

  • It housed prisoners who had already tried to escape and were likely to do so again
  • Lessons learned from failed attempts were applied to future escape plans
  • Prisoners housed in Colditz were highly organised
  • The prisoners systematically gathered intelligence about the outside world, planned accordingly, and debriefed (i.e. learned from) failed escapees on recapture

This same approach can be applied to web marketing. A smart marketer will take a lead from Colditz…

  • Understand the market (i.e. the outside world)
  • Plan accordingly
  • Execute the plan
  • Implement proper measures
  • Learn from mistakes

Understand the Market

Allied prisoners in Colditz gathered as much information about Germany and its occupied territories as they could.

They knew what identity papers they’d need, formed plausible cover stories (e.g. posing as immigrant workers to get around an inability to speak German), and devised ways to navigate successfully across the occupied territories.

Business owners also need to understand what their competitors are doing, the requirements of the market with respect to their product or service, and any weaknesses in the wider market that can be exploited.

In simple terms, ongoing success depends on a business owner’s ability to spot unrealised demand and supply it.

Plan Accordingly

Once Allied prisoners understood what they’d need to escape from Coliditz they began to plan. They formed escape committees to chase down every detail and acquire the resources they’d need to execute the plan.

Different nationalities within Colditz had their own escape committee, and each appointed a liaison officer to meet with and coordinate among the different groups. This was to ensure their respective plans didn’t overlap.

It’s not enough to know what the competition is up to. A business also has to ensure its devises an advantage for itself in the market. A business has to make it hard to compete against it.

Execute the plan

POWs in Colditz worked hard to execute their plans. Dedicated teams worked together to help small groups of people escape.

This extended to staging fake escapes where prisoners were hidden for up to a year within Colditz to mislead the Germans into thinking men had successfully escaped. They adjusted their roll-call counts accordingly.

When a genuine escape took place these ‘ghosts’ (hidden prisoners) were returned to the general population to make up numbers in roll calls. As a result of this ingenious plan the Germans didn’t know an escape had occurred so they weren’t out scouring the countryside looking for the escapees.

This gave escapees more time to get away. Read more about Colditz ‘ghosts’.

The execution of a marketing plan is every bit as important as the data collected for it. Attention to detail is essential, and every member of the team needs to know what his/her specific job is.

It’s also vital that a business be able to analyse the results. Successes are important, but failures often teach the most valuable lessons.

Implement Proper Measures

Escaping prisoners who were caught often faced extended periods of time in solitary confinement. It was crucial to know exactly why any given plan had failed, but solitary confinement delayed the essential debriefing.

A marketing plan will have many potential points of failure. If the results of the plan aren’t measured it won’t be possible to understand why it failed.

At a minimum a business must be able to record the following…

  • Where every visitor to the site came from
  • Which ad each visitor responded to
  • Which offer each visitor accepted
  • What each visitor did at each step of the campaign

Armed with this information it’s possible to tell…

  • Which visitor source generated the best visitors
  • Which offer generated the most sales
  • The cost per sale for each ad source and offer
  • The return on investment for each visitor source, ad and offer

This level of detail makes it possible to determine the cause of failure at any given point. It also ensures successful elements of a failed campaign are detected. For example, a business may discover a particular combination of visitor source, ad and offer was profitable despite an overall failure.

This allows the business to make changes that will deliver more successful campaigns in future.

Learn from mistakes

Despite the inventiveness and genius that went into Allied escape attempts from Colditz, many mistakes were made. Both the prisoners and their guards learned from these mistakes.

Every marketer can expect to make mistakes. It’s not important that a mistake was made, but that the business be able to analyse the results, discover what went wrong, and correct it.

The instantaneous nature of web marketing means it’s often possible to correct a campaign while its still running. Sometimes a disaster can even be turned into a triumph.

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