Situational awareness is a concept I first learned in the military. It’s the idea that most environments that warrant a military presence are fluid and dynamic.
You can’t get so focused on what you’re trying to do – that you lose sight of what else is happening – ethnically, politically, locally, nationally, internationally. The modern battlefield isn’t just about bullets, rather it includes information, influence, culture, and other problems that can’t be solved by kicking in doors. If you do lose sight, something is bound to happen that ruins your well-designed plans.
Usually, there are people that try to help that interference along. I once worked on a General’s staff – a grueling and thankless job probably best compared to strategic planning in business – that used to say, “the enemy gets a vote” in our planning process.
The General’s notion is inherent in business. The competition gets a vote in your marketing too. In fact, the entire industry gets a vote – buyer, seller, supplier, observer, analyst – and virtually anything with substantive influence on transactions or transaction intent.
Situational Awareness in Business
Some businesses get so wrapped up into what they are doing they lose their peripheral vision. They sort of fall in love with themselves, the way an investor falls in love with a bad deal. It obscures situational awareness and the business can’t see that things are fluid and moving fast.
For some businesses, this is a temporary fog. This might occur during the development and launch preparation for a new product, the turmoil caused by cost-cutting, or the chaos of a reorganization, and sometimes, in preparation for a financial transaction.
For other businesses, this tendency is cultural, and the culture takes its cues from the leadership. The leaders lock themselves in closed-door meetings day after day and only surface for employee or customer interactions that are structured and sterile.
You don’t get the proper dose of reality in a sterile environment, but even worse, every head in the organization snaps inward. It’s an effort to see what might be coming next from the leadership, even as the institution loses sight of everything else.
When the business does pop it’s head up, it usually only because it has something to say, to make an announcement or exhibit at a trade show. It’s oblivious to the trends, sentiment, and attitude shifts that have ebbed and flowed.
Marketing as Sensors of a Business
You can see this very clearly in search results for example. Where and how you or your business shows up in a prospect’s query is a function of a searcher’s history, competitive content and third-party content from publications, trade organizations and events.
In other words, you might do everything right to optimize your business for search and still not improve your visibility. This is because another organization (or organizations) has also made improvements. In other words, your visibility in search is affected not just by your actions, but by the actions of others.
I use the example of search because it’s a good illustration of how the actions of other people and organizations can impact yours. It’s also useful, because the function of search marketing generally rests in marketing, and I believe marketing (and the PR shop) has a significant responsibility in providing a business with situational awareness.
Many associate marketing with output – the distribution of messages to prompt the desired behavior. Yet there’s a business case to be made that marketing should also be a conduit into a business from the outside world.
Taking multisource information in should be as much of the daily routine in marketing as is pushing information out. The former will certainly inform the latter, but more importantly, it will serve a strategic purpose in helping the business keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.
If marketing can help a business maintain it’s situational awareness, then the business will be in a better position to influence those other votes in a dynamic marketplace.
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