What Winston Churchill can teach marketers about social media

‘Never in the history of marketing has so much been known by so many.’

You’ll forgive the obvious pastiche of Churchill’s famous speech. And at the risk of stretching the metaphor to breaking point, today’s marketing melee can be likened to the Second World War’s Battle of Britain.

In particular, the role of social media in modern marketing can be likened to the intelligence gathering that was crucial to success in 1940.

The popular myth of the Battle of Britain was that England defeated the sustained attacks of the German air force solely because of the heroism of the pilots (undoubted) and the effectiveness of their aircraft.

The first social media data dashboard?

The overwhelming reason for success was that the UK’s air defence system was completely integrated, with the intelligence gathering fuelling a single, integrated command centre at which decisions of deployment were made. It had been planned and built as such over a period of years, and was ready only just in time.

Social media are the modern marketing equivalent of wartime intelligence. They let you gather and analyse information that’s being discussed openly across your market (more prevalent perhaps in some markets than others, but the intelligence is still there).

But as in 1940, information that is simply gathered and counted is of marginal use, and its volume arguably overwhelming.

It is the integration and analysis of the information that makes the first difference, and that this all happens in real-time the most telling difference of all.

Think of the Battle of Britain’s Royal Observer Corps as Twitter, the chain of radar towers as Facebook, and the deeper intelligence about the make-up and dispersal of the German air force as LinkedIn. By themselves they all provide intelligence and a sense of the picture, but each part is incomplete with the others.

Do you use Twitter?

Knowing which German squadrons were based in northern France clearly provided a clue to the make-up of  possible future raids. The types of bombers, their numbers, their bomb loads and fuel loads, and therefore their ranges, could all be deduced. But have they taken off yet?

Radar (Facebook) tells me something is happening. I can see formations appearing on the horizon, I can see their height and range and direction. But which aircraft are they and what bombloads do they carry?

Finally, they cross the southern coast of Britain and the Observer Corps (Twitter) can now see the granular detail and report on what’s happened 30 seconds ago, including numbers, types and direction. But without the other two pieces of information this is too little, too late.

Now integrate everything in real time. The moment the radar signals are picked up, they are transmitted to RAF Fighter Command HQ. (In 1940 this was done with specially laid telephone lines, the dedicated broadband network of the day.)

The moment the aircraft cross the coasts, the Observer Corps phone in the details. The picture is complete. The real-time intelligence (with the emphasis on real-time) is in the hands of the controllers within minutes.

So what? A question every market should ask about social media measurement.

Because having the intelligence was interesting but ultimately useless without action.

And it was that it was actionable insight that made the second difference in 1940, because the real-time intelligence was plugged directly into the airfields and squadrons of south-east England.

The controllers of Fighter Command (translated to today’s ‘marketers’) could deploy the resources they had at their disposal in the right direction and in the right sequence. Knowing how many bombers were flying towards which target, and at what height, allowed RAF Fighter Command to deploy the right numbers of fighters from the right squadrons from the right sectors to intercept the bombers at the right moment at the right place.

Without the real-time intelligence providing the actionable insights, without the integrated picture, and without the connection between the social media inputs and the back-end CRM system, Fighter Command would have been forced to waste aircraft, fuel and pilots flying patrols in areas where raids were expected.

Does the over-deployment of large amounts of resources in the hope that something sticks sound familiar?

In fact, the Battle of Britain would have been lost had these tactics been used. Britain simply didn’t have enough aircraft, fuel or pilots.

As to ROI and accountability, of course we have it easy compared to Britain in 1940. What’s interesting though is that the ‘ROI feedback’ during the Battle of Britain was also close to real time. The controllers and the senior commanders knew the strength of the enemy and the results of their defence efforts after every raid, not just at the end of every day, week or month. The planning was continuous and was possible because of the real-time intelligence that fed the “integrated marketing” engine’s front-end, and the ‘CRM’ system at the back-end.

Today, you can discover who is on the market for your products or services, who is influential in the market, who is complaining, who is at risk, who is connected to whom, and more. Connected to your CRM system, and with well-defined trigger-based sales leads, you can bring real-time intelligence and insight together in a meaningful way, and then take action. If you close the feedback loop too, you can deploy the right marketing resources at the right moment to maximise your ROI and make money.

It was the integrated, real-time information, and the actionable insight, that made the difference in 1940. The same applies today.


Emma Lo Russo
BY Emma Lo Russo ON 31 July 2013
Emma Lo Russo is CEO of Digivizer.