Learning the principles of flanking warfare and their relevance to marketing strategies

Al Ries and Jack Trout are among the best of Marketing Strategy experts in the world. Their views are always practical. They have talked about Flanking Warfare in their book "Marketing Warfare" published by Tata McGraw Hill. This book is a sort of bible on Marketing Strategy. The ideas are very powerful. In this article, we will discuss the principles of Flanking Warfare, as explained by the authors.


The two other articles on offensive warfare and guerrilla warfare from the book "Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout, also talk about Marketing Strategy and different aspects of it.

Flanking Warfare, according to Al Ries and Jack Trout, is all about bold moves. The authors explain that the flanking strategy is a bold move. The organization engaged in a flanking strategy is one that has many a stake in the element of risk associated with it. But the gamble should be on and the monitoring should take place on an hour and day-to-day basis.

The authors talk about the ability to visualize the type of actions that an organization needs to put in place immediately when the bold move is made. Advertising and brand building are essential moves that need to be put in place. And since the attempt is to make a bold statement of intent, a series of actions need to focus on the profits to be made. Detailed planning on an hour-by-hour and day-to-day basis is the crux of the Marwari system of accounting in the Aditya Birla group even today.

This flanking strategy will be centred around taking on the market leader in a bold move and then moving fast with actions that take away attention from the market leader in one way or the other. Google pay, for example, seeks to make any transaction so easy with just a smartphone on hand. The range of services is so vast and extremely fast as well. Google pay is now offering tough competition to both Paytm as well as Phonepe.

According to the authors, there are three principles of flanking warfare. We will discuss these in some detail, by quoting certain Indian references. The three principles are a) A good flanking move must be made into an uncontested area b) Tactical surprise ought to be an important element of the plan and c) The pursuit is just as critical as the attack itself.

A good flanking move must be made into an uncontested area

"You don't drop your paratroops on top of the enemy's machine-gun positions, and you don't launch a flanking product into the teeth of an established product".(page 84)

What the authors seek to emphasize is that the new player should do the flanking strategy by taking on the might of the established player, but in an area that is still uncontested. The Pathanjali group of products with a distinct "herbal" platform is the best example. The customers were looking for alternatives and it was clear that this range of products was totally different from the chemical-based products like toothpaste or shampoos. A clear distinction is always made in terms of product mix or product value or taste and the like. Bovonto is a grape-based drink. It has systematically built a strategy of its own.

Hamam has a niche as a healthy bath soap that removes all germs. Pepsodent is focused on children and is positioned on the "prevention of tooth decay" platform.

Tactical surprise ought to be an important element of the plan

"By its nature, a flanking attack is a surprise attack. In this respect, it's different from offensive or defensive warfare where the nature and direction of attacks are pretty much expected. If Ford is going to attack General Motors, they have to attack somewhere between Chevrolet and Cadillac" (page86). The authors emphasize that the flanking strategy should result in the market leader finding it difficult to make counter moves. The element of surprise should always be there.

When Suzuki started coming out with a range of many models with a price difference of just Rs.30,000 between one model and another, the competitors could not match the range. Today, the pan-India service network of Maruti is one powerful factor when customers flock to buy Maruti brands. The element of surprise in each Maruti brand is always one factor.

Having diagnosed a need to provide customers with the choice of watching movies at a stretch, Sun TV launched the KTV channel that provided non-stop entertainment in the form of movies. This is a super-duper hit and has taken the competition by storm. Most of them have similar offerings but KTV is streets ahead.

The pursuit is just as critical as the attack itself

The authors explain that the flanking strategy should result in the company winning in a big way. The competitors should find the going very tough. The actions should be very much pronounced and should rattle the competition.

Paragon brand of footwear is following this strategy. it has high decibel advertising and a wide distribution network. Its market is pan-India and is now seen as a competitor to Bata in so many product categories. In the PVC chappal category, it has already made a fashion statement. It never gives up and keeps on doing its advertising on television. Since the product is considered okay, it is growing in market size day after day. The manufacturers of Pril never hesitate to advertise their product. It is seen as an effective substitute for Vim from Hindustan Unilever. The high decibel advertising of Domino pizza in India is meant to reinforce the position of this company as the number one in India. Nescafe from Nestle is another example. It has challenged Bru from Hindustan Lever. But it does so with a renewed vigour.


Some examples of flanking strategy as observed in some Indian examples, have been explained above. The examples are only indicative and not exhaustive. Yet, they do make a difference to the continued success of the concerned companies.


Author: Umesh16 Dec 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 7

Interesting article putting the aggressive and diversifying business organisations to be named as flanking warfare strategy business units.

Whenever an existing business house launches a new product or service then it has to foresee its acceptance in the market and it is natural that either the product or service should be an innovative one different from the existing one or it should be launched in an area where it is not established so far. Over and above that the pricing of the service is also an important factor which will decide whether some people would go for it or not. Sometimes innovation is the key to new business ideas. Once the business is established and the volume of sales increases then the business house can think of giving additional benefits to the customer in terms of loyalty bonus or transaction value-based redeemable points.

Today we require a multi-pronged strategy in the business areas so that not only appropriate advertisement and marketing is done but also the reasonably priced and good quality service or product should be available in the market. If the customer sees value in it he will come back again and again for the said service or supply of material.

  • Do not include your name, "with regards" etc in the comment. Write detailed comment, relevant to the topic.
  • No HTML formatting and links to other web sites are allowed.
  • This is a strictly moderated site. Absolutely no spam allowed.
  • Name: