The River

Friday, April 23, 2004

Leveraging Market Innovation: A Case Study

By Daniel Smedley-Butler, Esq.
(copyright, New Directions, The Newsletter for Corporate Lawyers)

It appears Al Qaeda is overlooking a major source of funding.

As a corporate lawyer, I’m knowledgeable about such things, and frankly, I’m baffled as why Al Qaeda has fumbled this. All you have to do is read the news stories coming out of the Middle East and many other parts of the world, such as Spain, to get it. Every time a bomb goes off it bears “the hallmark of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.”

Who knew they had a patent on a style of bombing? Certainly they should have. I know the Iraqis aren’t rich, but all those insurgents using bombs to explode with violent force capable of doing damage to buildings, vehicles, and people? They should be paying user fees. Al Qaeda was the first to invent this and market it to the wider world. They’re fools if they don’t exercise patent protection laws to leverage their first-to-market initiative.

I’m sure they’re working on it. With their ability to communicate electronically – voice, e-mail, net conferencing – they surely have leveraged the expertise of each functional specialty in their organization to formulate a strategy and execute it. That they can do all this completely undetected while being public enemy number one of the world’s most technologically advanced nation ™ is further proof of their sophistication.

Yet for all their cleverness, one wonders why they haven’t done a better job with something so simple, and yet vital, as corporate brand consistency. Is it Al Qaida or Al Qaeda? Should Osama always precede “bin Laden” or only on first usage? Is OBL an internal term, or can it be used in public-facing communications?

But there are signs of a sharp marketing department. The enterprise has shown a remarkable ability to morph in the public mind into whatever seems to fit the tumultuous sector. For instance, the entire press corp, turning as quickly and uniformly as a school of fish, recently began defining Al Qaeda as widely distributed collection of groups acting independently with no instruction from a mastermind.

This was accomplished while minimizing the downside of such a shift: Osama bin Laden, the mastermind, was deemphasized, yet the organization as a whole achieved a stronger presence. Few companies as large and powerful have shown such agility. This ability to get everyone on the same page is another sign of the organization’s excellent communications abilities.

I understand that the company grew quickly by tapping into a market the no one knew existed until the American media began to promote it, so I guess it’s no surprise that they exhibit the inconsistencies of rapid growth. It’s a fascinating case study, once one begins to look into it. As a lawyer, I’m no expert on the creative side of the house. For example, I would have never thought of “mastermind” instead of “President” or “CEO.” Yet it works, or it did in the start-up phase (and with such market dominance, it can be brought back when needed). I do know, however, how to work the system to wring profit from the ideas of the geniuses at the top. Maybe I should have gone into marketing, or perhaps government.

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