What the F is FLANK Marketing?

Our name is no coincidence - though obviously flank marketing is bigger than us. It’s a marketing tactic from (dare I say it) the text books. Let’s do a deep dive into what it is, and how we can actually use it in 2018.

Read more

We’re more hands on, than glasses on – but let’s start with its conception:

Drawing heavily on analogies to military warfare, Kotler and Singh outline techniques of marketing attack and marketing defence. Attack can be direct (Frontal), lateral (Flanking), on multiple fronts (Encirclement)… yada, yada…

Philip Kotler, and Ravi Singh. “Marketing Warfare in the 1980’s”. Journal of Business Strategy, Winter 1981, pp. 30-41.

Now, we’re really not a “text book” company. But we’re no strangers to flank marketing tactics. It’s how we compete with the bigger agencies, and it’s how we help our customers do the same. So we feel in a good place to describe flank marketing, our process and our tactics to help you do the same – with or without our marketing help.

Who uses Flank marketing?

So for us, flank marketing is best suited to smaller teams who are looking for effective ways to gain traction, and compete more effectively with larger companies. Who have bigger budgets + more resources. Sound familiar?

Key Takeaway: The best way to compete against the big dogs, is to avoid a head-on rivalry and adopt a flank marketing approach. Speak to + capture a market, which is not well served by established players. Find the weak spots in your competition, and focus your efforts.

Flank Marketing In The Real World

So writing that reminded me of 4 years I spent in marketing lectures.

In my opinion, this is a little example of too much science, not enough art. We see marketing as art at the ideas stage, and science at the execution… and in that respect, dreaming up creative marketing ideas is far more fun for you to do, and your customers to digest. We look at it by not only taking a different approach to your competitors, but also tackling marketing problems from another angle.

FLANK Marketing

Product development always starts with a difference, so it’s amazing that marketing sometimes doesn’t. You can’t launch the same product as everyone else, and expect it to fly – so why persist with the same marketing tactics?

Anyway, these days I’m more familiar in the trenches. What does this actually mean? Well, here’s 5 examples of great flank marketing tactics in the real world:


As they were starting out in the summer of 2008, the founders needed a way to raise money. They bought a ton of cereal and designed special edition election-themed boxes, released that fall—Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s, which they sold at convention parties for $40 a box. They sold 500 boxes of each cereal, helping them to raise around $30k for Airbed & Breakfast.

Lyft ride share.

When researching this post, one article I really enjoyed was Ben Silverman’s on how Lyft used flank marketing to great effect in New York. It was smart how he details every advert connecting together, from print design, to targeted social media ads – everything worked seamlessly together to him feel like he was “the only person being marketed to”.

Sheila’s wheels.

I don’t know if this one is geographically significant, but BOY DO I REMEMBER their ads. They weren’t meant for me, but this is a great example of flank marketing. They were selling the same product as their competitors (car insurance), but they focused on female drivers.

Volvo Twitter Inception.

One of the greatest flank marketing tactics in the last 10 years has to have happened this year. Volvo owned the car commercial conversation on Twitter, when every other car company was focused on owning the stage on the TV. Their conversations and engagement lasted the whole game – not within a 30 second slot. It’s very well described in this video:

Rock Radio

The station set up empty guitar racks around the city with a sign reading: “Free Air Guitar. Take One.” It was clever enough to get noticed. It was also an idea that was very much in keeping with the spirit of a rock station and its listeners who might be given over to air-guitar solos in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

Photos of the racks popped up in the local newspaper, on blogs, and social media pages, along with numerous comments mentioning how they would have to check out the new station.

Rock Radio Air Guitar

Key Takeaway: Flank marketing works, and has worked for countless brands in countless ways – it’s about analysing your competition and thinking creatively in the context of your strengths. To paraphrase the words of Dave Trott, “Creativity is the last legal unfair advantage you can have.”

Flank Marketing Takeaways

So we can all agree that flank marketing works. It’s very obvious when you think about it – and when you’re starting out, there’s always someone bigger + better than you. So here’s some ways in which you can compete effectively – by implementing remarkable tactics.

Please bear in mind, that obviously these aren’t rules to follow  – they’re just words on the internet. Here to inspire you to think a little differenter.

Tone of voice.

How do you sound to everyone? Are you speaking in the same way as everyone else? Maybe Don’t?! Monzo Bank is a great example of a company that’s paving the way for flank marketing in a HUGE industry – banking. A bank that uses GIFs + speaks to potential customers – in a way that we’re not used to. They’re remarkable, and their rise to traction is reflecting that.


How is your instagram feed looking? Are you posting inspirational quotes? Are you posting at 10am on Tuesdays like your competitor? Maybe Don’t?! Start creating stories everyday, one of my favourite YouTube follows did a great video about this.


Probably the biggest concern of them all… Who are your competitors catering to really well? Who does your product serve really well? Are you targeting their core demographic? Maybe Don’t?! Location is a great way to differentiate. Localised marketing is powerful and Google is favouring local results – especially with the rise of voice based search. Find a local audience and dazzle them.


Are you sponsoring the same conferences as your large competitors? Or worse.. Are they gold double platinum and you’re bronze? Maybe Don’t?! Why don’t you make videos about the topic, and sponsor the crazy out of the event hashtag instead? Heck, you don’t even need to buy the ticket!

Public relations.

Has your competitor got a team as big as yours just for PR? Are they in all of the glossies? Have you been trying for ages to get in there too? Maybe Don’t?! Perhaps focus your attention on reviews – real, honest, Trustpilot, customer reviews. Pick one – and keep plugging. Heck, this guy did it without even having a restaurant.

Key Takeaway: It’s fun to be different, and there are so many ways to do it. On your next key project, why don’t you sit down with your objectives clearly defined – and find tactics that don’t play by the traditional rules.

Mic drop.

Right it’s late – I’m going to jump off of my high horse now and into bed. Let’s stay smart, and the best way do that – is to go after the big guys, by attacking them where they’re weak. Oh and the good thing about the big guys is… that when they’re really big – they’re so tied up in processes they can’t do anything about it.

Rufus Denne.

Happiest when busiest. Grew up on a farm in the countryside, and now growing a business in the big city. I love design, tech and marketing.

Questions? Suggestions? DM Flank

Digital Marketing makes you think.

I write because I find it cathartic, and to share with you any value I distill from my experience.

I trust marketing examples, more than what a report said 94% of digital marketers think the future holds – so that's what you can expect from my writing. Live examples, my own insights, and original thought.

You can join me on this quest for answers, and I'll try not to introduce too many questions along the way.

Ted @tedforth
No fluff, just stuff that works
Dustin @plusdust
Love the real world examples + reworks
Soph @sophiarocks
I haven't read a bad post yet.

Leave a Reply