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As the United States Air Force (USAF) seeks to maintain competitive advantage in the skies, it has rolled out a technological marvel–the F-22 Raptor. Indeed, the F-22 takes advantage of the latest in technology to help its pilot's process battlefield information quickly and make decisions faster. What does this advanced airplane have to do with marketing? Probably a lot more than you think.

As a heavy carpet of snow drapes over the mountains outside of Anchorage, Alaska, a small squad of Raptors flies across the sky. Meanwhile, on the ground at Elmendorf Airforce Base, pilots and ground crews shake their heads in disbelief as they watch the F-22s perform maneuvers in war games against its predecessor, the F-15 eagle.

According to a recent Atlantic Monthly article, the F-15 eagle has been the work horse of the modern USAF for the past twenty five years. Yet airplanes from other countries have caught up technologically and now equally match the F-15 strike eagle in capabilities. Desperate to keep competitive advantage, the USAF turned to the F-22 Raptor which sports improved and advanced avionics. However, competitive advantage in the skies hasn't always been about technology.

For example, during World War II, pilots with first rate eye sight would often be the last one flying. That's because fifty years ago, it was important to be able to see enemy planes 7-10 miles out, and then maneuver accordingly. Seeing the enemy first had its advantages.

As avionics and computer technology improved over the years, winning the skies became less about what the pilot could physically see and more about what sensors in the plane could detect. Pilots would essentially wrap themselves in a "digital cocoon" of lights, sensors, gauges and radio signals. The most important attribute for pilots then, changed from eyesight to an ability to process "multiple streams of information", and then choose a course of action.

The ability to capture information, process it, and choose a smarter course of action is a key to competitive advantage, and the new F-22 Raptor takes this into account.

Now, instead of forcing the pilot to absorb many information inputs, the F-22 offers pilots a single display in the middle of the cockpit. The pilot now has a 360 degree view–in color–of the battlefield with communications and inputs fully integrated from the plane itself, fellow Raptor pilots and AWACS commanders.

While the technological advantages of the F-22 Raptor have changed the playing field, technology alone does not confer competitive advantage in the skies. Skill, training, and the right physical characteristics (to cope with G-forces) all play a part.

However, since most modern combat now takes place, "beyond visual range", having a complete picture–a single, integrated view–allows a pilot to react to a threat before they even see it. Pilots can leverage the explosion of information, and react quicker than their competition. And in a "dogfight", seconds make a difference.

As marketers across the globe grapple with challenging recessionary forces, gaining new customers, adding wallet share and retaining cash flows is more critical than ever. The technology exists to help marketers capture, integrate, analyze and manage the onslaught of data that customers, suppliers and partners produce. Data can be leveraged into information to help understand customer behavior, generate insights and drive better customer interactions.

Think about this–whatever analytical capabilities you have now–may not be good enough in today's complex marketplace (think: F-15 Eagle). Are your competitors building an F-22? Will you know when they've launched a missile–or will it be too late to react?

* Does the ability to display information in a relevant, logical and prioritized fashion confer competitive advantage for businesses, much as it does in military conflicts?
* How critical a factor is "time" in decision making? Do seconds and hours count? Have you seen the windows of opportunity closing faster than in previous years?
* Some marketers believe it's not their job to promote integrated data across a company–they say this should be the role of the CIO. What do you think?
Related post: CMO's Don't Get Customer Service

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.