for growth-driven brands.

Lessons in avoiding subterfuge from the CIA

At BottomLine, we pride ourselves on being more than just a traditional marketing agency. Throughout our work on deep-diving Impact Assessments, we uncover more than just the best ways to promote or brand a product. By utilizing research and talking at length with business owners, employees, trade partners and clients, we see a lot of places where operations are struggling. While our positioning work and marketing plans and strategies don’t tell our clients how to cut out the bureaucracy, we see enough in our work where sometimes it’s very clear that there’s a lot more going on than just the wrong marketing message.

Think of us like the mechanic that’s working on a high end sports car: tuning the engine, rebuilding the transmission and replacing the tires, only to see the owner pick up the car, grind the gears and miss shifts on their way out of the parking lot. Why would you have such a high-performance machine when you’re going to drive it like that?

With this in mind, we had a lot of fun discussing this article from the depths of the CIA’s blog (yes, the CIA has a blog) titled Timeless Tips for “Simple Sabotage”.

How many times in your day to day work, or work in a previous role, have you found yourself wondering if there are elements within the organization that want you to fail?

The blog article is based on actual handbooks that the CIA wrote for friendlies working for companies that were vital to enemy nation states as a helpful guide to grind them to a halt without ever firing a shot, throwing a molotov cocktail or any James Bond-level of treachery. It is the theory that small, frustrating bureaucracies can grind even the most powerful corporations to a halt.

Consider the following:

  • Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  • Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
  • Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  • Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  • Transportation: Make travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

How many times have we seen things like this happen in the workplace? From seeing low performers who “tow the line” get promoted, to seeing employees unmotivated to work harder or more efficiently, to endless meetings, calls and conversation, to horrible communication tactics and being unflinching in how someone can move to work or at work, we can all safely say we’ve seen sabotage in the workplace.

So what does this have to do with marketing, brand voice or market position?

Quite honestly, everything.

Customers and clients know a lot more than they let on, or even know. You can tell immediately when contacting a business or attempting to work with them that things aren’t running the way they should. And that sensation can kill commerce far quicker than a lousy ad campaign or off-base branding. We tell our clients this all the time: your product, your employees, your relationships are the number one resource in your marketing. Everything else is just packaging that feeling, attitude and vibe into something the client is going to relate to.

If your operation is being sabotaged, your marketing is being sabotaged.

At BottomLine, our Impact Assessment takes a deep dive into how your business runs. We go further than most agencies do because we believe that finding out what really makes you tick (aka your true value) is the most important thing the customer wants to know about. Want to know more? We might not be able to tell you who’s working with enemy intelligence, but we can get you pointed towards victory, and provide you a road map to get there.