Bringing the Paign: What We Can Learn from Etymology and an Ancient General

Article excerpt

ETYMOLOGY--the study of word origins--has always been a hobby of mine, in part because I like to show off how smart I am. But even more than that, I find that knowing a word's history helps me think about what it really means, and how it relates to both its current meaning and our own frame of mind. Besides, it's an easy win whenever I can't think of a better topic for this column.

The other day, I was looking through my email at all the messages from vendors, analysts, and news agencies when I fixated on the idea of email campaigns. It didn't hurt that several of the messages mentioned campaign management in one form or another, or that the political world is geared up for the 2013 campaign season. Campaign, campaign, campaign ... why do we keep coming back to that word?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Definition: a series of operations undertaken to achieve a set goal. From French campagne, Italian campagna, field, military operation; from Late Latin campania, open country, battlefield; from Latin campus, field.

We can infer that the most common use of the word throughout history has been in the military sense. After all, political campaigns haven't been around nearly as long as military ones.

So if it's a campaign, whether military, political, or marketing, there's a set goal in mind. What's that, you say? Marketing campaigns don't have a set goal? Fine, I'll rephrase it: Good marketing campaigns have a set goal. There's a reason why.

Let's assume you've heard of Sun Tzu, whose The Art of War is the greatest treatise on strategy and warfare as an instrument of statecraft. The higher you are on your company's organizational chart, the more likely it is you've read the book. This is because some deep thinkers decided that running a company is just like leading an ancient army. (These are the same people who think Machiavelli's The Prince was written as actual advice and apply it to business and politics, but what of it?) Despite the subject matter not necessarily fitting the audience, there is some good advice to be found there. …