In The Loop

In 1950, John R. Boyd, a young, cocky fighter-pilot, issued a bold challenge to other pilots in the US Navy: offering his opponent a head start, hed manoeuvre his jet to be on their tail within 40 seconds – anywhere in the sky. If he couldnt manage it, hed pay his challenger $40. John R. Boyd never lost this bet and earned the nickname “40-second Boyd.”

Boyd had an intuitive understanding of aeronautical physics. He went on to help design the F-16 fighter jet, but then turned his attention to something that we believe will have increasing relevance in the new world of real-time brand communications – the O.O.D.A loop.

Real-time strategy

As consumers up and down the demographic ladder exchange their old mobile handsets for smartphones, they unwittingly become another cog in the engine that accelerates the growth of digital communication and media. The fear of missing out drives consumers to check their phones, by the minute, for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updates, and their human need to grow their status compels them to mobile Tweet, Re-Tweet and upload photos to Facebook mobile, almost constantly.

Consumer communications across their social graphs are accelerating, and we believe that successful brands will be those that can rapidly adapt their digital communications strategy in real-time. It wont be enough to have the tools to do this, however; a strategic framework for competing will also be essential to success.

Your competitors know this too, of course. They are adapting their digital brand communication cycles to include real-time monitoring of digital brand sentiment, and are also investing in the resource needed to grow their brands in collaboration with these permanently switched-on consumers. The question is, if you and your competitors are responding to this real-time-communication phenomenon in the same way, how can you possibly hope to gain competitive advantage? Enter John R.Boyd and the O.O.D.A loop.

O.O.D.A stands for: Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. This appears at first to be a common- sense framework for dealing with competitive threats, such as hostile jet fighters in a dog fight – but this framework is also highly relevant to addressing our problem of how to act quickly to out-think and out-manoeuvre our rivals across a real-time, competitive brand communications theatre.

Isolate the competition
The O.O.D.A framework tells us that, to beat our competitors in a complex and rapidly-changing environment that is impossible to control (such as the mobile social web), we must isolate the competition by presenting them with ambiguous, novel communications. We must also deliver these communications at a pace and rhythm that our competitors cannot keep up with, so that they cant interpret our strategic intentions. A competitor under pressure will usually try to interpret the communications mess they witness from their standard perspective, but our response – using the O.O.D.A framework – will be to scramble our communications again, further feeding our competitors’ confusion.

Google is an excellent example of a company that uses an O.O.D.A loop approach to competition. Its pace of innovation is accelerating, and the diversity of its product lines is staggering; competitors do not know what to react to and what to compete with. They are inevitably surrounded by confusion and left directionless, and Google knows this. Brands will increasingly need to adopt a similar approach to their communications planning to win digital-share-of-mind.

Chris Bourke is managing director and head of mobile at Mobext