Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Afghanistan The Coffee Klatch is Mightier Than the Sword

As a native Brooklynite I have had a long standing affection for coffee. I enjoy everything from latte’s to Turkish Coffee (medium sweet just like Mr. Bond). More importantly I recognize the importance of social gatherings around one’s favorite beverage be it coffee, chai, tea, or beer. Social gatherings foster support and tribal elder support is the key to success in Afghanistan as pointed out in the USA Today Article on March 30, 2010 (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/afghanistan/2010-03-29-Afghan-elders_N.htm).

While I applaud President Obama’s first visit as Commander-in-Chief, my marketing sense tells me that his visit was most likely more effective to the audience outside Afghanistan than it. First of all Afghanistan isn’t exactly a TV focal mecca so that the majority of the population is not glued to their TV sets watching the world stage. If they get their information over the airwaves it is more likely to come through the FM radio being filtered and polarized by the station’s management.

From an influence perspective this type of market means that the local officer or NCO in charge is going to be the key to success. It is my belief that all officers and NCOs should receive some form of sales training. When we deployed to Bosnia in 1997 I gave every soldier a copy of Zig Ziglar’s book Secret’s of Closing the Sale. An alternative is Willie Gayle’s book on Power Selling.

Afghanistan is the classic example of “all politics is local” and personal selling is the most effective form of PSYOP at the local level. The nature of the beast is that PSYOP personnel cannot be everywhere and the ‘winning of hearts and minds’ starts with the simple premise that people must like you as a person before they will listen to anything you have to say. Consequently the senior person on the ground must establish a rapport with the key local leader who, more than likely, will be the tribal elder or imam.

Unfortunately there is no easy way to do this, nor is there a simple, magic formula to train everyone to be able to relate to foreign audiences. I have found that Marines and Special Forces in general are far more adaptive than other service personnel and are able to adjust their behavior and approach more easily.

Success will come after the Afghans people feel like they are secure in their homes. Whether this feeling is a direct result of villages pushing out the Taliban, the Afghan government actually becoming an effecting governing force, or a combination of these and external forces, it is the feeling of security which will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that make the American effort in Afghanistan a success and differentiate it from past efforts.

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