Since enterprises are at the frontlines of geo-economic competition, they must learn how to deal with state influence in this field. They need to acquire a global understanding of the business environment and to develop new strategies to tackle stiff competition. In order to bend market rules and beat competition, economic actors developed new aggressive strategies on the model of military knowledge and underground operations.
The new competitive practices are no more aimed at adjusting to or anticipating other enterprises. Their goal is transforming the operating context and subverting the balance of power through imposing a given enterprise’s rules on its competitors. The final objective is eliminating competitors or at least preventing them from entering the marketplace.
These practices are based on the systematic acquisition of information and on its use for hostile purposes. In order to pursue innovation, export or acquire more market quotas, it is necessary to understand the business environment and to put in place effective operations. The new economic practices are therefore featured with harsh competition to dominate information platforms. The United States offers many examples of the use of offensive operations to reach commercial purposes.
In this context, companies go beyond the mere search of information. They aim at manipulating the facts through new offensive techniques of economic warfare targeting new markets and destabilizing competitors. Here are some examples of competitive strategies used for hostile purposes: offensive benchmarking (attacking a product through counterfeiting), lobbying, social learning, stretch marketing, (acquiring control through regulation, humanitarian intervention, civil and military operations and economic warfare). These practices date back to the end of the Cold War, when economic and cultural clashes replaced military and ideological conflicts.
Benchmarking consists in a comparative evaluation of services or procedures of the most successful enterprises, studying their strengths and weaknesses and identifying possible actions to match or surpass them. Benchmarking can be used for offensive purposes in order to destabilize competition through reaction tests: an alleged client evaluates all the aspects of the service provided and the weaknesses of the system; in some cases, this person purposely provokes accidents in order to have more time to study the situation. Repeated accidents clearly compromise the image of the competitor and obstruct its activities.
As far as counterfeit is concerned, it is true that copying existing products and improve them is the foundation for progress. However, some companies can decide to copy some products while decreasing their functionality, therefore realizing low quality artifacts that acquire some of the market quotas of the original product. The problem emerges when these counterfeit goods do not respect safety norms and became dangerous for the market, with a negative impact on the company producing the original goods.
Lobbying indicates all practices aimed at influencing – directly or indirectly – political, legislative, regulating actors in order to assert a given economic interest. More and more companies are adopting lobbying strategies to defend and promote their interests. Lobbying itself not only is a reprehensible activity, but its systematic use can turn it into a dangerous weapon for economic and cultural competition.
Social learning is another technique to conquer new markets that consists in an accurate psychological action setting up opinion trends to influence decision-making. Through providing what seem to be purely education services – often addressed to the future leadership of a given country – social learning techniques influence public opinion and installs a dependency relationship with the country providing social learnings services.
Stretch marketing originally consisted in coordinating Chinese family networks for business development in any field. Nowadays, this term indicates a careful observation of 1) a given socio-economic market and 2) the information exchange within a given group of partner enterprises, through which a given enterprise can better exploit its business opportunities. Therefore, on the one hand stretch marketing allows anticipating the client needs through controlling information; on the other hand, stretch marketing prevents competitors from enter the market through the sharing of both offensive and defensive techniques within a given group of partner enterprises.
Lobbying and social learning practices contribute to increasing international regulations that lead to the indirect acquisition of new market quotas. These rules represent a competitive weapon to perform technical-economic dominance practices because they prevent the other actors of the system from operating freely. This can be easily observed on the military level with the imposition of the inter-operability: pursuing a maximized standardization of military materials within NATO countries leads to the imposition of a given product or industry on the others.
Another aspect to take into account is humanitarian intelligence. In recent years, several economic domination strategies to conquer the market of developing countries have disguised as humanitarian and development missions. It is true that development markets have impressive growth potential and can count on natural resources that the West is interested in. As a result, Western countries continuously engage in humanitarian operations and development project in order to obtain long and medium term economic advantages. Besides NGOs, there are a number of governmental organizations that combine their humanitarian mission with strategies pursuing political and economic goals.
Since developing countries often experience the devastating consequences of war, civil-military co-operations (COCIM) aim at leading the country out of the crisis situation and take care of the needs of the population. However, COCIM operations are often used to conquer the infrastructure market and acquire contracts to provide services and materials for the reconstruction of the country, while profiting from public funding. It is possible to observe that as soon as a conflict ends, companies from all over the world compete to get their share in the reconstruction of the country and they rush there in order to quickly identify its needs and to influence the terms of contracts. In order for this strategy to work, military personnel should be accompanied by experts like doctors, engineers, businessmen, teachers, sociologists, ethnologists etc., that provide a better understanding of the region together with its religious, cultural, and linguistic features.
Lastly, manipulation is also an offensive strategy and it relies on the key role played by the media. Information war can easily build or destroy the image of a given company or country through the planned and targeted use of information and telecommunication channels. Information war is based on using false information both to control and protect information sources, and to prevent the opponent from reacting. These subversive disinformation or propaganda techniques can be easily performed in every communication channel, especially the Internet. In this situation it is important to rapidly react with counter information practices and occupy media space with dominant strategies.
At the present moment in which we witness a real war of knowledge, no company is immune from this kind of competition attacks.