Nelson, Trafalgar and branding

The naval battle off the cost of Spain at Trafalgar was a pivotal point in the history of England, Europe and the world because from this point in October of 1805 England would officially have unrestricted dominance of the seas and therefore the world. This would last for well over 100 years. How did this happen? Let’s have a look at the lay of land and Nelson’s different way of thinking counter to the prevailing orthodoxy of naval warfare at sea. Again as in this series we look at how thinking differently and not following the herd leads to dramatic advances, breakthroughs and in marketing being seen, heard and adopted.

The lay of the land

Napoleon is swanning about Europe as the self proclaimed crowned emperor engulfing all in his wake from the various Italian states right up to Denmark and eventually to the boarder of the great bear herself, Russia. Longingly he desires the last bastion not under his control, England. Gazing across the strait to the cliffs of Dover from his base at Boulogne a mere 31.7 miles [51k] away, he yearns to finally capture the emerald isle.  He has amassed his great army their in Boulogne and now needs away to trick the English navy off their perch protecting the strait between England and France in order to invade. If Napoleon is successful in this endeavor his army, the uncontested heavy weight champion of the world or Europe at least, would over-run England and win hands down. English people would be speaking French today. This is a do-or-die situation. 

The trap is set 

Napoleon orders his navy under the command of Admiral Villeneuve to set a course for the West Indies to look as though they are attacking the English holdings there. Nelson and his fleet follow though Nelson having tangled with Villeneuve before smells a rat. The English navy is split with only the channel fleet guarding England. Napoleon’s plan has worked. Now can Villeneuve get back to Boulogne quick smart for the invasion?  He does, but sails south to Spain after a brief skirmish with the Channel Fleet Nelson is still in hot pursuit and knows exactly what Napoleon and Villeneuve are up to. Villeneuve combines his fleet with a Spanish fleet off the coast of Spain at Trafalgar near Cádiz to make a combined total of 33 ships of the line to Nelson’s 27.

The battle

Here is where it gets interesting and certainly remarkable, that is worth making a remark about. Since Adam was a boy naval warfare strategy was such that two lines of opposing ships sailing in the same direction with the wind at their backs firing broadside after broadside until one navy was sunk or disengaged. The French were notorious cut-and-runners. They would fight for a bit, become scared or hapless then disengage. Nelson was in for a toe-to-toe winner takes all battle. He had to think of a way to engage without letting the French navy have the ability to run at the first sight of danger.  He wanted this to be the decisive battle so England would not have to worry ever again about a French invasion. What did he do?

Nelson has left the herd

Nelson and his fleet with the wind at their backs sailed not parallel to the French fleet as expected, but perpendicular. This would cause unimaginable confusion to the French. They had no idea of how to combat such a move because they had never seen it before. The two lines of Nelson’s ships sailing perpendicular to the French single long line separated the 33 French ships into three smaller groups which the English then simply shot to bits. By adopting this courageous maneuver Nelson ensured either he was going to win or loose…. England is saved or they learn to like Croissants.

There was going to be no escape by either party. It worked. The French with a numerical advantage in ships, cannon and crew lost 23 of their 33 ships to the English 0 a resounding victory for Nelson and his fleet. England is saved.

What does this have to do with branding?

We are all highly susceptible to the herd mentality, sailing parallel. Doing what everyone else does. To be seen, heard and adopted we must be different. By thinking differently Nelson saved England. He saved them so much so that England would rule the waves for the next 100+ years. That is a pretty remarkable accomplishment and not bad for the CV. This accomplishment comes down to two things. One thinking differently and two being courageous enough to act. This applies to us, businesses and brands.