6 "Killer" Marketing Lessons from Sun Tzu's Art of War

- by Alyson Shane

The Art of War, written by Chinese general Sun Tzu in the second century B.C., is considered to be one of the most influential military books in history. Not only was Sun Tzu's prudent and thoughtful analysis of military strategy relevant in his time, but in the centuries that have passed Sun Tzu's influence can be felt in a variety of areas across the globe. 

From military policy, to law, to business, thinkers have been heeding his advice and applying takeaways from his lessons to think more critically about overcoming personal and professional challenges.

Below, we want to share our six favorite takeaways from this monumentally important read, and translate Sun Tzu's advice into lessons that marketers like us can apply to modern-day marketing problems:

1. “There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white and black), yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen.” 


Get creative with your marketing approach and don't be afraid to try new things in order to discover new solutions to existing problems. 

By blending primary colors we can create a rainbow, and by getting creative with our marketing we can overcome the limitations of budget, knowledge, or even time. 

2. “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”


Don't let hubris be your downfall, and don't be afraid to retreat and regroup if something doesn't go the way you intended. 

In short: don't be afraid to fail or to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn, and by accepting and learning from them, you can hone your marketing messaging to really speak to your customers.

3. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 


Effective marketing requires both discipline (strategy) and execution (tactics.) 

Discipline refers to maintaining a macro-level, long-term vision for your company which incorporates a well-developed marketing strategy. However, without the daily to-dos of engagement, publishing content, sharing articles, and other day-to-day marketing tasks, the strategy falls apart. This is why it's essential to review goals and KPIs regularly (tactics) to ensure that you're always working towards your goal. 

4. “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”


Pay attention to market trends, your competition, and what influencers in your industry are doing. 

With so many daily tasks and to-dos, it can be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to staying on top of the ways that the digital marketing landscape is changing. However, staying up-to-date on the latest developments in our industry is essential to avoid being left in the digital dust. 

5. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”


Planning and preparedness are great, but real marketing magic happens when we allow ourselves to be flexible and seize on opportunities to stand out.

One of our favorite recent examples of "seizing an opportunity" was when KFC ran into a bizarre crisis: they ran out of chicken in the U.K. due to a mixup with the supplier. Instead of hiding from the problem and trying to downplay it, the marketing geniuses at KFC released a series of ads which read "FCK. We're sorry." which not only addressed the problem (and earned goodwill with their customers) but also was covered in multiple media outlets and hailed as a marketing success. 

6. “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” 


Successful marketers are ones who are agile.

One of the cornerstones of digital marketing success is to lean on your data and analytics to understand user behavior and your most important KPIs. However, it's not enough o keep repeating the same steps as you did last month, last quarter, or even last year. 

Agile marketing means taking the time to understand your data, and to use what you see to make decisions based on what is, and isn't working. Ask yourself: what do the numbers tell me, and how can I make adjustments to what we're already doing to continue to meet our growth KPIs?

In war, in business, and in marketing, history's most successful and influential thinkers were those who took the time to think strategically about how to achieve their goals. By applying a strategic, tactical approach to your marketing, you can grow a community around your business, increase leads and reach new customers, and increase your business' bottom line. 

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