What Has an Ancient Chinese Warrior Got To Do With Your Marketing Strategy?


Are you overwhelmed by the sheer number of marketing tools and tactics at your disposal?  Are you unable to decide which ones are best for you? Too easily distracted by the latest marketing concept?


Now don’t get me wrong, understanding the range of tactics available to market your new product is important.  However, if you put them to work without integrating them into an overall marketing strategy, the odds on you making a success out of your product launch are minimal.


Without a defined vision of what you want to achieve, you will never know which one to chose.


Something Sun Tzu, that ancient Chinese warrior general, might have said but didn’t is “No plan survives first contact with the enemy


A plan is linear and fixed. First you do this, then that then the other thing. A strategy is flexible, you can adapt your route to success on the fly because you have a clear objective in mind. There are many routes to get there. You just have to pick the one that is most suited to your needs. The tools and tactics evolve accordingly but you have a basis for choosing which one to use and at which time.


Clients with new websites are fixated by getting bucket loads of traffic to their sites but without first setting up a sales funnel to convert those leads into buyers, that traffic they do get is wasted.


Strategy is about the ‘Why’. The ‘How’ and the ‘What’ come later. Your goal may be to make a tonne of money but you won’t do that without first making sure that your prospects get exactly what they want, when they want it and how they want it. All at the right price.


Sun Tzu lived in northeastern China about 2500 years ago and was an expert in military strategy. As a result, he won a string of victories on the battlefield. He wrote a book on the subject called ‘The Art of War’. Many successful military leaders (like General Patton) and business executives (like Jack Welch, the former GE CEO) have attributed their success to applying the principles he lays out.


Sun Tzu identified four areas that we should apply to the testing of marketing strategy: speed, strengths and weaknesses, alliances, and successful market capture.


Cymraeg: Sun Tzu. mwl: Sun Tzu. Português: Sun...

#1. Speed & Timing – Being on the cutting edge is critical in many markets such as technology and pharmaceuticals for instance. Striking that niche at the right time is also crucial. Your market has to be ready to change either from an existing supplier or because of a new perceived threat.


Reinventing the solution is about using new technology. Priming your market so that it has the right mindset when you start your product launch is something that you should make part of your marketing strategy.


These make the difference between gaining substantial mind-and-market share or none at all.


Like I said, time-to-market and speed of execution are crucial; They are relevant to any new product launch. Speed requires focus. Focus on your strategic goal and the ability to adapt to market conditions as they change. Having a clear strategy allows you to assess any opportunity that may arise and quickly decide whether it is a distraction or whether it will fast track your progress towards your goal.


A Chinese bamboo book, closed to display the c...

#2. Strengths & Weaknesses – Sun Tzu’s key message in this area is to avoid your competitor’s strengths and attack their weaknesses. To do this you have to know your competitors almost better than they know themselves AND you have to have an unbiased view of your unique strengths and how to apply them to gain the biggest advantage.


Market research requires you to understand your prospects’ fundamental goal, their attitudes and beliefs. You can then focus on applying your own knowledge and expertise to reinventing the solution. But that does not help you position your offer.


To do that you have to know where your ‘enemy’ is weak and equally how you can quickly gain traction by concentrating your forces – strengths – on that point.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

#3. Strategic Alliances – Co-marketing and co-branding are popular today as ways to leverage market relationships, product/service complements and others’ expertise or experience. Sun Tzu wrote that building a strong web of alliances is a way to box in your competitors and reduce the options available to them.


One of Apple’s strengths is the amount of content – books, film, music etc – that it’s customers can download to their iDevices which themselves are world beating. To create this vast well of content, it has to make strategic alliances with content providers some of whom were distinctly unwilling to co-operate to start with. The music industry finally agreed and was transformed in the process.


Alliances are easier to set up and break up than mergers and acquisitions; that decreases your investment risk and increases the speed of execution of your strategy. Without that vision Apple would never have been able to carve out such a dominant position and stay one jump ahead of its competitors


#4. Capturing Market Share –  Sun Tzu’s believed that there was no point in capturing territory if its assets were completely razed in the process. Being a new start up you are more flexible and quick on your feet. You can serve markets – capture territory – that your bigger competitors cannot. The returns would simply not cover their overheads.


This is one strength that you bring to bear. You are ‘David’. They are ‘Goliath’. They have fixed ideas about how they do things. They have grown an established business. They are known for doing certain things. They have branded themselves.


You are young and free. You can position yourself to take advantage of all of those attitudes and beliefs. That positioning will help you gain market share. Help you ‘own’ new markets in such a way that your prospects will view your competitors as ‘Me Too’ marketers who are trying to jump on your bandwagon.


Early on, Southwest Airlines was dismissed as not having a robust business model or a traditional hub-and-spoke strategy. It has been wildly successful since its inception by serving the need for low-cost, reliable air travel, and it has achieved this success in such a way as to not engender a competitive response until it was too late to matter.


Conclusion – There is no perfect strategy but there is one that is best for you rather than anyone else. Only you bring your unique strengths to market. Only you have that knowledge and expertise. Only you knows how to apply it to serve your customers best.


And serving your customers is all about expressing the same vision as they have of themselves. They will then identify with you through that shared vision and are more open to what you have to say.


It is important to remember that Sun Tzu was constantly assessing the strengths of his army. He focused on boosting these strengths not building up his weaknesses. He would never engage an enemy after a long march if he could not see an overwhelming advantage in doing and see how to exploit a real weakness with little effort.


He said (and this is quite applicable to the various strategies and tactics of the marketer), “The best military strategy, then, is to use superior positioning. After that, use diplomacy. After that, use military force as a threat. Only after all else has failed, attack your enemy.”


When putting your new product launch together make sure you consider these ancient truths which are just as relevant today as they were then and remember “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”



Share the love...

Rory Ramsden