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Sun Tzu and the Art of Internet Marketing (Part 2)

This post is Part Two in a series. Read Part One.

art of war by nbarretoAt peace negotiations in Hanoi between US Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. and his North Vietnamese counterpart, Colonel Tu, Summers quipped, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield.” Tu replied, “Well, that’s true. But it’s also irrelevant.” The point of this exchange is to recognize that war is always a means to an end. It’s one example of an army ignoring Sun Tzu’s Art of War to its own peril.

The lesson for marketers is that we always need to be mindful of strategies and tactics. This blog post is not an allegory about combat, domination or conquering. I’m not going to talk about destroying your enemies or taking prisoners. Instead, I’m going to focus on the pure strategic value of some of his principals.

Put the army in the face of death where there is no escape, and they will not flee or be afraid – there is nothing they cannot achieve.

Hernán Cortés 1In 1521, Hernán Cortés was facing mutiny during his conquest of the Aztecs. Two ring leaders were condemned to be hanged; two were lashed, and one had his foot mutilated. To make sure such a mutiny did not happen again, he decided to scuttle his ships. As a result, his men had no choice but to push forward. Similarly, soldiers landing on the beach at Normandy in World War II had two choices: They could remain on the beach and die from the maelstrom of German machine guns and mortars or they could push forward and fight their way off of the beach.

When it comes to inbound marketing, it requires an entirely new way of thinking and new sets of behaviors. Furthermore, results are typically not immediate. This can cause folks to become discouraged and long for the good old days of outbound marketing. Burning the ships and making it clear that there’s no turning back will give them no choice but to move forward instead of looking back.

It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have spy against you, and bribe them to serve you.

In the months leading up to D-Day in June 1944, British intelligence turned a team of double agents into a powerful secret weapon. This was the “Double Cross” system, operated by the Twenty Committee and so-called because 20 in Roman numerals, XX, forms a double cross. At the heart of system was a team of five spies feeding false information to their German spymasters. Together they changed the course of the war by successfully fooling their German handlers, and therefore Hitler, into believing that the main D-Day landings would take place at Calais, rather than Normandy, where the Allies eventually stormed ashore on June 6th 1944.

When it comes to Internet marketing, you have a powerful double-agent at your disposal as well. You can use back-link research tools to see how your competitors are out-ranking you for certain keywords. These become your own double-agents who can expose your competitors’ tactics, using this information to serve you.

When a falcon’s strike breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing. When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of momentum.

Grand Canyon Horse Shoe Bend MCEven the most well executed attack can be ruined if momentum is lost. The D-Day invasion saw multiple cases of lost momentum, leading to long delays and additional casualties. The landing on Omaha beach was plagued by navigational difficulties and stronger than anticipated defenses that cascaded upon one another. Once they fought their way off of the beaches, the hedgerows were a major tactical problem for the Americans, resulting in them only reaching day 5 objectives after 40 days.

Timing and momentum are two crucial aspects of social media marketing. Striking quickly can lead to successful newsjacking. Building momentum creates a dedicated, sustainable following.

It is essential for victory that generals are unconstrained by their leaders.

Eisenhower had supreme authority with four commanders under him with well-defined responsibilities. The German chain of command was a confusing system of overlapping authority, ensuring that only Hitler knew the true picture. He was constantly interfering with the decisions of subordinates and, as one example, made especially poor tactical decisions with his Panzer tanks on D-Day (he put most of them too far from any candidate for Allied invasion).

Inbound marketing requires a decentralized approach that depends on a complete cultural shift. Employees need to think of themselves and content creators (blogs, ebooks, presentations, etc…) and brand ambassadors on social media. Authenticity is the currency of social media and it does not lend itself very well to authoritarian constraint.

The winning army realizes the conditions for victory first, then fights. The losing army fights first, then seeks victory.

Before deciding on tactics, you need to have a sound strategy. And before developing a strategy, you need to set clear goals. What will victory (success) look like? For most websites, success will look like new customers, subscribers, sign-ups, downloads, etc… Each of the inbound marketing strategies (content, keyword, advertising, promotion, conversion) should support the accomplishment of those goals. And obviously, tactics must be employed in support of the strategies.

Think of it like solving a chemistry problem: Start with the answer and work your way backward. Inbound marketing should both begin and end with these outcomes. Defining them sets the table for developing the strategies and tactics. Once implemented, their effectiveness is measured by tracking the conversion rates and cost per conversion for these outcomes.



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