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Use The Art of War to build a growth strategy


For any business trying to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, getting the right marketing and growth strategy in place, particularly for digital media, is key. You might be using individual tools like SEO, content creation, social media engagement, and pay-per-click advertising, but your results will soar if you can bring it all together in a comprehensive strategy.

Know how it all works together

Most of us know SEO is important, and we need to post regularly on Facebook or Twitter. But what we sometimes forget to ask is how the elements work together and what we’re trying to achieve, not just now but in the future.

The sixth-century philosopher/general, Sun Tzu, is credited with writing The Art of War. A favourite with many military specialists over the years, it has also been applied to a variety of business practices, including in the digital arena.

Are you at war? Obviously not.

Do you have competitors? Are you fighting for growth and survival? Undoubtedly you are. There’s plenty in Sun Tzu’s philosophy that you can use to develop your own approach and strategy.

Of course, preparation and knowledge are key to business success: you need to have a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of both yourself and your competitors. But it’s not enough to have a series of tactics. You need to know how to use them, why you are using them, and how they’ll impact your business.

Know your competition

According to The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

If you don’t know who the competition is and what they are doing, you’ll be operating in the dark. If you know your competition and what they’re doing better than you, it helps overcome those hurdles and helps you spot their weaknesses.

If you haven’t studied your competitors recently, it may be why your business isn’t thriving. For example, how often do you track your competitor’s data? Doing this can help you see trends and incorporate faster responses, including changes to your own strategy.

Build the perfect strategy

You may already have the tactics at hand, the tools that get your message out. But without a comprehensive strategy, tactics are like firing arrows into the dark and hoping for the best.

You might employ the services of specialists – an SEO expert who knows how to improve rankings, a social media guru who is key to engaging online with customers, or a content specialist who knows what to write on a web page. But they can often work against each other unless there’s a clear strategy in place.

The strategy within a strategy

Another aspect of The Art of War is acting with serenity and inscrutability. You can only do this if you prepare your digital strategy within the framework of an overarching strategy. If you’re always reacting to the digital marketplace instead of being proactive, you’ll find it difficult to remain calm and even harder to hide what your processes and objectives are.

Your understanding of your opponent in the digital marketplace should guide your strategy. If that is in place, you should be able to employ your tactics to meet any situation, anticipate what is going to happen, and stay ahead of the game.

The audience as a core principle of the strategy

Of course, developing a strategy isn’t just about knowing your competition. You need to know your audience just as deeply. It means understanding the wider marketplace and how changes, both big and small, can disrupt it. This, in turn, means developing your brand to meet expectations, having that clear and potent vision of what you stand for.

Head into battle

You don’t have to be a large corporation with an abundance of resources. As Sun Tzu said: “Great results can be achieved by small forces.”

It’s not just that you use a particular tool, such as Instagram or Facebook. It’s how you use that tool within your overall strategy. And your strategy should be based on the knowledge of everything your business is and who it is competing with.

It’s a testament to The Art of War that it is still being used today. We may not be about to take to the battlefield, but the philosophy and strategy Sun Tzu developed 2,000 years ago continue to resonate today.