The Art of War and Modern Marketing

The lessons that Sun Tzu taught in 600 B.C. and which are still studied at West Point and in military schools to this day are simple, timeless and convert almost exactly for use as marketing

War and marketing have many similarities. Warfare is all about the successful control of ground. Marketing is all about the successful control of in-store (or media) ground: shelf space, location, display.

In warfare Sun Tzu stressed the importance of controlling the high ground. From a position of height, an army can look down on their enemy, target fire, hold ground with fewer soldiers and maintain cover while the enemy must expose themselves to come forward.

Robert E. Lee was arguably the greatest field commander ever produced in the United States (well, George Patton fans might argue this point). Lee performed remarkably in the Civil War with less manpower, less armaments and horrible logistic support. And yet, General Lee, a student of Sun Tzu, forgot the crucial importance of not fighting unless an army controlled the high ground as his Confederate force was routed at Gettysburg and the trajectory of the bloody conflict was irredeemably altered.

In marketing the high ground is taken when you offer a service or product that is honest in performance, presents value, offers new, exciting features and benefits and motivates consumers to choose your item and not the competitions. Do not be fooled, the craft of marketing and selling consumer products is a form of warfare. There is only so much shelf space in even the largest big box retail store. Advertising vehicles are limited by time (television, radio spots), space (newspaper, magazine ads), cost and frequency. The competition is always seeking to take the high ground and advance on your market share.

Sun Tzu said, “The winning general knows what is required for victory and then attacks. The losing general attacks; then seeks victory”. The same is true in marketing a business service or consumer product. A business plan, customized marketing strategy, Unique Selling Proposition and sales plan for successfully achieving distribution is essential to success. All too often, the over-confident or novice marketer attempts to penetrate a sales channel without conducting the proper due diligence and laying a groundwork that will support a campaign.

“Use the resources of others to your advantage”, is another theorem that Sun Tzu espoused. This is the basis of guerrilla warfare. It is equally applicable to guerrilla marketing.

“The winning general must think like a cobra”, wrote Sun Tzu. Cobras are fast, nimble, agile, ferocious and cunning. General Dwight Eisenhower is a perfect example of a military leader thinking and acting as a cobra. For the invasion of Normandy, D-Day, June 6, 1944 the Allied Commander continually feinted, used General Patton’s movements as a ruse, oversold false landing spots, and used deceit to confuse the Nazi’s about the date, place and strength of the landing force they would confront.

Successful marketers utilize as much secrecy, speed, agility and cunning as possible to outwit and out-hustle their competition. The cobra advantage is why new products continually penetrate large, established, often lethargic categories that are lead by sluggish, multi-national bureaucratic companies. In the beauty and cosmetic industry Bare Essentials and Philosophy has powered past many old line brands. Apple continually re-invents itself and energizes the technology sector. Jimmy Choo has become a generic label for the high-end footwear industry in the last decade. In 40 years WalMart has come to dominate and run off dozens of far older retail competitors. The Korean auto maker Hyundai has quickly become a top selling brand as price, quality and performance has provided the Company a keen Unique Selling Proposition.

If you would like to discover how TelRep can enhance your marketing campaign visit us at

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About ctracyverizon
VP of Business Development & Marketing

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