Why Marketing Needs General Sun Tzu 2.0

Over the last 18 months, I have been fortunate to work with quite a few CMOs and integrated marketing leaders from many well-known brands. Their businesses are very different from each other, as are their product portfolios and their distribution and marketing approaches.

All these senior marketers are very aware that their consumers and indeed their own world has changed and continues to change at breakneck speed. I believe there is no need to explain this fact to them anymore; they live it every day.

What they do struggle with is this: how to evolve their organization and marketing process to create meaningful connections with consumers in today’s confusing and hyped-up marketing economy. Their problems are not unlike those of a statesman who finds himself/herself at the helm of an ill-prepared country under threat from powerful outside forces and internal chaos (any recent world events come to mind?).

Because, let’s face it, that is pretty much where we find ourselves in marketing land.



1.   Our existing infrastructure is old and not up to the task. Our lines of communication to our consumers are hampered by static and interference. We are shouting orders frequently not heard by consumers – and, when heard, are often ignored or contradicted.

2.   Our currency has been rendered obsolete. The Central Bank (“GRP”) is gone and nothing has replaced it yet. We used to rely on a currency with values like “Opportunity to see” and “Average frequency. Now we are faced with doing deals across a multitude of touch points, each with their own currency and value, but nobody has agreed to a new standard or conversion rate. Inflation is rampant and there are suggestions of corruption.

3.   Our soldiers are mostly ill-equipped for the battle at hand. Our old econometric models are out of date and out of touch. Our remuneration models reward results that are less and less meaningful. We are not really sure what metrics we should deploy to replace the ones that are clearly no longer keeping our brands safe. And we worry about not having the time to figure out what kind of ammo we actually need or are able to afford, as we are already on the battlefield.

4.   We are faced with many different and opposing forces, and we’re not sure who is friend or foe. We align with people whom we suspect could also be after us. We use data from sources that might be in the pocket of others. And we accept that we do deals with some pretty murky arms dealers.

There are those in marketing who say many of its strategies showed similarities to General Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War.” However, we are no longer in a simple battle for budget share, market share, or consumer span-of-attention share. Many marketers (as well as media and start-ups) are fighting for survival on a battlefield that keeps changing shape and even location, where the enemies are both plentiful and resourceful. The old “Art of War” needs updating.

So spare a thought or two for those tasked to lead the effort. After all, Tzu said “Invincibility lies in the defense, the possibility of victory in the attack.” It is organizing for both in today’s environment that makes marketing so hard.

1 comment about "Why Marketing Needs General Sun Tzu 2.0".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 21, 2014 at 12:28 p.m.

    One would think the folks paying for this foolishness -- the poor advertisers -- would demand better. I've been at this media game a long time, and I've never seen it this sick.

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