The Art of War and Content Marketing

“The Art of War” is one of those unconventional sources of business wisdom that’s gone from being outside the box and cool to a sort of 1980s cliche. But scratch the surface, and the ancient text still has surprising relevance to any strategic endeavor. Even on subjects as non war-like as content marketing. Here are three ways this ancient text applies to your content marketing.

"The Art of War" from Running Press.The Art of War” is one of those unconventional sources of business wisdom that’s gone from being outside the box and cool to a sort of 1980s cliche. But scratch the surface, and the ancient text still has surprising relevance to any strategic endeavor. Even on subjects as non war-like as content marketing.

Here are three ways this ancient text applies to your content marketing.

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1. Win the War Before You Fight the War

Most business people know “The Art of War” as an ancient Chinese text that predatory executives use to inform and justify their strategies in things like hostile takeovers. However, the book itself, written by the Chinese general Sun Tzu in the sixth century BCE, really to me has one key takeaway: Win the war before you fight the war.

In fact he says “The skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”

That is exactly what an effective content marketing strategy should do, only the war is for sales, and enemy troops, cities and kingdom are all strategic locations in your audience’s mind.

The goal of all of your content, gated and ungated, is to prepare that field, the mind of your audience, so when it comes time to make a purchase, your brand is the obvious choice, and they pick you.

2. The Art of War Is Really to Break Resistance Without Fighting

We already talked about one Sun Tzu quote to this effect, here’s another: “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” You do that in the context of content marketing by carefully studying and maneuvering in the minds of your audience.

Be the brand that knows best.

Content marketing can be an odd mix of branding and direct techniques, especially in the early stages of the customer journey, where the content is introducing new prospects to your brand and trying to capture their contact information. What you’re really trying to do is establish that you know best in this space, that you understand the customers’ needs and are helping to answer them even before they’re your customers.

In doing that, it’s important to be honest.

And that goes against the grain here because anyone who knows about the Art of War knows that a Sun Tzu gives a lot of advice on deception.

But in this battle, with content marketing, trust is essential to victory. This is really what separates today’s content marketing from yesterday’s advertorials, whitepapers and case studies. The content you produce must honestly reflect good advice to your audience. There can be no weaknesses in it that will later lead to defeat at the battle for the sale.

If they don’t trust you here, they won’t trust you there.

3. Make the Content That’s Ideal for You to Make

Sun Tzu says “Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows.”

In creating your products or services, you’ve built them around truths in the market. Around things you know to be difficult to do, issues that are pain points to your target market and that it makes sense for them to spend money to address. Those are the pain points and issues your content marketing should address most. When your audience understands those issues and what goes into successfully overcoming them, they’ll understand your value better and see things from your point of view. When they see the problem the same way you do, they’re more likely to come to the same conclusions, and choose your solution.

In the words of Sun Tzu, the art is “To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished.”

And when you can achieve that, when your content has prepared the audience so that they are already near to being your customers and far from being your competitors’ customers, that’s how you win the war without fighting it.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

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