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The at of war is one of the most influential books in Military, Business and Marketing Strategy of all times.

It’s simple, and powerful. It’s bold, and revolutionary, and although it’s so short that can be read in a couple of hours, the learning it contains will take a lifetime to apply.

It was 20 years ago that I read it for first time, at the age of 15, and from all the solid concepts learned, one stood up all these years driving my decision making: Never fight a battle you can’t win. This has shaped my career and my life in a way I can hardly explain, and I most surely don’t realise.

If you haven’t read it, or if you did time ago, I’d strongly recommend to grab your copy and give it a go. Don’t rush it, take your time to fully process every little detail and apply it to any aspect of your life.

The art of war contains 13 chapters, each of them focused on one aspect of the Military Strategy.

It’s based on 3 main concepts:

  1. Win the war without fighting a single battle. The goal of war is wining, not fighting battles. There’s no honor or heroism on fighting a war that we can’t win. In business it means that we need to pick our fights and just work on those areas, markets and products where we are able to achieve our strategic goals.
    In Digital Marketing this means that we need to achieve our goals, not do SEO or PPC or Email Marketing for the sake of doing it. These are tactics, and tactics are a mean to an end, not the end as we already explained.

    Yes, I’m saying that Digital Marketing is not about doing SEO and PPC. These are just tactics, a mean to an end, not the end itself. Very often we forget it.

  2. Know your enemy and know your self. We already said that in Marketing Strategy we are not fighting a war, and that (fortunately) there’s no enemy. That being said, there’s a massive learning from Sun Tzu for us. The use of intelligence, or in our words, Analytics. Both internal and competitive analytics. The good General is the informed General.
  3. The art of surprise: deception and secrecy. Sun Tzu is all about the use of deception in order to miss lead and miss guide our enemy. One of the main issues with “bad strategy” nowadays is that everybody is doing the exactly same tactics (SEO, PPC, Analytics, Social Media, CRO, UX, etc) in exactly the same way. And these tactics are not getting us any closer of our goals, just delivering small increments that, with luck, will pay for themselves. A good Strategy will innovate, create new ground, reinvent the rules, the tactics, explore new fields and succeed where no one expects them to (like the -too used- example of how Airbnb used craiglist to grow).

Yes, a 2000+ years old can teach us a lot about Marketing and Digital Marketing. Remember: Don’t do what you do just because you “have to”: Create a plan, be bold, explore new ground and use your tactics for a bigger purpose.

If your SEO & PPC goals are just to drive traffic, then you have a problem. You need a strategy.

Featured Picture by Nuno Barreto (Full Picture URL) under license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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