The Art of Marketing: What Sun Tzu Taught Us about Audience Segmentation

Terracotta Warriors ArmyAs it turns out, an ancient text on military strategy holds several key insights that marketers can use today.

Most of us are at least partly familiar with Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist and philosopher who is credited with writing The Art of War, a treatise on military tactics that is surprisingly applicable to the business world.

The Art of War is often considered the magnum opus of Eastern military philosophy and features one core tenant, among others: the importance of knowing your enemy as well as you know yourself. And while Sun Tzu probably didn’t have inbound marketing in mind over 2,000 years ago, his philosophy on strategy can be easily applied to the online marketing world.

The Art of Marketing

The crux of all marketing, inbound or not, is understanding who you’re trying to sell to. Oh sure, there’s plenty more to it than that, but many businesses jump into their sales strategy without first doing the legwork of identifying their most ideal audience. This usually ends up with frustration, finger-pointing, and plenty of wasted revenue.

Sun Tzu claimed that victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. Replace “warriors” with “marketers” and the value of this idea becomes clear. Successful marketers only engage with a plan in mind; sub-par marketers engage without a plan and only hope for success after.

With these philosophies in mind, let’s review the primary concept behind Sun Tzu’s take on marketing: knowing your target as you know yourself.

Knowing Yourself

It sounds good on paper, but how exactly do you know your audience like you know yourself?

First, you actually have to make sure you do, in fact, know yourself:

  • Are your services oriented towards consumers? Businesses?
  • What problem does your product solve? What makes your solution different from your competitors?
  • What features does your product have and what benefits will your customers receive?

Hopefully, these questions won’t be too hard to answer. It’s your business, after all, and you can’t hope to market to an audience without first knowing what niche your services fill. The basic idea here is to have a clear understanding of why your market should choose you over the competition. If this isn’t clear to you, don’t expect it to be clear to your audience.

Knowing Your Audience

Of course, knowing the capabilities of your own business is only the first step of your segmentation strategy.

The next step is identifying who may be suffering from the problem your business addresses. Are you an analytics provider targeting businesses just starting to leverage big data? Are you a digital security firm that wants to provide risk management assessments? Before you delve deeper into audience segmentation, market identification begins with knowing which audiences to focus on.

From here, you can narrow you focus further by determining who exactly would benefit most from your services. This involves breaking down your broad audience into smaller subsections based on various characteristics—age, location, buying preferences, etc. This process is known as audience segmentation; a key concept of targeted marketing.

This is where Sun Tzu’s philosophy goes into overdrive—successful marketers must learn about each group of individuals, their likes, interests, and what resonates with them. Each group will have different characteristics that will need to be addressed. Research by Curata showed that 63 percent of marketers currently create content based on these pre-established personas.

For digital businesses and online marketing companies, this largely involves understanding on-site behaviors, purchasing history, and what users want to see from a website. For brick-and-mortar businesses, this may involve knowing what storefront displays drive your customers in, whether to leverage the power of mobile apps, or what style of print advertising will generate the best results. Remember, sales follow an 80/20 rule: 80 percent of revenue is driven by 20 percent of customers. Your goal is to engage this critical 20 percent.

effectiveness of targeted websites

According to data compiled by Hubspot, targeted marketing demographics made websites two to five times easier to use by the market being targeted.

Redoing and Retargeting

A marketer’s work is never done, though, and even Sun Tzu got it wrong once in a while. After an exhaustive analysis of your target market, you may find that your current marketing efforts were set on the wrong track from the beginning. And even if you got it right, you must expect your audience’s preferences to change over time.

This is why the final step of your strategy must involve a system of regular reporting through tracking performance metrics and measuring audience engagement. Retargeting services exist for a reason; as your audience grows, your marketing outreach must be ready to adapt to the data you receive. Creative retargeting can be done to adjust your marketing goals as you learn more about your audience. To get the most from your marketing, know your audience well enough to make Sun Tzu proud.

Market segmentation isn’t always easy—send us a comment and let us know how your business has handled it.

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