Marketers love The Art of War, but are they missing the main lesson?

Loved by influential business leaders around the world, the most famous lesson from Art of War is misapplied. While some may argue how vital it is to know your competition, we argue that unless you’ve had a look in the mirror you may still be missing the point.

The Art of War is a military and combat strategy guide dating from the 6th Century BC by Chinese general Sun Tzu. While intended for battle, it is now studied for the valuable lessons that can be applied in modern marketing and business. However, in the era of information overload, business leaders are struggling to execute the philosophy at the heart of The Art of War.

Most modern business strategy guides will detail tactics such as, ‘know your competition’, lifted directly from the pages of The Art of War which advocated ‘know your enemy’. The full quote is:

‘To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy. … If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.’

Tzu’s audience was Eastern military commanders who knew their strengths, weakness and capabilities. His audience did ‘know themselves’ which might be why Tzu saw fit to emphasise ‘know the enemy’ in his lesson. Shifting the context to business marketing, it is not uncommon to see marketers over-focusing on the competition before gathering their own intelligence first.

To succeed in battle, or outcompete your rivals you must ‘know yourself’. For modern marketers, this means you must be able to easily extract intelligence out of the data, people and processes running in your operations. To empower your team to make effective data-driven decisions, you must have access to intelligence, and today this translates to up-to-date, analysis-ready data at any given moment.

Consider marketing practices of gathering information on our customers, their buying habits, the customer journey, the touchpoints, pain points and opportunities to convert leads or upsell services. This information is buried in several systems and is very often hard to track in any meaningful way.

Today, marketers are expected to act on rapid market changes and implement data-driven activities. However, quite often we see teams struggling to make sense of their information and forced to react to changes, rather than anticipate and lean into them.

To foster a data-driven culture, your marketing team must find the sweet spot between software, process and people, harnessing knowledge from their data to keep abreast of competition. Real-time data is therefore prioritised, giving teams the appropriate knowledge for them to make day-to-day decisions.


So, back to Sun Tzu, ‘Knowing yourself’ in a modern marketing context means being able to get a clear picture of your operations through live data. It also means that you democratise information through teams and ranks without a lot of effort.

Once you’ve armed your team with real-time intelligence about your strengths and weaknesses, you are then ready to tackle competition with a much higher chance of success.

At Videmus we help your teams turn data into intelligence you can act on. We provide customised solutions utilising the best of modern applications to help you grow and improve your marketing ROI.