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7 Lessons for Legal Marketers from Sun Tzu

 7 Lessons for Legal Marketers from Sun Tzu

In today's legal marketing world online, it can be easy to think that the only strategies that will work are the ones developed this minute, for specific problems like a new Google search algorithm.  What might surprise you is how much legal marketing wisdom you can find in older sources.  Maybe the writer from the longest time ago who'd have something valuable to say about legal marketing is Sun Tzu.  This Chinese general, who lived about 2500 years ago, wrote the strategy classic The Art of War, which detailed his own strategies for winning conflicts.  Sun Tzu's writing applies not only to war, but also to business and marketing.  In this guide, we'll take a look at some of the oldest advice in the world—as relevant today as it was millenia ago.

#1:  “Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy.”

One of the biggest things that Sun Tzu focused on when discussing battle strategies is the idea of knowledge.  When Sun Tzu was a general, not all other generals worked on reconnaisance before a battle, and those who failed to know their enemy or themselves well tended to fail on the field.

According to Sun Tzu, when you know either your enemy or yourself very well, you'll win about half the time—the key is knowing both.  This is great advice for legal marketers.  You need to know both your own brand and the brands of your competitors if you want to be able to play to your unique brand strengths.  Doing competition research isn't cheating—it's the quickest path to victory.  Keep in mind that just because you learn what your competition is doing doesn't mean you have to imitate it.

#2:  “Strategy Without Tactics is the Slowest Route to Victory.”

When Sun Tzu differentiated strategy and tactics, he was referring to the bigger picture and the little, everyday details.  When you have a great long-term strategy, but your tactics are haphazard, you may be able to succeed through sheer tenacity—but why not get where you're going faster?  Make sure you have the everyday details taken care of, not just your big picture strategy concerns.

This means doing the little things right, like downloading social media dashboard tools so that you can juggle all of your different social media websites without letting any balls drop.  It also means planning out your days and making sure that your schedules are realistic for accomplishing your goals.

#3: “Tactics Without Strategy Is the Noise Before Defeat.”

If you're doing all the little things right, Sun Tzu says that you'll still fail if you don't have a big picture view.  He's right: when you're just posting randomly to social media accounts, doing online marketing based on whatever the most recent fad you read about is, and ignore any kind of overall branding initiative, you won't be able to differentiate yourself from the crowd.  In the hyper-competitive legal services market today, that's a death knell.

Follow Sun Tzu's advice here: know that you've already lost if you're not looking at where you're going.  Set real goals for yourself and plan long-term as well as short-term.

#4: “To Be Prepared for Any Contingency Is the Greatest of Virtues.”

Contingency planning is something that a lot of legal marketing professionals don't think about when it comes to their primary ways of marketing services online.  Consider for a few moments what you would do if any of your main ways to communicate with your audience went down.  Strange things can happen in the world of the internet.  What if Facebook went belly-up all of a sudden?  What if Google changed its ad policies so that you could no longer use their services in the ways you had been?

Trying to think about what you'd do if any of your marketing tricks just stopped working one day.  Remember, it's happened before—some search updates for Google significantly changed the SEO landscape and put some search engine optimizers out of business promptly.

#5: “Do Not Repeat The Tactics Which Have Gained You One Victory.”

It can be tempting, once you find something that works, to just keep going with that idea until you hit a brick wall.  But keep in mind that the best way to stay in front of your competition is not to keep doing the same thing until it gets stale—you need to innovate and keep one move ahead.

At the same time, Sun Tzu obviously doesn't mean you should ignore what works.  Just don't become too reliant on something that you've only seen work for sure once or twice.  Shifting your marketing strategy significantly in response to a single good week of responses to a new tactic, for instance, is probably hasty.  Make sure it's not a fluke before you start investing too heavily in the next new thing.

#6: “We Cannot Enter Into Alliances Until We Are Acquainted With the Designs of Our Neighbors.”

When you start using any website to host or share content for you, from Facebook to Google Local, it's a good idea to first learn about the business models of these sites.  Knowing how these websites work can help you decide whether you actually want to do business with them.  In some cases, you may decide that a particular website is not likely to still be in business within the year—so why keep sinking marketing dollars into their site?  In others, you may decide that the current rate of growth makes marketing on a particular site a real bargain.

#7: “No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy.”

People will never do quite what you'd expect with your content.  There's no sense in blaming your audience for not responding according to your plan.  Instead, you need to revise your plan with the new data.  Keep in mind that revising your plan isn't an indicator that you failed in your original planning—knowing what doesn't work is just as important as knowing what does.

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