Strategy: The Wind Book

Musashi

A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Wind Book is the fourth primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book, the Water Book, and the Fire Book. It is the last real lengthy chapter of the Five Rings, with the final “ring” serving as a one page treatise on the “Void”. In the Wind Book, Musashi examines some of the competing samurai schools of his times, and the lessons one can draw from them. Here are five interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.

1) Don’t Overfocus on a Tool Set

Tooled Flatty
Image by flattop341

Some other schools have a liking for extra-long swords. From the point of view of my strategy these must be seen as weak schools. This is because they do not appreciate the principle of cutting the enemy by any means. Musashi

It doesn’t matter how you achieve communications objectives, so long as you achieve them. Using one tool set because it’s hot, shiny or comfortable is not the way of a strategist. When considering objectives, a strategist finds the commonality between organization and stakeholder(s), examines budgets, and selects the tools that will achieve the objective with the least amount of unnecessary action and expenditure. Successful efficiency is the sign of a great strategist.

If raising money is a nonprofit’s primary objective, suggesting spending $100,000 on a social fundraising campaign instead of hiring a development director would be a strategic error. charity: water does a great job fundraising, but they also have a development team.

Say one needed to reach moms aged 20-30 in urban and suburban areas. Solely focusing on blogger relations would be a mistake. One needs an integrated outreach that combined advertising, traditional PR, direct marketing and blogger relations. The Gap Magic campaign used blogger relations to market to this demographic, but they also advertised.

If one needed to strengthen word of mouth reputation, relying solely on advertising would be a mistake, you need to engage in two-way social conversations, on and offline backed with substantive action. BP made this mistake trying to clean up its reputation after the oil spill.

2) Success Means Avoiding Distractions

Flip
Image by Nick Webb

…if you fix your eyes on details and neglect important things, your spirit will become bewildered, and victory will escape you. Musashi

Ever become distracted in the midst of a communications program? Organizational or personal ideals suddenly come before the effort (though they both seem to work toward the same goal), ankle biting issues arise, individual events happen. All of these seem very important. Perhaps they are, but if one focuses on achieving secondary goals rather than the primary objective, then they become distractions. And distractions detract from one’s ability to attain success. So if an action is obviously going to waste time, don’t do it.

The difficulty comes with knowing whether an activity is worth the investment, or if it is just a distraction. Measurement can be a great aid in determining success with these secondary actions. If they do not contribute to the desired outcome in due time, cut them from your program. To some extent given the speedy evolution of media these days, experimentation is necessary, but long term investment is not necessary. Knowing when to cut a program is part of a strategist’s job.

Last week, Cisco announced that it would cease manufacturing Flip cameras to focus on its core business to business objectives. Flip was a successful brand within the online social media space, but it became a distraction for Cisco and hurt its core business. Obviously, profits weren’t high enough to justify retaining the brand. Cisco’s move to shut down Flip is a great example of making a tough, unpopular decision to achieve an end result.

3) No Right Way

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Image by Kaiban

In as much as men’s opinions differ, so there must be differing ideas on the same matter. Thus no one man’s conception is valid for any school. Musashi

We live in a time where people differentiate their skills by declaring the right and wrong way to communicate. The right way can only be determined by a successful outcome, one that achieves objectives while not tarnishing a brand. Everything else is just opinion.

Dell often gets cited as an organization that communicates well within social media forms. Apple is viewed as a company that doesn’t participate in the conversation, and is antisocial. In reality, neither assessment is 100% accurate.

Dell successfully achieves its desired result, and therefore practices A right way. Apple clearly uses bloggers indirectly to maintain interest in its products, and it listens online, too, as demonstrated by responses to prior moments of consumer outrage on the interwebs. Its success as a brand within social media worlds cannot be dismissed. While not offering an orthodox social media conversation, Apple practices A right way.

4) Measured Expenditure Matters

Quora

If you try to beat too quickly you will get out of time. Of course, slowness is bad. Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy. Musashi.

Expending time and effort in a meaningful, purposeful way is an art. It means knowing when to communicate, and understanding how long it takes to achieve a result. Sometimes this is includes the art of saying no, or at least not yet. Saying no can be very difficult acts for marketers. Turning away a sale or an opportunity can be scary. However, going full speed and “red-lining” a marketing effort can break a brand or an organization.

In many ways, Quora’s hype bubble this past winter is a great example of this. There was too much attention, too quickly for the question-based social network. The service (and its community managers) were not ready for the massive amount of traffic it received. The result was a negative experience for many.

Is Quora done? The above chart shows the social network is recovering from the bubble burst, but it still has not reached the levels of traffic during its peak hype cycle. Rebuilding after a disappointment is a hard road, and it takes time. The more measured approach seems to be working for the company.

5) Hams Violate the Profession

#306 Melon & Parma hamImage by Like the Grand Canyon

…it is held in other schools that there are many methods of using the long sword in order to gain the admiration of beginners. This is the selling of the Way. It is a vile spirit in strategy. Musashi

As has been said before, the use of social media to build popularity as a professional communicator is a mindless, elitist approach that hurts the business, and violates the purpose of using these tools. To some extent serving as a public spokesperson may be necessary to achieve a communications goal; however, it is done so as a path to an outcome (for example, attracting clients as a marketer). When personal fame and popularity becomes a primary objective, that communicator sacrifices professional integrity.

Calling oneself a ninja/jedi/synthesizer/[fill in the blank]; creating schema to become an A Lister, telling people that Facebook should not be measured; and, encouraging communicators to build personal brands rather helping their organizations achieve results all represent examples of this transgression. It’s not worth rehashing (or giving links to) individual cases. They are distractions, and in the worst cases, typify the timeless practice of carpetbagging. Be wary of those cultivating endless admiration instead of fulfilling a larger purpose.

This series will conclude with the next and final installment, The Book of the Void.

Strategy Lessons: The Ground Book

Musashi

A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. The book’s influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. It is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of Musashi’s five chapters, and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Ground Book opens the Five Rings with the basics of becoming a successful strategist. Here are five points that illustrate some dynamics in today’s communications marketplace.

1) Conquer Your Fear of Failure

“Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.” Musashi

Soldiers understand that death may await them on the battlefield, yet they perform under this duress. A communicator needs to understand that some efforts fail, and in the worst cases, enrage stakeholders. These are not desired outcomes, obviously, but the fear of communicating and negative outcomes has actually crippled some organizations and communicators. There’s no better example than the paralysis facing U.S. Government agencies as they attempt to embrace their public stakeholders on and offline.

This fear must be overcome. It is impossible to envision success if the first thought that comes to mind always involves avoiding failure. Success comes with understanding that failure is a possible outcome, and that you and your organization will learn from the experience, as unfortunate as it may be. Knowing this, the communicator should focus on what will create the best opportunities for success.

As a communicator, preparation through research, consistent practice in creating meaningful interactions between stakeholders and organization, and testing via advisory boards and focus groups comprised of stakeholders are the hallmarks of strong program design. By excelling at the practice of communications, one minimizes the chances for failure. Further, crisis communications remains the only way to handle rough spots, and this too is the hallmark of a strategic communicator. One must know how to interact with dissatisfied stakeholders.

2) Know More Than One Tactic

Bali Dancers / Balinese Dance - Yellow Moths
Yellow Moths by Dominic

“Recently there have been people getting on in the world as strategists, but they are usually just sword-fencers… In olden times strategy was listed among the Ten Abilities and Seven Arts as a beneficial practice. It was certainly an art but as beneficial practice it was not limited to sword fencing. The true value of sword-fencing cannot be seen within the confines of sword-fencing technique.” Musashi

Particularly apropos for today’s social media expert, this phrase can be applied to any discipline. Most media relations aces do not comprehend marketing. Direct marketers do not understand crowdsourcing. Advertisers rarely understand the long term relationship work that business developers and fundraising pros participate in. Like the sword fencers, specialists are just specialists.

To be a true strategist, a chief marketing officer, a leader of a communications department, one must have first hand knowledge of as many communications and marketing disciplines as possible. The insights drawn from one discipline lead to integration as well as the hybrid deployment of individual tactics. This creates the ability to wage campaigns using a wide a variety of best practices.

For example, consider the use of calls to action on right hand columns of blogs and social dashboards. This simple integration of advertising principles into social media creates opportunities for return on investment and clear measurement. Copyblogger is an extremely well written, engaging blog. It also masters the use of calls to action in its right hand column.

3) Envision the Entire Effort Act by Act

“There is timing in everything… From the outset you must know the applicable timing and the inapplicable timing, and from among the large and small things and the fast and slow timings find the relevant timing, first seeing the distance timing and the background timing. This is the main thing in strategy.” Musashi

Many strategic plans end at the selection of tactics. This is not enough. You must envision the entire program, and plan it out in an efficient manner and time the delivery of your efforts appropriately. Whether it’s a methodical daily commitment via an editorial calendar to communicate with a community, or a sudden burst of activity to market a new product/launch an advocacy campaign, actions must be planned. And they need to be planned with metrics and end goals in mind.

Without a plan to get somewhere, you only have tactics. To quote another Asian strategist, Sun Tzu aptly said, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

When you envision the entire effort, one can sequence events accordingly. Timing is an essential part of a strategic plan, and Musashi goes into great lengths to discuss timing in the Ground Book, and throughout the entire Book of Five Rings.

Consider that the well discussed Old Spice campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa moved from targeted ads in movie theaters, to national TV ads, to online influencer outreach, to culminate with online social media responses on Twitter and YouTube. This sequencing was intentional and orchestrated as part of Old Spice’s strategy.

4) Know Your Community Intimately

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“The Way of strategy is the Way of nature. When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally.” Musashi

In tandem with measurement, scenario planning helps the strategist foresee outcomes. Communities and entire markets do not always react the way we anticipate, but when we are in touch with our stakeholder and have considered different scenarios, the pulse is not hard to read. We understand the order of things and evolve as necessary.

Understanding how things may or may not go empowers the strategist to adjust to situations as they arise. When disagreement and discord occur, strong community management often allows an organization to anticipate issues in advance, and address them. Further, measurement as a management tool allows the strategist to play to a program’s strengths while minimizing its weaknesses midstream.

In social media circles most people know Seesmic for its social network dashboards. It started as a video social network, but over time Loic Le Meur and the company’s executive team adjusted their strategy to meet the market. It acquired Twhirl, a desktop client to integrate video into Twitter. Demand for the dashboard client was so strong the company simply focused on this aspect of its business, leaving the video social network behind.

5) Don’t Get Stuck on a Tool

“You should not have a favorite weapon. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well… It is bad for commanders and troopers to have likes and dislikes.” Musashi.

To become overly reliant on any one tool limits your ability to successfully address different stakeholders and situations, and remain successful over time. Let’s be frank, tactics and tools wax and wane as media technologies evolve. Otherwise we’d have Friendster and MySpace buttons atop this post. Kevin Dugan calls this T&F Tunnel Vision, short for over-reliance on Twitter and Facebook.

In any discipline over-reliance on a tactic can significantly limit opportunities for success. Competitors can exploit weaknesses. While one company only engages in media relations, its competitors are actively working trade shows, conferences, industry analysts, online communications, and more.

Zappos’s most well know marketing success is its Twitter efforts. But its direct customer marketing and extended social communications ensures the company’s grassroots efforts will live beyond Twitter.

These are just a several of the lessons gleaned from Musashi’s The Ground Book. The next part in the series is The Water Book.