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

Seesmic desktop4

“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.

Evolving with an Independent Fifth Estate

Colours [Explored 2008-05-26   #451]

Organizations can experience success within their social communities, and feel like they have arrived (colors image by cjnzja). They have mastered the crowd. Given how difficult building a community can be, it’s easy to fall into this trap.

Consider how Nokia built the very successful Mosh social community for third party phone platform development. Then Mosh became a community for the phone company’s online store and the excitement died down quickly.

People — including those that comprise the vociferous Fifth Estate — are complex. No one person has a singular area of interest in a particular subject matter. People like or don’t like the arts, sports, civic activity, working, parenting, family, etc., etc. To assume that as an organization we can capture their interest and own it is, well, short sighted at best.

In reality, the Fifth Estate may become aligned with an organization for a period of time, then they move on. As Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff noted in their book Groundswell, the community’s support can rise and fall with the moment. Engaging interested Fifth Estate members in a conversation about a cause or a company’s products & services over a long period of time is extraordinarily difficult.

OldSpice.jpg

The summer of 2010 saw a viral success with the Old Spice Guy, a series of advertisements mixed with social media that featured a shirtless buff actor making witty quips about manliness towards ladies. The Internet was awash in buzz and discussion with people eager to get a response from the Old Spice guy in video or on Twitter. By the autumn, the buzz started dying down as the concept aged and then Old Spice switched the ad campaign targeted towards men with football spokespersons.

In the U.S. cause space, more than 2.5 million charities compete for volunteers. According to the National Conference on Citizenship, 62 million Americans volunteered with a nonprofit between 2007 and 2009. Yet, 18.6 million people took action with their neighbors independent of a 501c3 to fix a community problem (29% of the larger 501c3 volunteer base). Even with an overcrowded nonprofit sector, causes cannot convince a great majority of Americans to seek out and/or stay with them as their volunteering vehicle.

In the 2009 movie, George Clooney as Ryan Bingham said, “There’s nothing cheap about loyalty.” Building and then keeping a community engaged requires dedication, a commitment to serve, with an eye on moving with the community’s interests. There’s no better example than online communities that sustain interest over years of time, and even more impressive are those that crowdsource for sustained periods of time.

The above is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

The Desert of Community Building

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The following is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

One of the most crystallizing moments of my online career was when Ike Pigott said social media was an organic process. This analogy struck me as inherently true, in large part because of the significant amount of time and care one has to invest in building an active community. Like a farmer who invests love and labor day after day watching her/his fields slowly yield beautiful fruits and vegetables, community developers must tend to their community and build relationships through thoughtful interactions, valuable content, and empowerment methods.

Most marketers and communicators fail to realize the imperative of engaging the Fifth Estate as a group of people just like them. Instead they analyze their consumers, and how media like Google and Facebook change with widespread adoption.

I have a friend, Meryl Steinberg, who says that when she signed on to Twitter and Facebook she didn’t sign on to be a consumer. Her sentiments mirror many others on social networks who find themselves literally assaulted with marketers’ messages trying to persuade them about the values of their wares or causes.

These communicators analyze the data hoping for the home run. They hope, even expect that when they launch their social media the results will become their own Haiti fundraising phenomena or that they can reproduce the Old Spice viral success. And they might, if they work hard over time (as John mentions in the Old Spice case study), and infuse that special mix of creativity, intentional stakeholder centric approach, and yes, timing.

When the light switch goes on and engagement begins, often the Fifth Estate does not respond. The seeds have only begun to be planted. Relationships don’t crystalize over night. Movements take time. A vast majority of organizations don’t experience overnight successes online.

The road can be long and hard, and at times, a communicator can feel like they are walking through a desert, hoping desperately for an oasis. This is the point that many organizations quit, letting their social effort lie fallow.

It’s important not to deceive one’s self about the significant effort and time one will invest to build a community, and then continue to invest in order to sustain it. The Fifth Estate requires continued interactions. As mentioned in the second chapter, the time and human resource commitments are real and significant. Have the patience to see it through, from start to finish, and the deserts that lie between moments of great interaction. Knowing this from the start helps.