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“Off-White” Paper # 13: The “Master” Marketer

What does it take to become a successful marketer today? Belief in yourself, based on continuous improvement, is key

In the 1980s, there was a great deal of attention to the Japanese business method, driven largely by the teachings of W Edwards Demings, which led to the TQM movement in the U.S. The Orient, it seems, has been fertile ground for lessons for centuries, in part because they were civilized long before the West, in part because they pay incredible attention to detail.

For instance, there has been much attention given to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (circa 500 – 300, B.C.) in the past few years, and deservedly so. This is an indispensable work for anyone in the business world, especially marketers, and I have purchased no fewer than a dozen copies for distribution to clients (I prefer the version edited by James Clavell). Jack Trout and Al Ries favored von Klauswitz in their classic Marketing Warfare.

In the same vein, A Book of Five Rings is an overlooked treatise by Miyamato Musashi, a samurai warrior of the early 17th century. Like The Art of War, A Book of Five Rings deals with strategy. But unlike War, “it is a guide for men who want to learn strategy”, including the training and philosophy of the samurai. Although this may seem melodramatic, I believe these principles deal directly with business in general and marketers in particular. I view Rings as a necessary companion to War, in that it deals with the ethics involved with proficiency.

I have known and worked with some extraordinarily talented marketers, as well as some not so talented marketers. But those I prefer to work with are those who exhibit certain simple traits, traits that are becoming increasing rare.

According to Mushasi, the warrior (read: marketer) traits should include timeliness, being useful to your employer, honoring your parents, and existing for the good of all (being selfless). To accomplish these, you must constantly be improving yourself in your discipline, not by following a single “school”, but taking the best of each and incorporating each element into your own style. In an interview with Dean Smith (University of North Carolina basketball coach, and winning-est coach of all time) shortly after his retirement, each of these traits were among those he sought in his recruits, though he did not reference Mushasi.

The greatest martial arts sensei are those who emphasize mastering the basics, then the constant practice of those basics. Jhoon Rhee, master of the Korean school of Tai Kwan Do, says there are only seven basic moves that need to be mastered. But he emphasizes that he still practices each move every day.

I am often confronted with those who either think they know it all based on a few minor successes, and then rest on their assumed laurels, or – group two, those who know they are only average (at best), but do little or nothing to improve their abilities. I had one “marketer” tell me they “hated to read”, and still balked when I suggested that many of the good marketing books were now on tape as well. It seemed an inconvenience for him to improve himself at all. Why, even with me as the paid consultant and this person as the paying client, would I want top pursue this relationship? Money? There’s not enough to make it attractive.

I look for a willingness to learn and develop from my clients. I also look for clients I can learn from. I work with none that expect a “quick hit”.

I look for synergy in my client relationships: synergy among my clients and synergy between me and each client. I need to grow, too, and I like to grow. I look for the same thing in my Board of Advisors. So if a client, or potential client, shows no inclination to learn new things, I know it is a dead-end, and I excuse myself as quickly as possible.

These things are not unique to the Orient or to samurai. Steven Covey, Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Ken Blanchard, Spencer Johnson, Earl Nightingale (of Nightingale-Conant) and many others write about these and other integrity-based lifestyles.

But what is the “payoff” for applying these principles to your life, both business and personal?

First, and foremost, is your increased ability to love and trust yourself, because you will respect your motivations. From this, others will know they can rely on you as well because they will know where you are coming from and why you are coming from that position. If you constantly strive to improve, people will notice and they will come to you more frequently. You add value to yourself, and to whatever organization you are affiliated with.

The bottom line is simply this: by employing these principles, you will learn to use the knowledge that presents itself to you, rather than seek a constant flow of “information” in which you will drown. The more you learn, the easier things become, creating the illusive but attainable goal of creating maximum effect with (apparent) minimum effort.

The maxim “You are known by the company you keep” also implies you keep company with yourself. If you are not an honorable person, honorable and successful people will not wish to keep company with you.

Copyright 2000, Amtower & Company