Learning from Sun Tzu
Changing geographical zone, and going back further in time than Tacitus, more examples of ancient strategies are found in Sun Tzu’s classic text, The Art of War. I have never stopped marvelling at how much of defending your brand and its reputation can be found in these quotes:

  1. If fighting will not result in victory, you must not fight.
  2. If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
  3. If your enemy is of a choleric temper, seek to irritate him.
The third one is particularly applicable to the Ashdown story. He also got it right from the point of view of the first quote – he chose not to fight. And keeping in line with Tacitus, he avoided silence but he did “slight it” with a minimal response. The result worked out just fine for him.

The second quote covers one of the most basic mistakes that organisations and leaders regularly make: not knowing their audience. A key question in branding is: who is your audience? And that’s closely followed by the question: what kind of things work on them?

The third quote is one that’s often missed by many managers in the branding world. If you can get your opponent irritated, and thereby more emotional and upset, you can cause more damage than with a direct attack. In the military context, direct attacks cost a lot more in terms of men and ammunition than simply annoying your enemy, and the world of branding has its equivalents.

An opponent who is irritated and annoyed is far more likely to make a mistake than one who is thinking clearly and rationally. So, if you find yourself annoyed by an opponent, the first question is: to what degree am I playing into their hands?


A useful test is to analyse your past 10 or so responses to attacks:

  • Were they fact-based? Or did you get emotional and irritated – hence, malleable?
  • Were they similar? If so, are you getting predictable?
    (Predictability is the last thing you want in any battle.)
Far better than getting angry is to have a methodical intelligence-gathering procedure by following your critics and finding out the patterns in their approaches.

Fortunately, as many of the traits are universal, you can get a lot of useful information from other attack-defence scenarios. I’d recommend watching debates that take place before a ‘live’ audience. Notice what works on you, especially if it is an opposing view to yours, and what works on the audience.

Certain things will keep happening, and they are all pivotal in successful branding.

  1. Don’t rely on what you think is logical; other people might have a different view on what ‘logic’ is.
  2. Rationality will not save you; people are more often more emotional and less rational than they think they are.
  3. Don’t rely too much on facts; not everyone agrees on what ‘facts’ are.
  4. If you do use facts, make sure you are quoting what everyone accepts; best of all, use facts that your opponent has quoted, in order to support your argument.
  5. Delivery beats content frequently. So pay attention to symbolism, phraseology, timing and humour.
  6. Don’t plead or bleat (phrases like ‘it’s not fair’ can easily come across as a mixture of being both weak and unimaginative). Far better to state indisputable facts and let the audience draw their own conclusions as to value judgments.

Dr Ian Halsall
Author & Researcher


© 2019 Global Oil & Fats Business Online – gofbonline.com