‘Kung Fu’ marketing

The first marketing ninja: what marketers can learn from Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is a legend. Still. Thought by millions to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time, and a pop culture icon, he can rightly be considered a master of many things.

But marketing? Well, yes; he certainly marketed himself, his films and
his philosophy extremely effectively, with astounding results (he not quite but almost single-handedly wrought an enduring change in how Asians were
presented in film.)

But can marketers learn from his thinking? I think we can. And the following is why I think so…

Seven things marketers can learn from the sayings of the great Bruce Lee.

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.

Why is this important? Whether you choose here to interpret ‘yourself’ literally or more figuratively as your brand, this is an important message. Why?

Because ‘me too’ has never been the way for marketers to move on and break new boundaries in their work. If you or your brand do not successfully create, find and subsequently build a unique set of characteristics, values and benefits, and then really effectively express and communicate that individuality, commoditisation is your fate.

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.

Why is this important? How many years does your marketing plan cover? If it’s over 18 months, then I suspect that it will change before its sell-by date.

Which is fine, of course, as long as you have the capacity and the flexibility within that plan to adapt, to shape-shift and to respond to market pressures, competitor activity and the myriad of other economic and consumer influences that affect your business model.

Sure, a marketing strategy — like a business plan — can and should reach out to the nether regions of five years and more. That’s what a strategy is for. But a marketing plan should be more tactical, and thus should not be so inflexible that your boss tears you a new one every time you need to, and do, change and adapt that plan to meet new circumstances.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.

Why is this important? Well, the key words in this quote, I believe, are ‘always’ and ‘often’. Really key. And this is why I think that.

One sets bars high in many ways during the course of a business or marketing plan or process, tactic or strategy. One has to have stated aims and objectives, measurable outcomes and returns on investment made. So far so good.

But — and I refer to the previous item — things have a nasty habit of changing. That doesn’t mean one should ditch the outcomes you hoped for; it simply means that when, by virtue of changed circumstances, one falls short of the target, one should treat what progress has been made as a success, and then shift the goals accordingly.

However — and isn’t there always one of those? — this observation applies only to those circumstances that were beyond your control. Falling short as a result of indifferent effort, badly applied marketing thinking or plain wrong thinking in the first place, does not count!

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.

Hmmm. I refer the honourable reader to my previous answer…in other words, be prepared to accept that in a world and commercial environment that is constantly changing (it is), then inflexibility in your thinking, in your great plans and your ‘perfect at birth’ marketing strategy will potentially become the root cause of a failure. In a word: adapt, people! Adapt!

It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.

A cracker! I take two important messages from this….

  • Always make time to sit back and review the bigger picture, the landscape in which you are working, the likelihood of unexpected challenges and challengers, from where they might emerge, and the conditions that make those challenges manifest.
  • And the bigger picture can be just as important when considering your team. Do you focus too tightly on the strict definitions of role and task? If so, are you missing hidden talent, a great idea just waiting to be shared or a brewing mood of discontent?

Try and maintain an awareness of the capabilities and skills of your marketing team: it is all too easy to focus on the minutiae of activities and miss the less tangible needs or sentiment of your key team members.

It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.

Are you in thrall to digital channels at the expense of the traditional? Are you on everysocial media platform, yet update some more frequently than others? Do you insist upon a 10-step iterative process of content creation, approval, edits and sign-off when something simpler and — dammit! — quicker would suffice? Are you holding three hour, weekly marketing meetings that barely break new ground, let alone adequately cover the old?

Put simply: are you doing so much that little is actually done? Think about it.

Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.

Be realistic and ruthless in reviewing your strategies and tactics, the tools and the channels at your disposal and of course what you actually do with them.

One might want to bear this in mind especially if one has inherited a role or a team or indeed a manager, entirely encumbered with a virulent ‘but we’ve always done it like this’ mentality.

Just because it’s always been done like that, don’t necessarily make it right! Gird your marketing loins, grasp the nettle of a dispassionate review of what really works for your brand or business, and be — well — a little bit brave. Go on. You know you want to!

If you like what you read here, please leave me a comment, or indeed any other quotes and how they relate to the marketers amongst us.

Oh, and also feel very free to share, tweet, retweet and so on and so forth.

I tweet @jayrhenley….

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