The Art of War: What Sun Tzu Can Teach Businesses About Online Referral Marketing

French author Andre Maurios once said “Business is a combination of war and sport.” He was absolutely right. Your marketing strategy has to be capable of surviving on the battlefield of your industry… and thanks to the internet and the boom of social media – that playing field is larger than ever before. This is why your growth marketing campaigns must be even smarter, even better than the rest. Scholars have spent decades pulling these very lessons from the works of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and his words have been credited by everyone from presidential hopeful Donald Trump to Bill Gates himself for their successes. Here is what your referral campaign strategy should take away from the philospher’s most popular quote and what it could mean for your business.


Know Thyself

Sun Tzu and the Greeks who also claimed these potent words were really on to something when they warned “Know thyself.” This simple yet effective statement is as synonymous with business as it is life. You already know who you are as a business. The key to success is never forgetting that. How does this translate to online referral marketing? Simple. Know what you offer. Know thyself. Do not give incentives that make absolutely no sense for your brand.


While offering something extravagant like a vacation to Japan will draw in plenty of people to your campaign, what it will not do is provide you with lasting, real consumers. The most likely situation in this scenario is that people will sign up for the one in a million chance of winning… and never sign in again. This is because you made actually trying your site obsolete. Knowing yourself means knowing your worth. Knowing your worth means offering yourself. You are a great incentive. For example… if you are a boutique, offer an incentive for referrals that draws users inward not outward. For instance, Zulily had it right when they offered a $15 credit for referring parties when the person they referred placed an order. The new user received a $10 credit making it a win/win that brought new customers in and made loyal buyers want to place new orders. Brilliant really when you consider most buyers will attempt to reach the free shipping minimums, raking in at least $60 in extra purchases from each party.


Know Thy Enemy

You already know that keeping a keen eye on what the competition does well is a key component in winning over potential consumers and clients… GetAround is the perfect example of an¬†online referral marketing¬†campaign who borrowed from the successes of their competition. Lyft found great success with a $25 free ride referral. GetAround adopted this perk and it is now a fast growing name in this brand new market.


But wait… knowing what your opponent does well and learning from it is not the only weapon in your arsenal. By finding out what your competition is failing at and making a conscious effort to excel in those areas, you can bridge a gap in the market. Think like a consumer. For gamers, referrals are notoriously lackluster, sometimes promising rewards that never make it in to the player’s account. World of Warcraft recognized this common flaw, offering a easier way to get rewarded for efforts. When a member refers a friend, if the new user signs up, their accounts will be linked which allows both players to receive refer-a-friend benefits. It is this kind of attention to detail that has this wildly successful game going into its 12th year.


What would have the potential to make you take time out of your day to refer a friend or colleague and, in return, – what would make you a loyal customer? Analyze reviews pertaining to other related companies and industry trends to pinpoint the majority opinion on your competition’s current campaigns and operations. Then, do it better.


The wise words of Sun Tzu have rocketed the greatest businessmen of our time to the top of their fields, making successes out of companies with small beginnings. In marketing, the war is never over but if you come to the battlefield prepared, it is exactly like the author said it would be… “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”