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    Ninja marketing


    aa19_ninja-marketing_200wnativeFIGHT LIKE A NINJA, PLEASE LIKE A GEISHA


    Marketing is both a science and an art. It is also like war – war with your competitors for the minds and hearts of your customers. Gene Stark draws some lessons from the nimble ninja.

    Originating 800 years ago in the mountains of Japan, the word ‘ninja’ refers to someone who practiced ninjutsu, a kind of martial art often called “the art of stealth” or “the art of invisibility”. (The first Japanese character for the word ninjutsu, means endurance or persevere.)

    Many ninja were also samurai, operating as spies in the service of their feudal lord. They are said to have made use of weapons that could be easily concealed or disguised as common tools and employed surprise as a major weapon in their victories against much larger and better armed forces.

    Following the Samurai Battle Creed and interpreting its meaning using strategic marketing analogies can arm businesses with very powerful, everyday weapons with which to defeat their numerous and often much larger opponents.


    Market research is vital. Like a ninja, your business should be familiar with the battleground long before the battle takes place. If you fight on your terms you are much more likely to win.

    a) What are your competitors doing?

    In reality, ninja were used more for spying than assassinations. You can be a modern-day ninja when it comes to finding out what your competitors are doing. From websites to mystery shopping, there are many ways to gather information on your competition.

    Regular intelligence gathering should focus on:

    • Competitor offers
    • Competitor positioning in the mind of the customer
    • How they are communicating, both in terms of the media vehicles they are using to reach their customers as well what they are saying, their tone and style.

    b) Even more important, however, is a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. Do you satisfy them and entertain them while you are doing it? Like a geisha, if you know what it is your audience wants, it is not hard to relieve the stress and frustration from their buying process. (Contrary to popular western beliefs, the geisha were a class of professional women, not “sex workers”, trained from girlhood in conversation, dancing and singing in order to entertain professional or social gatherings of men.) Tracking the mindset of your prospects is often more difficult than tracking the actions of your competitors. This is where the ninja marketer’s perseverance comes into play. Education is the answer. There are no shortcuts.


    Planning involves being aware of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You will need to seek out the highest possible ground from which you can see the battlefield, launch attacks at will and most easily defend your position. Your positioning in the mind of the consumer is critical for success. Make it easy for the consumer to understand your position, expressing your benefi ts explicitly, not implicitly.

    Use honesty as a weapon for both defence and attack. Here is an advertisement from an air conditioning and heating company that hits the nail on the head:

    “We install the same units and charge the same prices as everyone else. The difference is that we’re actually going to show up when we say we will. Always on time, or you don’t pay a dime. Seriously. If we aren’t there within the exact hour we told you we were coming, you pay nothing. Whatever you need is FREE. No charge. Sorry we were late. We are really sorry. We understand that time is money. Your time. Our money.”

    Tell the truth, even when it hurts. Your customers are already trying to figure out the downside, so why not just tell them? It’s the best possible way to protect you from the potential backlash when they finally figure it out for themselves.


    Every consumer interaction either reinforces or contradicts your brand image. Make sure that every communication – from business card to brochure website, letter, email, postcard, proposal, telephone on-hold messages – is consistent and reinforces your position. Every day I come across numerous companies whose website looks completely different from their brochure and their business card. This does not fill me or other prospects with confidence in doing business with them.

    Use the same colours, message, wording and graphical presentations in all your communication to maintain focus and allow the consumer to recognise you in all the different media.

    Most importantly, do not make promises that you cannot keep. Whether it is a phone call, delivery of an order or a proposal, make sure you deliver on time, every time.


    In any competitive activity, natural talent will only take you so far. Training is the key to consistently great performance. It takes years of training to achieve a high level of expertise in any art.

    If you’re frightened of making mistakes, you have lost the war even before the first battle. Accept that you’ll make mistakes. Each one has a lesson to be learned. Training in marketing equates to testing.

    Reaching your target audience is on average going to take about 80 percent of your total sales and marketing budget. To not know how well or poorly this investment is working is a recipe for disaster. In many cases business owners have no idea how to track results and adjust their advertising efforts to be more productive. They advertise in the local paper or on the radio, distribute brochures and then hope for the best.

    Let’s take direct mail as an example. It is a perfect ninja marketing tool. The advantages of direct mail over other advertising media are:

    • You can measure results more accurately
    • You can zero in on almost any target audience
    • You can personalise your communication
    • You have unlimited opportunities for testing
    • You can develop repeat sales to proven customers
    • You can compete and even beat the giants

    – 60 percent of the direct mail success lies in using the right mailing list

    – 30 percent depends on you making the right offer

    – 10 percent depends upon your creative package

    These three elements alone provide for an endless number of variables that can be tested against any one of your target segments.


    Consumers have selective perception that filters out complicated branding and excessive products or services. Thus, focus and simplicity in marketing are keys to gaining consumer attention and loyalty.

    Consumers are bombarded with hundreds of advertising messages per day through a variety of mediums. As a result, they tune out any advertising that takes extra effort to process.

    A simple and well focused marketing message works. Take time to examine your message and simplify where necessary.


    Most small businesses try to reach more people than their budget will allow. They adopt a shotgun approach to communication and end up wasting their hard-earned dollars.

    For a media mix to be effective, each element in the mix must have enough repetition to establish retention in the mind of the prospect. Too often, however, the result of a media mix is too much reach and not enough frequency.

    Make an effort to do one form of communication well rather than trying to do many.


    How you communicate with your customers and prospects is vital. You have to get the message out to your market. Otherwise, no matter how great your product or offer, no one will know about it. It is also the most expensive part of your marketing.

    Learn weapons that are unfamiliar, such as the latest technology in e-marketing and pay-per-click advertising, but remember the basics. Still one of the most cost-effective weapons today is having a well-maintained database and the ability to generate positive word of mouth.

    Like a ninja, use the tools at your disposal. Make sure that:

    • Your business card tells people what it is you do and why they should do business with you (and not your competitor).
    • Your product packaging is unique and appeals to its target market
    • Your brochures carry the right , written and designed clearly and distributed in channels that most cost-effectively reach your intended audience
    • Your advertisements are focused and reinforce the right brand message


    Emotions are much more powerful than reason. Consumers make emotional decisions. They like it, feel good about it, then they look for a rational reason to justify why it is a superior choice.

    So many ads just talk about what a product has, not what benefit it delivers. No one ever buys a product for the features it has. People buy a shovel because they need a hole in the ground.

    Evaluate every product and service you offer. What is the real benefit of each to the customer? Are you showing these benefits in your ads? If the answer is no, then you are not tapping into the core needs that your product or service satisfies and you are not giving your communication effort the best chance of generating leads, responses and sales.

    Does your business have a WOW factor or, in ninja terms, the element of surprise? In marketing you can use the element of surprise on both your competitor and your customer – a doubleedged sword! A WOW factor is exceeding your customers’ expectations and delivering value beyond what is normally expected from a business such as yours. This is not only a way of differentiating yourself from the competition but it gets people talking and generates referrals for your business.


    Does your business have a strong clear offer and call to action? Many businesses fail to clearly communicate their offer and price and do not provide peace of mind through a guarantee.

    Here’s an example of a business that gets it. They changed their headline from:

    “We guarantee the quality of the diamonds we sell.”


    “If the Gemmological Institute of America doesn’t confirm our diamond’s colour, clarity and carat weight to be at least as good as we promised you, we’ll buy back that diamond for the price you paid, reimburse you for the cost of grading, and pay you an additional five thousand dollars. If other jewellers aren’t willing to match this offer, you’ve got to wonder why.”

    Increase the urgency of your offer. If a limited quantity is available, name the exact number. Specifics are more persuasive than generalities. If your offer has a time limit, say so. “Offer ends soon” will be perceived only as shallow hype. Be specific. Be accurate. Tell the truth. “Offer ends Saturday the 15th at 6 p.m.”

    Ninja marketers create campaigns instead of ads. It is foolish to believe a single ad can ever tell the entire story. The most effective, persuasive and memorable ads are those that cut through like a samurai sword. They make a single point, powerfully. An advertiser with seven different things to say should commit to a campaign of at least seven different ads, repeating each ad enough times to stick in the prospect’s mind.

    Gene Stark is the principal of Stark Reality, a consultancy specialising in strategic marketing and campaign implementation for medium-size enterprises. He has worked on both the advertising agency and client side of the communication fence with some of the biggest multinational brands. His experience spans many different consumer as well as business-to-business categories. www.starkreality.com.au