Why Startup Marketers Should Build an Extensive Library of Strategic Knowledge

Dominic Banguis
7 min readJul 14, 2023

In the ever-changing battlefield of startup marketing, where resources are limited and competition is fierce, gaining a competitive edge becomes a necessity. As a startup marketer, you need every advantage at your disposal to outmaneuver established competitors and capture market attention. While the world of marketing offers its own set of principles, strategies, and tactics, there is an unexpected source of wisdom that can provide you with a fresh perspective and a strategic advantage: military strategy.

Yes, you read that right — military strategy. The time-honoured teachings found within military strategy books offer a treasure trove of insights and actionable strategies that can elevate your marketing game and propel your startup to success.

So, grab a cup of coffee, settle into a comfortable chair, and prepare to explore a world where the art of war meets the art of marketing.

The Value of Knowledge for Startup Marketers:

Startup marketers often start with a limited set of resources, both human and financial. In order to make the most of these constraints, it is crucial for marketers to cultivate a strategic mindset. By building an extensive library of knowledge, marketers can tap into the collective wisdom of military strategists, gaining valuable insights that enable them to optimize available resources, allocate budgets effectively, and leverage their strengths to gain a competitive advantage.

Armed with a deep understanding of strategic principles, startup marketers can make informed decisions, adapt to changing circumstances, and maximize the impact of their marketing efforts.

Here are some of the books I’ve read from my collection, along with insights on how you can apply them to your campaigns:

Top Ten Military Strategy Books for Startup Marketers:

1. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu:

Provides timeless strategic principles, emphasizing the importance of understanding the competition, planning strategically, and adapting to changing circumstances. Startup marketers can learn to leverage their limited resources effectively and make informed decisions.

Principle: Understanding the competition

Example: Conduct a comprehensive competitive analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of key competitors. Develop marketing campaigns that emphasize unique selling points and leverage competitor weaknesses to position the startup as a better alternative.

Assessment questions:

  • How can you conduct a comprehensive competitive analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your key competitors?
  • In what ways can you develop marketing campaigns that emphasize your unique selling points and leverage competitor weaknesses?
  • How can you adapt your marketing strategies to changing circumstances and stay ahead of the competition?

2. “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz:

Explores the complexities of warfare, including the interplay between strategy and tactics. Startup marketers can learn to adapt their marketing plans to evolving market conditions and align them with their company’s strategic goals.

Principle: Aligning tactics with strategy

Example: Ensure marketing tactics are aligned with the overall strategic goals of the startup. For instance, if the goal is to increase market share, focus marketing efforts on targeting specific market segments where growth opportunities exist.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you align your marketing tactics with the overall strategic goals of your startup?
  • What steps can you take to ensure that your marketing efforts focus on specific market segments with growth opportunities?
  • In what ways can you adapt your marketing plans to evolving market conditions?

3. “The Campaigns of Napoleon” by David G. Chandler:

Analyzes the military campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte, offering insights into strategic thinking, resource allocation, and maneuvering. Startup marketers can learn to identify market opportunities, differentiate their offerings, and execute disruptive marketing strategies.

Principle: Concentrating forces effectively

Example: Concentrate marketing resources in key target markets rather than spreading efforts too thin. Develop tailored marketing campaigns that resonate with the specific needs and preferences of those markets.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you identify market opportunities and differentiate your offerings from competitors?
  • What strategies can you employ to execute disruptive marketing campaigns and capture the attention of your target audience?
  • How can you effectively allocate your marketing resources to key target markets for maximum impact?

4. “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History” by Alfred Thayer Mahan:

Explores the significance of naval power in shaping historical events. Startup marketers can gain insights into strategic positioning, identifying market gaps, and forging alliances to expand their reach.

Principle: Exploiting strategic positioning

Example: Identify strategic partnerships or collaborations within the industry to expand market reach. By leveraging the strengths of complementary businesses, startups can gain access to new customer segments or distribution channels.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you strategically position your startup in the market to gain a competitive advantage?
  • What market gaps can you identify and exploit to expand your reach?
  • In what ways can you forge strategic alliances or partnerships to amplify your marketing efforts?

5. “A Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi:

Blends martial arts and strategy, providing lessons in adaptability, timing, and mental preparedness. Startup marketers can learn to recognize emerging trends, adapt their marketing approaches, and capitalize on opportunities swiftly.

Principle: Agility and adaptability

Example: Continuously monitor market trends and consumer preferences. Adjust marketing strategies promptly to align with emerging trends, ensuring the startup remains relevant and responsive to the evolving market landscape.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you adapt your marketing approaches to recognize and capitalize on emerging trends?
  • What steps can you take to ensure agility and adaptability in your marketing strategies?
  • How can you make quick decisions and seize opportunities swiftly to stay ahead in the market?

6. “The Face of Battle” by John Keegan:

Examines the human dimension of warfare and its impact on combat outcomes. Startup marketers can gain insights into consumer psychology, the importance of branding, and creating emotional connections with their target audience.

Principle: Understanding the human dimension

Example: Craft marketing messages that connect emotionally with the target audience. Highlight how the startup’s product or service solves specific problems or fulfills desires, resonating with customers on a deeper level.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you create marketing messages that connect emotionally with your target audience?
  • In what ways can you build a strong brand and establish a deep connection with your customers?
  • How can you understand consumer psychology and leverage it in your marketing campaigns?

7. “The Art of War” by Niccolò Machiavelli:

Explores the relationship between politics and war, offering startup marketers an understanding of the connection between marketing and larger strategic objectives. They can learn to align marketing campaigns with company goals and navigate competitive landscapes effectively.

Principle: Aligning marketing with larger strategic objectives

Example: Develop marketing campaigns that reinforce the startup’s brand values and positioning. Ensure marketing efforts are consistent with the startup’s long-term vision and support the overall business strategy.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you align your marketing campaigns with the larger strategic objectives of your startup?
  • What steps can you take to navigate competitive landscapes effectively?
  • In what ways can you ensure that your marketing efforts support the long-term vision of your startup?

8. “Strategy” by B.H. Liddell Hart:

Discusses strategic principles employed by military leaders throughout history. Startup marketers can learn about the importance of agility, innovative thinking, and leveraging indirect approaches to overcome resource limitations.

Principle: Embracing indirect approaches

Example: Identify unconventional marketing channels or innovative marketing tactics to differentiate the startup from competitors. Explore guerrilla marketing techniques or influencer collaborations to create buzz and attract attention.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you differentiate your startup from competitors by embracing unconventional marketing channels or tactics?
  • What innovative strategies can you employ to overcome resource limitations and make a significant impact?
  • In what ways can you leverage indirect approaches to gain a competitive edge in the market?

9. “The Mask of Command” by John Keegan:

Examines the leadership qualities and styles of historical commanders. Startup marketers can gain insights into effective leadership, decision-making under pressure, and building high-performing marketing teams.

Principle: Effective leadership and decision-making

Example: Foster a collaborative marketing team culture and empower team members to make data-driven decisions. Encourage open communication and create an environment that values creative thinking and experimentation.

Assessment Questions

  • How can you foster effective leadership within your marketing team?
  • What steps can you take to empower team members and encourage data-driven decision-making?
  • In what ways can you build a high-performing marketing team that thrives under pressure?

10. “Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age” edited by Peter Paret:

Explores the ideas and theories of influential military thinkers. Startup marketers can gain diverse perspectives on strategy, gaining inspiration for innovative marketing approaches and developing a holistic understanding of strategic thinking.

Principle: Learning from diverse perspectives

Example: Study successful marketing campaigns from various industries and apply relevant principles to the startup’s marketing strategy. Adapt and innovate based on lessons learned from different contexts.

Assessment Questions:

  • How can you gain diverse perspectives on strategy by studying successful marketing campaigns from various industries?
  • What principles and ideas from different contexts can you apply to your startup’s marketing strategy?
  • In what ways can you adapt and innovate based on the lessons learned from different industries?

Conclusion:

Building an extensive library of strategic knowledge is a valuable asset for startup marketers facing limited resources and intense competition. By studying military strategy books, marketers can gain insights into resource optimization, strategic positioning, adaptive decision-making, effective leadership, and creative marketing approaches. Armed with this knowledge, startup marketers can make informed decisions, leverage their unique strengths, and maximize their limited resources to gain a competitive edge and propel their startups towards success.

As we wrap up this exploration into the world of military strategy and its impact on startup marketing, I’m eager to hear from you. Have you found inspiration from non-marketing strategy books to shape your business and marketing approach?

Share your insights and recommendations with me in the comments below.

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Dominic Banguis

Scaling Startups with Data-Driven Marketing Strategies | Web3, AI, Crypto, Blockchain, SaaS, and FinTech