marketers can learn from plato


Plato left us with many great lessons, perhaps the greatest of which was – ‘know thyself’. Building on this theme centuries later, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli noted ‘know thine enemy’. I said many centuries after this – ‘know thy audience’.

Curiously, these quotes, while not said with marketing in mind, have very real relevance to 21st century marketing and, in particular, the management of perceptions and persuasion to purchase. The real keys to persuading consumers to behave as you want them to are:

  • understanding the audience
  • understanding the competition
  • understanding the business

When I coach public speakers, I highlight the importance of understanding who they are speaking to, and what that audience expects. Knowing this builds confidence and drives performance. The same is true for persuasion. How can you possibly persuade anyone to do anything if you do not understand what their perceptions are and what influences them.

It is important to understand the basic principles that influence consumer behaviour – many of which are discussed in this series of articles on persuading consumers to behave as we want them to. It is also important to understand the unique qualities and characteristics of your primary target market. Market research is not an option. To maximise performance, it is a necessity!

Critical issues include – needs, wants, likes, dislikes, access, price sensitivity, and expectations etc.

Disraeli was suggesting that it is difficult to win a war or come out on top in any conflict unless you understand the opposition. The same is true in marketing. The competition is also trying to influence perceptions and persuade the market to purchase. How they are doing this will inevitably impact – and certainly needs to be taken into account in your strategy.

Over the years, so many clients have suggested to me that their product has no direct competitor. Others have suggested that they focus all their attention on their own business and basically ignore the competition. I find both responses distressing. All businesses operate in a competitive environment. To persuade cost effectively, we need to understand all of the dymnamics impacting on the market. That does no mean stressing over them. It means understanding them.

Critical issues include – product qualities, pricing, distribution methods, and messages communicated.

Plato was extoling the virtues of knowing who we are as people. This is equally relevant to marketing – although, in this sphere, it extends beyond people to include businesses and products. In managing perception, it is important to understand your competitive advantages and the capacity of the business and its products to deliver what the competition cannot.

Realising the potential of any product, and minimising the costs associated with persuading consumers to buy that product, is expedited when there is a very clear understanding of what sets that product apart from the competition and, more specifically, which of the differences (real and manufactured) is most relevant to the primary target market and, therefore, most likely to drive purchase.

Critical issues include – capabilities and resources.

There are many strategies for influencing consumer perceptions and persuading the target market to behave in the required manner. A number of these are addressed in articles that follow. However, all of the strategies to deliver optimal results require an understanding of the market, the competition, and the business.


  1. It is essential to understand the primary target market.
  2. It is essential to understand the competition.
  3. It is essential to know your competitive advantage.
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