Concentration of Force Unlocks Your Power

Concentration of Force Unlocks Your Power

by Tracy Johnson

For those who subscribe to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, this will be familiar. Tzu was an ancient Chinese general and military strategist. His philosophies on fighting wars became a marketing playbook for many brands. One of his principles of war is to focus an attack on a narrow, defined target. It’s called Concentration of Force.

This concept does not imply gathering massive, overwhelming reinforcements. Rather, it’s directing all available assets to at one point in a focused attack.

Advertising guru Roy Williams (The Wizard of Ads) explains how it applies to marketing:

One of the most common mistakes in advertising is to spread your ad budget across several different media so that you don’t leave anyone out. But persuasion – in most instances – requires repetition and familiarity.

Would you rather reach 100% of the people and convince them 10% of the way, or reach 10% of the people and convince them 100% of the way? Don’t spread your money too thinly by chasing the unicorn of “media mix.”

This is important on many levels.

Let’s unpack it with an object lesson.

Concentration Of Force Demonstrated

I was first introduced to the idea by one of my mentors, Alan Burns. Alan is a student of Learning Theory, and how it applies to influencing radio listener behavior.

I’ve shared this simple object lesson with hundreds of clients.

Concentration of Force can be demonstrated as follows:

  1. Stretch an ordinary sheet of paper tightly between both hands in front of you.This paper represents the audience’s level of awareness. In order to impact listeners, a message must cut through this sheet of paper to get into their minds. It seems like it should be easy to punch through that thin sheet of paper. But is it?
  2. Have someone place the palm of their hand in the center of the paper. The five fingers in the center of the paper represents five different marketing messages a brand may be trying to “teach” a listener. No matter how hard a partner presses on the center of the paper, they will not be able to penetrate the single sheet of paper.
  3. Now demonstrate Concentration of Force. Ask them place one finger on the sheet of paper, and apply just a little pressure. They cut through immediately.

The lesson: It’s only possible to teach listeners one thing at a time. Then, and only then, can we introduce another concept. It’s the fastest way to build a meaningful brand as a station, a radio show or a personality.

Teach The Radio Audience

It would be great to perform a show, demonstrate personality, talents and abilities, and wait for the audience to discover the magic.

Sorry, it hardly ever works like that.

Personalities (and station brands) would be better served investing all time and resources on a single key message. Perfect it and become known for that thing.

When the audience learns one thing, teach them something new.

Concentrating resources means having a keen focus on doing fewer things well. Resolve to only be active if we make an impact. This will allow you to think bigger and plan further in advance.

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Imagine a new idea for an on-air feature. Based on  learning theory and Concentration of Force, what strategy will have greater impact? This is where the hand-wringing begins. How often should that new feature be scheduled? Daily? Weekly? Once in awhile?

Most of the time, program directors and personalities go with what feels right. Or what seems logical. But science provides a better plan.

Concentration of Force And Learning Theory

Most stations and radio shows create too much content, cluttering the station with multiple brand messages and benefits.

As a result, they never connect with the audience because they spread their force across too many areas.

Building a successful brand happens in stages. But we want overnight success. Trying to rush into listener hearts and minds usually produces an opposite, and often negative, effect. Nothing sticks.

Consider how children learn. It’s impossible to teach a young child algebra. They must first learn to multiply and divide. And before that, they must learn to add and subtract. Of course, they can’t do that until they understand how numbers relate. But they won’t grasp that concept until they learn to count. Understanding happens in stages.

They learn those math concepts requires repetition. Teaching children addition with flash cards seems like an endless exercise in frustration. Card after card produces a blank expression. Until suddenly, one day, it all clicks. They get it. And you’re wondering how that happened.

It was repetitive exposure to the cards.

Social psychologists have proven it takes 12 exposures to content for a respondent to be able to recognize it well enough to have a response. Twelve exposures! Now factor in listening levels much lower than you think. Then consider that most listeners use the radio in the background.

How long does it take for a contest, game, promotion or feature to become famous? Much longer than we think.

Learning Theory and Programming Features

Now imagine a variety of contests, promotions, features or games on the air. Maybe there are five games rotating on a morning show, each airing once a week.

How long does it take to get traction?

  • Fans who tune in every single day figure it out in 12 weeks…if they happen to tune in at the right time.  But you know most P1 listeners tune in only 2 days per week. Yes, you read that right. Your fans tune in 2 days per week.
  • Fans tuning in 3 days per week (above average) learn it in about 17 weeks…again, if they catch you in the right quarter hours every time.
  • If they tune in 2 days per week (the P1 average), it takes almost 20 weeks.

Note that this is assuming the game is played at the same time, as listeners tend to be habitual, pattern listeners. Rotate the game through different quarter hours, and it’s unlikely the game will ever become familiar enough to become popular.

The Mind Clutter Effect

Add to that the mind clutter of managing so many different elements. The competition for attention adds another barrier to listener understanding.

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That’s why stations should grow their brand one element at a time. Put it in place, establish it, promote it and become known for it. Then add something new.

You may argue that a show becomes redundant by scheduling the same features at the same time every day. That’s a valid point only if the feature isn’t good. That’s another reason to be selective.

If it’s really a hit, it’s hard to burn it out. One client has been running a benchmark feature four times each morning for more than 14 years. It’s the strongest, most identifiable part of the show. After 14 years, it’s just now starting to show fatigue in listener research.

The point: Worry about burn in, not burn out. Great features can run for years. If and when fatigue sets in, start a new feature!


A friend of mine is a personal trainer. Every time a new client comes in for a first time consultation, they are asked what they want to achieve.

Usually, the client wants to lose a few pounds, firm their legs or butt or just “look better”.

The trainer listens, then ignores what the client says they want. He puts them on a program to train the core muscle group first. The first few weeks are spent exclusively on working the abs and deep core muscles.

Why? To be effective in reaching their desired results, they must first build a foundation, one step at a time. Concentration of Force leads to faster progress.

Concentration of Force is a real thing. If you watch for it, you’ll see it everywhere. Don’t you think it’s time to apply it to your radio show?

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