New findings within marketing science and behavioral economics — often energetically endorsed by dynamic duos such as Sharp & Romaniuk and Binet & Fields — keep annihilating theories previously held dear by branding practitioners and academics. And as walls come tumbling down, we are left searching for stability in a world of trend reports and keynote speakers.
Therefore, now might be a good time to take a broader view and examine brand strategy through the lens of grand strategy. While grand strategy usually refers to doctrines and priorities within global affairs and foreign policy rather than business affairs and marketing policy, it is a concept well worth exploring to be reminded of the general principles that need to influence any effective strategy.
1. Strategy means making choices
History professor John Lewis Gaddis defines grand strategy as the “alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities”. And certainly, a strong brand strategy should not only provide emotional and aspirational force, but also influence business development. It should align the daily work of the firm with long-term objectives and serve as a guide for saying yes or no to new initiatives and investments.
2. Strategy means thinking broadly
F. Scott Fitzgerald defined first-rate intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”. Professor Gaddis uses the idea as a starting point for a wide-reaching discussion on strategy, arguing that great strategy needs to combine
multiple perspectives, even if they at first appear to be conflicting. From a brand perspective, that might include asking questions such as: Is our sustainability efforts less commercially significant than we believe them to be? (Yes, perhaps). Does that make them less important? (No, absolutely not).
3. Strategy means being in movement
According to professor Lawrence Freedman, probably Britain’s foremost strategic analyst, strategy is about advancing to “the next stage, rather than some ultimate destination”. Freedman proposes that instead of thinking of “strategy as a three-act play, it is better to think of it as a soap opera with
continuing casts of characters and plot lines that unfold over a series of episodes”. And indeed, great brand strategy is never done. It is an educated prediction in need of constant revision.
So, perhaps we need to spend a bit more time learning how to think rather than what to think. No strategy will provide us with a final answer, but merely increase our chances of getting it right. And those chances will look even brighter if we start out from the right principles, encouraging us to ask the right questions.
John Lewis Gaddis — “On Grand Strategy”
Lawrence Freedman — “Strategy: A History”
Richard Rumelt — “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy”
— Client Director