I have been re-reading A.G.Lafley and Roger Martin’s Playing to Win. Okay, I have been noodling through it via my Kindle Reader for some months now. I gobbled up the first chapters quickly convinced that I found my peeps. Then I left the device alone for a while and lost track of the books I had stored there. But I am back. How can anyone not put a premium on developing a business and a marketing strategy?
They define strategy as:
- “Strategy is about making specific choices to win in the marketplace.”
- “Strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.”
Ultimately, strategy is a choice both of where you will play and where you will not play. And it’s the only sane way to align a large organization trying to keep “winning” in a world where so much is changing.
Business and Marketing Strategy
Lafley and Martin do not distinguish between business and marketing strategy. Their frame of reference for the book is the world’s leading consumer product goods company, P&G. At P&G, marketing is a prevailing business culture so distinguishing between them is unnecessary. Other companies who may have different foundational cultures like engineering, software development, legal or product development may distinguish between business and marketing strategy. Clearly the latter must be in service and supportive of the former.
Properly aligned, these strategies tell us what to invest in and what to reduce investments in. For example, if you are committed to a future selling via an independent sales channel (vs. going all-in on direct sales), then you will consider investments that strengthen the productivity of that sales channel.
Can Strategy be Dynamic Enough for Today’s World?
Strategy feels like a rather static concept. You plan, you articulate the plan, you align your resources and execute the plan. That all takes time. The conditions that made a strategy a really good one are shifting all of the time…or are they?
Research and insights must inform any strategy. Understanding customers, competition, brand positioning, marketplace economics and cultural change are all critical to drafting a smart strategy. Faster research and insights distilled from a continuous flow of data can certainly help ensure that strategy remains relevant. For the most part, that steady flow and conversion of big, medium and small data helps spin up a faster, more nimble execution of that strategy. Real-time-ish insights make for more effective tactics. The strategy remains in place.
Strategy does take time to develop and execute. Strategy is not meant to be changed out like a new pair of socks every day. It takes knowledge to craft and a certain amount of bravery to stick-to and see it through. The faster feedback-loop we have now through so many digital data sources may suggest that strategy like tactics needs to be changed out often. My advice? Stick to your guns.
If Strategy is Key, Why Do Companies Miss it?
Lafley and Martin’s allegiance to strategy seems so obvious to me. Why would any leader try to do without? Willfully doing without might be an obvious flaw. More likely, leaders make one of the five mistakes in approaching strategy:
- They define strategy as vision
- They define strategy as a plan
- They deny that long-term strategy is possible
- They define strategy as the optimization of the status quo
- They define strategy as following best practices
No doubt that strategy is hard. In all of the marketing education that I have developed and delivered over the years, strategy always seems to be one of the toughest topics to teach and master. Reading Playing to Win, I am humbled by how clear and easy A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin make it.