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Business Strategy

Integrating Business Strategy And Brand Strategy

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Integrating Business And Brand Strategy

Not much has been written about integrating business strategy and brand strategy. It is surprising to me because this is the arena in which I most often find myself consulting. When I was at Harvard Business School my largest concentration was in business strategy. I was weaned on Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy, Competitive Advantage and The Competitive Advantage of Nations. I am a firm believer that brand strategy, business strategy, business model strategy and competitive strategy need to be a finely woven tapestry. But to begin to envision this, we must understand the key components of each of these.

The Key Pieces

Organization/business strategy considers many things – mission, vision and values, organization culture, product/service portfolio, bundling/unbundling, market structure, entry barriers, exit barriers, market segmentation, market focus, proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, accessibility/distribution channels, value proposition, sources of differentiation, branding, business model/revenue sources, cost structure, fixed versus variable versus semi-variable costs, vertical and horizontal integration, strategic partnerships, supply and demand, substitute products, disruptive technologies, societal trends, cash flow, organization structure, organizational agility, keys for executional success and sequencing of moves.

Business model strategy considers how many of these factors come together to create a profitable business model. Key to this are target customers/customer base, revenue sources, distribution channels, pricing strategy, cost structure, sources of financing, cash flow and reinvestment strategies.

Competitive strategy focuses on achieving competitive advantage in the long run, often via one of these three approaches: cost leadership, competitive differentiation or customer segment focus.

Brand strategy should include target customer definition (including prioritization of need segments), competitive frame of reference, differentiating benefits, pricing strategy, distribution strategy and how one will achieve awareness, relevant differentiation, customer value, brand accessibility and emotional connection to the brand. Brand strategy can also include the brand archetype and personality, which are highly correlated with the organization’s culture.

As you can see, there are several points of intersection between these types of strategy. Here are just some examples:

  • Mission, vision and values are closely related to brand essence and promise
  • Organization culture generally should have some alignment with brand archetype and personality
  • Competitive frame of reference, market structure, market segments and target customers are fundamentally important to most of these strategies
  • Product/service portfolio is the way the brand delivers on its promise
  • The value proposition and sources of differentiation are closely related to brand positioning
  • Business and brand strategy should consider accessibility and distribution
  • Business model strategy, competitive strategy and brand strategy must consider pricing strategy
  • Brand extension sometimes requires strategic partnerships
  • All of these must consider societal trends to be viable in the long run

Integration Mandates

So, how does one insure that these strategies dovetail properly? Business strategy and business model strategy belong in the executive suite perhaps with the help of business strategy consultants. Competitive strategy links these to brand strategy.

Here are a few things that can help with integration. The brand strategy function should exist at a very high level in the organization. Graphic designers, copywriters and ad agency teams should not be crafting high-level brand strategy. They are too far removed from the work and discipline of business, business model and competitive strategy formulation. Marketing communication strategy and advertising campaign strategy are the appropriate level of strategy formulation for these functions.

Another integrating mechanism is the careful consideration of the nesting and sequencing of the strategic plans. That is, where does the brand plan fit into business planning?

Some organizations find that it is useful to use the brand as a way to rally the organization around its high level strategies. In this way, the brand positioning work may closely follow the establishment of the organization’s mission, vision and values.

In addition, it is important to have strategic thinkers and people firmly grounded in marketing research and analytical thought to be a part of the brand management team. Brand management is a left brain/right brand activity. Strategic thought is as important as creative capacity. And sometimes foundational research such as market assessment, attitude and usage studies and market segmentation studies inform strategy formulation in many of these spheres.

Finally, brands should also consider the intersection of business strategy and brand purpose.

Recommended books on business strategy and brand strategy :

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our brand culture expertise and purpose, mission, vision and values workshops.

Build A Human Centric Brand. Join us for The Un-Conference: 360 Degrees of Brand Strategy for a Changing World, April 2-4, 2018 in San Diego, California. A fun, competitive-learning experience reserved for 50 marketing oriented leaders and professionals.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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5 Comments

Eric Wedemeyer on September 21st, 2015 said

Surely there is a need for greater integration of brand and business strategy, but this can be taken a few steps further than described here. Brand strategy (speaking here of corporate brand, not product brands) should be lifted out of Marketing and made the responsibility of top management. Brand strategy thinking should take place not immediately following consideration of corporate mission and values, but concurrently. They should be considered as one: the brand proposition and corporate mission/purpose are one and the same. If the key elements of business strategy are expressed in terms of brand from the start, that paves the way for broader understanding of the strategy internally and smoother execution of strategy (aka brand operationalization).

Carole Dupre
Twitter: caroledupre
on September 22nd, 2015 said

Thank you, Mr. VanAuken, for this post on brand strategy and business strategy integration. As a brand strategist and consultant, I find the resources you’ve listed as helpful. Also the overall content of your post speaks to how challenging (and sometimees overwhelming) the job of a brand strategist or a brand manager can be in large organizations.

One additional resource I have found to be incredibly helpful in operationalizing the brand is Denise Lee Yohn’s book, What Great Brands Do. To Eric’s point, Denise’s book gives powerful examples of how several successful businesses have made brand a key element of their larger business strategy — right from the start. She also provides practical advice and useful tips on “how” to go about operationalizing the brand.

Claudia Fisher
Twitter: LemonGarden
on September 23rd, 2015 said

I would humbly add my book “Connective Branding” to the list above – simply because it focuses on the missing link 🙂

Brad VanAuken on September 23rd, 2015 said

Thank you for the additional book recommendations Carole and Claudia. Eric, more often than not, we work with an organization’s CEO and leadership team not only to craft the brand’s essence and promise but also to develop the organization’s mission, vision and values, which usually comes first in the sequence. I am a firm believer that brand strategy for organization brands must reside at a very senior level in the organization because it is so closely aligned with business strategy.

Kirsty
Twitter: kirstyband
on January 09th, 2017 said

This is a really interesting article, and you’re right, there isn’t much out there around this subject. From my point of view I would argue that Brand Strategy and Business Strategy should align to be one and the same. A companies Vission, Mission and Values should be it’s brand, otherwise there will always be disconnect between what the business decides to do and the brand values upon which the business is founded.

This becomes a challenge obviously as you grow as a company and perhaps have more than one brand under your roof, however, then I would still suggest that a business brand is required that still drives the agenda on all other decisions. Done the other way I personally find that the business vision, mission and values feel like they’ve been retro-fitted to meld themselves around an artificial meaning thought up because businesses need to create a company culture and something to get their employees behind that justifies their actions. It never feels authentic or organic.

If more companies were brand led business strategies, I think we’d see more sustainable large companies who don’t get lost along the way and lose their consumer and competitive edge because of non-brand decisions.

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