Three kinds of strategy

When people ask about the kind of consulting work I do, I often describe it as business, brand, and marketing strategy.


These three kinds of strategy are separate but related. Doing any one in isolation produces an inferior result.

Business strategy, without thought about how it comes to life in people’s hearts and minds, tends to be a PowerPoint deck that sits in a drawer.

Marketing strategy that doesn’t accurately synch with the underlying business and brand is like putting lipstick on a pig.

If you’re researching one or more of these disciplines for the first time, you’ll quickly uncover a lot of complex jargon, interesting frameworks, and experts who disagree profoundly about basic terms.

If you’re a typical leader, you don’t want the deep dive or—particularly when it comes to brand strategy—a magic carpet ride. You want definitions you can use… ones that are simple, contemporary and immediately practical.

Here are mine.

Business strategy

Business strategy is essentially about opportunity.

Its language is that of mechanical physics and geography: opportunity spaces, blue oceans, leverage, positioning, power.

It involves seeing what’s not there, and applying physical and financial capital thoughtfully to make it happen.

Good business strategists excel at effectual reasoning. They see the world around them in terms of deeper systems and patterns. Steve Jobs of course is a perfect example.

Brand strategy

Brand strategy is essentially about relationships.

It involves cultivating ideas, aligning group efforts, executing powerfully, and building trust with diverse stakeholders.

It includes internal relationships (“culture”) and external ones (“brand”). As any good VC will tell you, this soft stuff is actually the hard stuff.

A strong and intuitive understanding of how to optimize human relationships is vital to any organization’s long-term success.

Marketing strategy

Marketing strategy is essentially about communication.

It includes what an organization says and how it listens. Who it speaks with and where.

Good marketers, like all good strategists, focus on negative space—in this case, on what’s unsaid.

Marketing includes many sub-specialties: inbound marketing, outbound marketing, analytics, communications design, advertising, PR, etc.

But in each permutation, it’s always about deliberate and effective communication.

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The framework above is a simple one, but I find it works well for small organizations and youngish ones trying to put a dent in the universe.

I find it particularly helpful for reframing brand strategy, which too often is lumped in with marketing, or dismissed as something mystical and fluffy.

More on that in my next post…

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