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Strategy: Do You Have the Right Definition?

The word “strategy” is one that is susceptible to numerous and varied meanings. When asked, people sometimes have a vague or general idea of what it means to be strategic in business.

Recently, I came across an explanation that not only dispelled any uncertainty about the noun, strategy, but also offered poignant insights into how business can better embark on differentiation in today’s chaotic corporate atmosphere.

This, in turn, made me wonder – do all business owners know precisely what it means to be strategic? Do they all have the right definition of strategy?

Well, according to Michael E. Porter (economist, researcher, author, advisor and professor at the Harvard Business School):

Strategy is choosing to perform activities differently, or, to perform distinctly different activities than rivals”.

Let’s break this definition down.

Strategy is “choosing to perform activities differently”
This first half of the definition focuses on strategy through a disruptive lens.

Specifically, it explains how a brand can fundamentally change how a business is conducted, and how it is experienced by consumers.

Let’s use the coffee brand, Starbucks, to drive home this point.

Historically, coffee shops, like any other business at the time, were pretty transactional in nature. Customers went in, placed their orders, collected their purchases and then left.

Standard – no muss no fuss.

Starbucks turned the coffee shop experience on its head by making its stores the “third place between home and work”. They did sweat the small stuff: everything from the incredibly friendly disposition of the Baristas, to drink customisation, personalisation of the drink orders (by writing the customers name their cup), to the overall inviting ambiance of the stores.

Starbucks created the ultimate customer experience that primarily changed the palate and the perception of the American coffee-drinking consumer.

Other successful examples of disruptive brands that have created a unique customer experience by performing activities differently are Uber  AirBnB and WantItNow .

Strategy is “performing distinctly different activities than rivals”
The last bit of the definition of Strategy focuses on a distinguishable competitive advantage that one brand has over its rivals.

Let’s use Apple, the “bastion of creativity” to also illustrate this idea.

Unabashedly, Apple has consistently made its brand one of the most desirable by creating compelling and unique selling propositions by differentiating itself from its chief competitors (like Microsoft Blackberry and Google to mention a few).

The creation of:

  • iTunes: (a platform made with the sole purpose of creating an ecosystem for syncing music, e-books, radio/podcast etc.) was a game-changing move that set the iPod apart from all the available MP3 players that existed at the time
  • iPhone: revolutionized the mobile phone experience with the touch-screen technology that was intuitive, fun, and less arduous than the way mobile phones at the time were manufactured by brands like Motorola, Nokia, and tragically, Blackberry.

Some other examples of brands that champion this definition of strategy are:

  • Shoes of Prey – an online shoe sales site – uniquely allows consumers to custom design their own shoes and order online.
  • Invoice 2GO – an innovative way of doing something that had always been done. Invoice2go allows small business to invoice their customers quickly and easily straight after completing the job.
  • DICE – a music ticketing app that has differentiated itself from other ticketing platforms by selling tickets at face value, and eliminating all the hidden costs (such as booking, transactional and printing fees).
  • Everlane – a clothing brand, which lifts the veil and transparently shows, it’s customers the factories their apparels come from and the exact costs behind them.

If you do have other thoughts or definitions, I would love to hear back from you.


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Neil Parker
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