A Long Range Strategic Brand Plan should function like a well-oiled chronometer.
It should address the brand's unique mission within the corporate
entity. All the cross-functional components of the plan should mesh with
twenty-one jewel precision. And it should be waterproof to depths beyond
any atmospheric pressure its owner can withstand -- say 200 feet.
The ideal is a far cry from reality. Often a brand's LRSBP -- if there
is one -- is a Rube Goldberg concoction of generic strategies concocted
independently of the major business functions responsible for the activities
essential to the development of the product and the process by which it
is produced, distributed and marketed. At best the typical Plan defines
the traditional definition of each function's role and mission within
the organization -- not it's relationship to the specific brand and
its defined business mission. And for that reason alone it's not unusual
to discover the relationship between marketing and engineering design
-- or perhaps the connection between engineering and manufacturing --
is out of whack. The gears don't fit and extensions of current platform
technologies intended to harvest higher margins or facilitate lower pricing
strategies unexpectedly require new components, tighter tolerances, more
intensive manufacturing processes. Which imperil brand financial objectives.
Which, in turn, necessitate cuts in marketing budgets. Which then emasculate
the competitive initiative. The chain of cause-and-effect spirals slowly
downward and eventually the gears jam.
An effective cross-functional integration of a Strategic Brand Plan involves
engineering the complete set of gears. World-class operations count ten
major strategic issues and each major directive contains a deck of sub
components that may total at least half-a dozen important stratagems.
Admittedly that's a lot. But if you feel they're not all critically
important and one or two may be superfluous, here's a way to test
your thesis: Remove one of the smaller, more insignificant gears from
your Rolex. But do it on a day you don't have a lot of important meetings
The recognition of the interaction of key strategies -- and the reconciliation
of strategic conflicts -- is a top-down initiative that requires the active
involvement of upper-echelon managers in each of the key functional silos.
Polaris managers serve as roving representatives of senior management
empowered to work with functional managers to isolate key strategic issues
impacting the brand and bring strategic conflicts requiring resolution
to the attention of senior management.
The reason things don't mesh has a lot to do with the fact functional
priorities and provincial interests unknowingly are in conflict. Sales,
for instance, may want to have a nearly endless smorgasbord of product
variations to offer customers. Production and warehousing, like Henry
Ford, may hope to keep things basic: One model in any color the customer
prefers as long as it's black. To make thing mesh someone has to discover
the two stratagems -- which are perhaps unrecognized or unarticulated
by either party -- and understand the disparity. Then negotiate a workable
compromise that won't unknowingly infringe on a third parties strategic
initiatives -- marketing, for instance, who need a fully loaded top-of-the-line
showpiece from which to trade-down to the real volume producer.
The effort starts high in the corporate hierarchy. With the identification
of strategic issues senior management believes will have the greatest
impact on the brand in question -- an initiating objective facilitated
by a checklist of ten broad-stroke strategic issues other corporations
have held to be the critical issues. The selected charter issues suggest
a prioritized series of diverging discussions with key functional managers
which in turn lead to additional vertically -- and cross-functionally
-- oriented discussions. Gradually a strategic blueprint emerges which
is carried into subsequent discussions and shared with functionals involved
in the lower order priorities established in the project's charter.
Ultimately a Long Range Brand Strategy is formulated, critiqued by functional
managers and amended as deemed appropriate by senior management. The document,
much like the US Constitution & Amendments, governs the brand and
the actions of its constituency as the brand evolves through its life
LRSP was introduced to Epson to define the strategic responsibilities
of the newly chartered US subsidiary -- Epson America -- for the computer
and printer/peripheral groups. The plan, according to one of Epson's
key executives "was clairvoyant in its vision and, had management
executed the Plan as written, would have made Epson the dominant leader
in the printer/peripheral sector." US Leasing used the Plan as the
backbone of their new PC Leasing Division. Oclassen Pharmaceutical used
the tool to show merger prospects the useful ways in which their highly
successful start-up venture would mesh with the acquiring organization's
operations. The effort supported their valuation assessment, ultimately
producing an "and-they-lived-happily-for-ever-after" acquisition.
The AOL/CompuServe merger is a logical application for LRSBP. Even though
AOL declares CompuServe will operate as a distinct service entity, the
potential difficulties in meshing CompuServe's sober-sided, business-oriented,
solution-seeking members with AOL's chatty conversationalists and
their attendant busy signals, dropped connections and e-mail brownouts
will require a series of well thought out strategies. The same could be
said for Apple's efforts to replicate the legendary Phoenix's
rise from the ashes. Microsoft's efforts to extend a new technology
-- TutorAssist -- into the educational software markets it has been dabbling
in for several years represents another possible application.
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