Long Range Strategic Brand Plan

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 to attend.

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 cycle.

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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