All businesses follow one of two types of strategic direction
People love processes. So it’s a shame that strategy doesn’t really have one.
As we’ve explored in some depth before, there is no set technique by which you can figure out your path to growth. There is no reliable model for creating uncontested market space. There is no algorithm or formula for discovering where your company can get the most leverage.
There is only common sense. Observing conditions with curiosity and humility, and trying to make sense of what you see.
In some ways this is an inherent weakness of my business model. It means I can’t package anything up and sell it at scale. I can’t blow smoke at people about my “proprietary system”, and franchise it out to a network of consultants around the world. I mean technically I could… but it would be disingenuous. I just don’t believe that’s how things work.
That said, there is perhaps one exception. One idea which I think does, somewhat, “systematise” strategy, and give businesses a model of sorts to follow.
It’s very broad, very high level, but I’ve found it extremely helpful for founders in directing their thinking. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful too.
Quite simply, you need to pick which kind of business you are from these two options:
– Are you a business who “weirds the normal”? (Type A)
– Or are you a business who “normalises the weird”? (Type B)
All successful brands, in my experience, must fall into one of these two categories – and they set the agenda for how they should be making decisions.
Let’s break them down.
Type A – Weirding the normal
Type A is the most common. These are businesses who do something normal, something which lots of other businesses do, and therefore must focus on putting a new “spin” on that thing. In other words, “weirding the normal”.
If your business is soap, cars, gyms, cereal, air travel, restaurants, furniture, socks, IT solutions, recruitment, stationery – anything where there are lots of broadly equivalent options, and a well established category – then this is your job.
This is because the world fundamentally doesn’t need another one of these things – unless it can bring a completely new interpretation to the table. It must take the safe and make it dangerous; bring never-before-seen value to the industry; or carve out a new sub category.
The imperative for such businesses is to be extremely bold and take big risks, especially stylistically, because what they are doing is, at root, totally boring. Consumers feel safe in these categories, so it takes real fire to shake them out of their inertia.
This stands in stark contrast to…
Type B – Normalising the weird
Less common, although by no means rare, are Type B companies. These are the ones who have a product that’s genuinely something new, and demands a new behaviour from consumers.
For example my client MOJU, when they introduced juice shots to the UK market, fit this category. Another client, Bio-tiful Dairy, were the same when they introduced kefir. Although both of these products had existed before elsewhere, to the average man on the street in England they were totally alien. Type B companies are also common in tech – the likes of Uber, Airbnb, and Deliveroo all demanded unprecedented behaviours from their customers.
Such brands need a completely different mindset to Type A.
Because their product is fundamentally unusual, their job isn’t to make it feel radical and exciting, but rather friendly and safe. They need to teach people to use it, since they can’t rely on pre-existing habits. Hence “normalising the weird”.
This is not straight forward, and as a result most of these businesses fail: not because the product isn’t good, but because they never found a way to make people “get it”. Often such products are open to many different interpretations, and there will be tensions within the business over which to emphasise, leading to muddle and confusion.
Successful revolutions don’t arrive with fireworks, but quietly, without us even realising. Such delicate ingratiation should be the guiding principle of Type Bs.
Understanding which type of business you run, and behaving accordingly, is as close to a strategy “hack” as I can think of.
Typically people get this precisely the wrong way round.
Type A companies can’t resist slipping into the well worn grooves of category codes, mimicking the dozens of other brands around them. And Type B companies can’t resist drinking their own Kool-Aid and assuming that the public will be as excited about their idea as they are, and so end up emphasising their uniqueness rather than their sameness.
Therefore finding your way begins with this simple designation.
It won’t tell you exactly what to do. But it will tell you what not to do. And as always that’s more than half the battle.