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Marketing Mocktail: Strategy demystified- the 4-pillars of brand strategy explained

When others zig, you zag.

By  Anand NarasimhaSep 29, 2023 8:15 AM
Marketing Mocktail: Strategy demystified- the 4-pillars of brand strategy explained
Check if your brand strategy is built around these four pillars- differentiation, focus, consistency and integration. (Representative Image: Jorge Salvador via Unsplash)

Note to readers: Season-2 of our column Marketing Mocktail breaks down and explains the big ideas, new disruptions and old concepts and marketing practices that matter in the modern age.

Brand marketers are constantly formulating, executing and tracking strategies for their brands. While the components of a brand strategy are well known, the question is "How effective is your strategy? How do you know it is on the right track?"

Here are my four pillars of brand strategy- differentiation, focus, consistency and integration. An effective brand strategy must tick all the four boxes.


Strategy, at its very core, is not about doing the same things better than your competition. It is about doing things differently.

Many a time we commit the cardinal sin of crafting a ‘me-too’ strategy, with no, or very marginal difference over competing brands.

Harley Davidson positioned its bikes on freedom and adventure against the Japanese bikes which were in the speed and thrill territory. They famously said, “When others zig, we zag.”

Reliance JIO, a late entrant in Telecom space, built its offering around data, in a market that was competing on voice.

When Volkswagen launched the iconic Beetle, they urged the American car buyer to ‘Think Small’, in a culture where ‘Big was beautiful’ when it came to cars.

So, as Jack Trout says, “Differentiate or die.”


One of the best ideas on strategy was prophesied by Michael Porter when he said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Strategy is about making a choice, a trade-off between the several options.

If you stand for nothing, you will fall for everything.

A brand that tries to be all things to all people, ends up being nothing to no one.

When Steve Jobs was asked if Apple should launch a lower priced range of smartphones for emerging markets that are price sensitive, here’s what he said, “We don’t want to compete in the junk market.”

Dig this fact:

A brand of jams with 34 flavors had 60 percent of shoppers browsing it and only three percent purchasing it (five percent conversion).

Another brand of jams with only six flavors had 40 percent of shoppers browsing it and 20 percent purchasing it (50 percent conversion).

Next time you are crafting your brand strategy, begin with a list of things that you will not do. Then, what you need to do and focus on will become evident.


Give your strategy a chance to succeed.

You may keep changing your tactics but be consistent in your strategy.

Often, we get bored of our own strategy and keep changing it. Bad idea! Any strategy needs time, patience and perseverance to work.

Also, a strategy needs to be backed by adequate resources. You can’t do bungee jumping from four feet.

This is best illustrated by an anecdote.

When Phillip Morris and Leo Burnett (their agency) were celebrating 10 years of the ‘Marlboro Man’ (Cowboy) campaign, a journalist had this conversation with Mr. Leo Burnett (the agency founder):

Journalist: “How many people do you employ in your Chicago office?”

Leo: “Well about close to a 100 people.”

Journalist (sounding cocky): “Why do you need a 100 people? You’ve been running the same Marlboro campaign for the past 10 years.”

Leo: “1 guy created it, the other 99 stop it from changing.”


Make sure everything you do is ‘On-Strategy’.

Every piece of your marketing should work cohesively and seamlessly in the same direction. Like an orchestra which always plays in sync and harmony.

Integration is like the Yeti, frequently talked about but seldom seen.

Let’s come back to Apple.

The three tenets of Apple’s positioning are Simplicity, Creativity and Humanity.

These are manifested in everything the brand does, across all touch points- products, packaging, brand design, advertising, store experience and customer experience.

Nine out of 10 strategies fail, not because of poor formulation but because of poor implementation. Most of the time lack of integration is the culprit.

Next time you are formulating your Brand Strategy, give it a strong foundation with the four-pillars.

As Roger Martin says, “The two most fundamental strategic choices are where to play and how to win.”

Anand Narasimha is a corporate turned academician with over three decades of experience spanning Brand Marketing, Advertising, Consulting, and Teaching. He writes the column Marketing Mocktail for Storyboard18. Views expressed are personal.

First Published on Sep 29, 2023 8:15 AM