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Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Hidden Brand Strategy Secrets

By Ray Baird

If you’ve read Collins’ Good to Great, I’m sure you’d agree it’s a brilliant piece of strategic thinking. If you haven’t had the opportunity to benefit from its profound insights, add this one to your summer reading list — I refer to its many learnings and secrets often. Just the other day, I was discussing brand strategy and positioning with a new client and Good to Great came up in the conversation.

We were discussing how companies should think about developing competitive brand positions that can stand the test of time and more importantly, how to engage and guide executives in the process to generate break-through thinking. So often, brand positing can become confusing and complicated: Enter the Hedgehog Concept and Collins’ parable/strategy. I asked him if he’d heard of the concept and how it pertains to defining a Big Business Brand IDEA/Strategy. I went on to explain that the concept centers around how a Hedgehog continually outsmarts the foxes ongoing calculated attempts to attack. The hedgehog knows its strengths — rolling up into a little ball with sharp spikes in every direction — a simple, but impenetrable concept that masterfully allows the hedgehog to win every time. “What does a hedgehog have to do with creating a brand strategy?” asked my client. “Everything” I answered — that’s where brilliant brand strategy begins. Instead of going in to marketing speak and complex branding examples like so many typical marketers would do, I went on to explain the three fundamental principles that Collins so eloquently describes in his strategic methodology — simple, but yet deeply thought out questions to help guide beliefs and strategic direction.

Brilliant Questions to Drive Your Brand Future

  1. What can you be the best in the world at?
  2. What drives your economic engine?
  3. What are you deeply passionate about?

I went on to talk about a few of the examples of the brands Collins’ sited in his book and several of the famous brands we had developed over the years. Here’s my point and what I picked up from our conversation. Sometimes you have to approach branding from a different point of view. So often we get caught up in brand speak that we forget about business strategy and how to use simple ideas/parables/metaphors to communicate our points. Over the years I’ve ran into companies that have been burned from bad brand practices and experiences that leave them concerned about the overall intent and its outcomes. If you run up against this challenge, change the conversation. Come at it from a business point of view. Ditch the word “brand” and replace it with “business” strategy because in the end, that’s what brilliant brand strategy should be all about — business.