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    Simple choice architecture for choosing a winning strategy approach

    1024 927 Adrian Klee | Strategy Consulting

    Even though I have just a couple of years of experience in developing business strategies, I realized that there are too many occasions where strategists rush into a client project, conduct research and benchmarking etc. without properly understanding the “strategic needs” of a client first. For example, I come from an educational context where Design Thinking is commonly used as an approach to solve business problems, which makes me extremely biased towards more classical or other ways of strategic planning. In this article, I want to showcase brilliant research by BCG (Publication: “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy”, M. Reeves, C. Love, and P. Tillmanns, 2012.) that explains how to match the business environment of a company to a specific strategic approach, which is a way of thinking that really helps to choose a winning strategy.

    Mental models

    Agile Working, Design Thinking or Canvas-approaches were at the core of the most significant intellectual trends of the recent management hype cycle and indeed very successful – when applied under the right circumstances.

    Depending on the individual background, each consultancy preaches its own holy grail to winning the strategy game. And of course, it’s easy for the innovation / digital agencies to point the finger to old-school consultancies and industry incumbents by claiming that their planning models are outdated in an ever more digitalized and faster global business environment. They will tell you that if you want to win, you constantly need to adapt and that requires a flexible approach to strategy planning itself. Agile Working, Design Thinking or Canvas-approaches were at the core of the most significant intellectual trends of the recent management hype cycle and indeed very successful – when applied under the right circumstances. However, the notion that the agile approaches are all you need now is simply incorrect, because the world is as always not black and white. We need to stop talking about classic vs. agile and more about how we are going about solving a client’s problem. It’s not about what a good or right strategy is (there are plenty of good ones), but about the best fitting approach to choosing the right strategy in the first place.

    Four schools of thought

    Very simplified, there have been around four thought schools that have generated a variety of individual strategy concepts. According to research by BCG (source), there are four stereotypes of strategy and it makes totally sense:


    Visionary (“Be first”): Build an entirely new value proposition by creating a visionary new product or business model. Simplified example: Tesla

    Shaping (“Be the orchestrator”): Lead the shaping of a whole segment by collaborating with other companies. Simplified example: Facebook, Google, Lyft

    Adaptive (“Be fast”): Whenever it’s difficult to make reliable predictions about a business environment and frequent continuous disruption characterizes the segment, only continuous experimentation and the ability to change oneself will bring a (temporary) advantage. Simplified example: Amazon, Netflix

    Classical (“Be big”): Analyze, plan and execute with the goal to achieve superior positioning within the segment, which can be based on company size, differentiation or core capabilities. Simplified example: Philip Morris International Inc.,

    You probably familiarize yourself with one school of thought depending on your educational / professional background. Most consultants live and breathe “their” approach to strategy and will always try to implement their strategy tools, even if the client requires completely different solutions. It’s a common mental trap that psychologists call cognitive biases (“living in a bubble.”). Just look at the planning cycle of oil companies vs. the one of a newly founded tech start-up. One size doesn’t fit all. To be sure, this is not about the often-cited ambidexterity of organizations (the challenge of running an existing business vs. inventing its future). This is about the abundance of business environments that any global corporation faces today and the necessity to deploy various (sometimes contradicting) strategic styles at the same time. The clue is to identify the correct state of the business environment, the conditions of the industry, business function, or geographic market and then choose the right approach to strategy, not the other way around. It’s not that there aren’t powerful approaches to strategy, it’s that we lack an unbiased and effective way of choosing the right ones under the right circumstances.

    So, which of the four basic strategy approaches are the right ones for your client’s business environments? And how do you classify a business environment?


    Choice architecture for picking a winning strategy

    Above I described how business strategists can connect their strategic approaches to the business environment, business function or geographical area of their clients. There are four common ways to build a strategy: visionary, shaping, adaptive and classical. All of them have very powerful ways to draft and execute a chosen strategy. In this part I showcase how the unique circumstances of a business determine the right strategy approach.

    It turns out that characterizing a given business environment is simple:

    Predictability (how difficult is it to calculate the development of the segment, i.e. demand, performance, competition, etc.?)  x malleability (how difficult is it to shape the segment, alone or with the help of others?)



    Visionary: I can predict the future development of the segment it and I have the power to change it. Common concepts: Blue ocean, business-model canvas

    Shaping: I can’t calculate the future development of the segment, but I can change it. Common concepts: Platform or network innovation

    Adaptive: I can’t predict the future development of the segment nor change it. Common concepts: Design thinking, agile development, hyper-competition, lean start-up

    Classical: I can predict the future development of the segment, but I can’t change it. Common concepts: Five forces, core capabilities

    Given the two parameters you can match your strategy with the degree of predictability and malleability:



    After correctly analyzing the environment (not only for the whole company, but for each of its division/function/geographic market) you can match the corresponding strategy approaches and instill a culture that allows to act on it. This also indicates that most large businesses operate in multiple environments that change quickly over time, so it’s quite possible that a company is forced to deploy a variety of strategy planning approaches.

    The bank of the future will be in your pocket

    1024 683 Adrian Klee | Strategy Consulting

    With the rapid emergence of the manifold fintech ventures all over the globe, traditional banks should be worried about their business. I’m always amazed by the exciting opportunities that come up whenever an industry hasn’t significantly changed over a long period of time – and that’s what’s happening right now with the banking industry. While small, agile and design-driven fintech startups seem to hit the bulls eye with their customer-centered and sleek banking solutions, whether in B2B or B2C, most of the traditional banks come along as an old and rusty ship on the high sea that cannot navigate anymore.

    Old banking

    Big banks, with their stiff corporate silos, high bureaucracy and product-oriented mind-set, have lost their focus on why the should exist in the first place: to enable customers to manage their money in a convenient, secure and time-saving manner. The time when people wanted to go to an actual physical branch is long gone! They anyway looked most of the time like dusty and depressing office spaces and were characterized by long queues of customers, very annoying opening times and local account representatives waiting for you in their dusty grey suits, trying to sell you the banking products that don’t even fit to your individual needs. Service design at its worst.

    Of course, banks have catched up with this issue and made the short-sighted attempt to beautify/re-design their branches, but that doesn’t make up for a missing focus on the customer and obviously doesn’t change the corporate culture at all. Moreover, the creative think tanks and design thinking camps that have sprung up at the big banks will not be enough to shift their operating philosophy to a truly customer-centric business. Another problem area is the extreme lack of new technologies, channels and digital strategies that are at the horizon of the new banking industry: utilizing blockchain technologies for more secure and transparent trading, offering digital currencies, or leveraging AI to automate and improve operations. The opportunities are endless, but banks need to become agile and approach innovation genuinely. According to Accenture, banks might loose about 35 percent of their market share by 2020 if they don’t start to compete against the more digitally-oriented disruptors. Well, that’s a hell of a call to action, albeit most banks have not recognized the importance of a digital presence yet:

    Across Europe, retail banks have digitized only 20 to 40 percent of their processes; 90 percent of European banks invest less than 0.5 percent of their total spending on digital. As a result, most have relatively shallow digital offerings focused on enabling basic customer transactions. (McKinsey, 2014)

    While it  might still be relevant for older generations to have access to a local bank branch where they can meet and talk to real people, all coming generations of bank customers will have their bank in their pocket.


    If most banking transactions migrate to the digital world, what’s the future of the traditional banking branches?

    Future banking

    The global business consultancy Accenture names three possible new models that banks can pursue, from the niche digital provider, the digital, full-service bank to the big box bank. However, the common denominator amongst all is of course: the digital bank. That’s exactly why your future bank will be in your pocket, as banking services will become almost fully digital: banking to go. I attended the “Re-imagine banking with Number26” TOA satellite event last month, where the CTO of the innovative fintech startup Number26, now N26, held a workshop on how we will use banking services in the digitalized future. After several brainstorming sessions, we gathered various ideas on the bank of the future, just to mention a few:

    • Learn to save money through gamification
    • Customized investment options, tailored to the individual budgeting needs of the customer
    • Real-time spending behavior visualizations, with a plan to meet individual spending goals
    • Automated bill payments, shared accounts
    • 24/7 virtual banking assistance

    Sounds cool? I believe that digital banks that leverage the opportunities of new technologies are in the best position to offer true value to their customers. They can turn banking into really enjoyable experiences.


    Re-imaging the bank of the future @ N26

    Today’s customers and all other individuals that use banking services won’t wait until the big banks have catched up with the current developments of the banking industry. As it happened already in other industries, the players that don’t adapt to the digital lifestyle and demands of their customers will be very likely to be left behind by more innovative and agile startups. In the end, it’s all about re-thinking customer experience and solving customer pains – the technological advancements provide the necessary framework to do so.



    True story: Why you should start de-branding your business

    1024 683 Adrian Klee | Strategy Consulting

    Surprise: People want satisfying products, services & experiences that deliver true value instead of disappointing and annoying messages that inherently camouflage the commercial intentions of your company.

    Nowadays, there is such a huge discrepancy between how marketing / branding is done by most companies and how consumers perceive and evaluate all of the branded content around them: On the one hand, companies try to sell their stuff by developing ridiculous advertising and brand messages that most of the time over-exaggerate the true value of their products or services. On the other hand, most people are saturated with over-promising marketing messages, so they build mental barriers in order to filter out all the message and communication channel clutter that has built up over time.  

    That’s exactly why you should start de-branding your business!

    Here’s a recent example to illustrate my point. Since several years now, Mercedes-Benz (MB) utilises its BlueTec technology to brand their cars as the most environmentally friendly diesel. Well, as it turned out the self-proclaimed “cleanest diesel in the world”  is not sustainable at all. In fact, Mercedes-Benz is getting sued atm, as it has been misleading its customers since 9 (!) years – the independent Dutch testing agency TNO revealed that the BlueTec technology only works in the lab, but in the real world the cars won’t keep their advertising promise and exceed the allowed emission heavily. However, all brand messages praise that the cars are extremely clean, so that the customers don’t even notice how environmentally unfriendly they really are. Apparently, Mercedes-Benz had one single goal in mind: trick consumers into the thinking that BlueTec is for real. In order to build the fairytale brand message over time, MB worked with leading branding agencies and pumped hundreds of millions of Euros into their marketing efforts, including brand endorsements by celebrities and large-scale campaigns. The funny mission was to fuel the minds of the people with “TrueBlue Thinking” (yes, this is the original slogan by MB). The only problem is: you can’t make up for your failed product experience with branding. 

    Internationale Stars fahren Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC- und Hybrid-Fahrzeuge

    The MB case is not an isolated one, just look at what happened at VW. Even worse, how can the advertising industry and specifically all the marketing strategists sit quietly in their office lofts, when they know that all the messages and brand promises they produced are utter bulls*!t?! As you can see, this is a beautiful large-scale example of how branding can be misused and disguise the commercial ambitions of a company. What about saving all the marketing budget and putting it into R&D, so that we will drive truly sustainable cars in the future?! Of course, this advice goes beyond the automotive industry, just look at how the most ordinary products, like running shoes or food bars, are advertised nowadays. 

    But wait -what’s the bottom line?

    How do you de-brand? How can you connect to your customers in a meaningful way? First, get back to the basics: listen to your customers, solve what gives them a headache in their everyday life and then offer real value by developing truly useful products and services. Your customers just want to get their job done, so don’t waste their time with all the brand and advertising clutter. Reflect on the true values and mission of your company, use your competence to create superior products and customer experiences, and then build your brand around it, not the other way round. Just check out the branding of Viceland, the new TV channel by VICE, which takes the concept of de-branding quite literally, as described by creative communication agency Gretel:

    The basic ingredients combine in different proportions to modulate the VICELAND expressions. Content falls under one of three types: smart and curious, light and fun, or deep and dangerous.

    The objective, null design brings the personalities, content and tone of each show to the foreground while allowing for diversity in composition and messaging, and smooth translation to any platform.

    Branding will always play a crucial part for businesses, however, it will be more focused: reduce the message complexity, cut down all the branding that distracts from the real value of your offering – that’s all that counts. Your customers will appreciate it.

    Find further readings on the concept of de-branding here.