Who Owns Strategy? We All Do.

A couple weeks back, I was teaching a course at Santa Clara University for their high tech marketing program, when a bright young product manager asked me a question. In a room filled with engineers and a handful of product marketers and product managers, he stood up and asked, “Shouldn’t product management own strategy?” His tone implied that my approval would confirm that his way of thinking was “the truth.”
All of you know there are four different types of marketing: product management, product marketing, field marketing and brand management. I posed a question: If product management owns strategy, what exactly are all the other people doing?
We share something as we work together here in the Valley. Regardless of the many roles we play, we all own a part of what makes our companies successful. That’s a responsibility we carry on a daily basis.
When we talk about strategy, the reality is that product management owns strategy for what to build. The design of the product, packaging, accessories, the materials to be used, the sources for those materials, where everything gets put together, and the time and money needed — all require strategic planning based in product management.
Product marketing owns strategy for how to communicate what’s been built. They’re developing events, participating in shows and figuring out where to place company execs so that the message about what’s been built hits the targeted audiences.
Field marketing owns strategy for how to demand leads. They put together specific demand generation programs and focus on filling the funnel with qualified leads that the sales people then receive during hand-off and close.
The sales operations team owns the creation of a motivated channel via their strategy. It’s the plan for how many different places and ways the product can be sold. Which channels work, which need more development, which have to be created from scratch. Selling online, through retail stores or via some other model. It’s all about distribution — and it’s one of the most valuable things any company can buy.
Finally, brand management owns strategy to articulate what is truly different regarding all aspects of the company, its people and its products. We call it differentiation.
Strategy development and delivery is not a war — it’s a cooperative, ensemble effort in which all departments are equally involved. That kind of strategy creates value. It’s important to note that there are an almost infinite number of ways strategy can go wrong. The coordination of all the disparate parts requires extensive planning and execution. And this isn’t something that comes naturally — it’s something that’s developed launch after launch, market plan after market plan, and Estaff meeting after Estaff meeting. People get better at it with time.
That bright young product manager? I suggested that if he wanted to have a fight over who “owns” strategy, the party who will ultimately be disserved is the customer. Because when companies or departments have what can only be called a pissing match over who owns strategy, they are not serving the larger marketplace. The discussion devolves into an intracompany competition that wastes energy, effort and money.
And here’s the ironic thing: it isn’t even relevant. Introducing hierarchy and tussling over title-only ownership nets you nothing. Especially when strategy is clearly owned in many places in an organization.

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  1. In a very tiny company who has been alive for 14 years and counting because of our evolutionary technology how does one strategize one’s way around the big guys if they won’t let you in because they deem your technology as “disruptive” to them? In fact, is there any answer to this dilemma at all? When money talks what do you say if you have none? Is there help or hope for a small company in this position? Giving up or giving in is not in the cards so if there is any advice you could offer we sure could use it. Thank you.
    Margaret King, VP Policy&Admin
    iLINE Entertainment Inc.
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

  2. Your question is a good one.
    So I understand your question is this.
    You have a great evolutionary technology. You want to keep in the game. But the big guys in the market are making it hard for you because they have more money and market power than you do, yes?
    The only variable you’ve got left is your customers. Customers can become so disruptive because they will truly go to “the best” for them even when they are being bribed/lured and coerced by market pressures. It explains why so many followed Apple when all market pressures would have caused Windows and Microsoft to win.
    Have you thought about what you could be doing to create more loyalty and affinity with your current base and have them help you expand?

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