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category strategy

Revising your Category Management Playbook

One of the great opportunities in Category Management is the way we can use a well-constructed category strategy, which is thoughtful, insightful, well-founded and socialised across our stakeholders, to understand what might happen if there are changes in the fundamentals on which the strategy is based.


 This gives us the ability to pre-plan for particular situations – or in sporting terms, to create a playbook which allows for different scenarios. We are living in interesting times, and this does give the opportunity to establish what might happen over the next year or so and to contemplate the impact on our category strategies.


It is useful to have an example which has been well considered in terms of impact to see if the approach can be useful. This months news has been filled with the impact of increasing tariffs on a range of goods and how that might change over time. It feels like much of the reporting is speculation, but a dive into the US Congressional Research Service gives access to some interesting thought on what might unfold as things move forward.


 Of particular interest is a paper from 2013 which looks at the amount of US debt which is held by China, and the implications of that for any trade based debate between the two nations, and the effect of that on the USD and RMB.


 (see )


 In essence, as China holds in excess $3 trillion of US debt, there is a degree of interdependence between the two sides which can both act as a stabilising mechanism under some situations, and a destabilising mechanism in others. The paper suggests that the point at which China’s risk from holding a high volume of debt turns into action to unload that debt is when the value of that debt decreases, driven by external factors. The consequence of that trigger is an increase in US interest rates and a devaluation of USD and RMB.


 With that as a potential impact, it is possible to test existing strategies to see what that change would do. This also gives a sense of the sort of the depth that category strategies should contain; if they are written with placeholders showing areas to look at when significant changes happen, then changes to playbooks are relatively easy.


 Using this concept as a foundation, we can see that a number of variables could trigger a different approach in a category playbook. A good strategy will aim to describe the various ways in which a category could be affected, including both internal and external factors. Market conditions and PESTLE analysis give good indicators for external factors, and business requirements point to areas to monitor for internal changes.


 A question often asked is when a strategy should be reviewed, from a perspective of it reaching an age where it needs refreshing. We are in a period when the opportunity to adapt a strategy to changing conditions may be more prevalent.

 We understand how organisations can deliver more value by increasing both the quality of strategies and of stakeholder engagement.

You can talk to us about how we can help you get the most out of your categories. Contact us at

Understanding where are we going – getting behind the strategy

What is your Business strategy?

There is a common thread which exists across organisations of all sizes, and poses a real and serious challenge for the creation of value – this is about how well we understand the organisations strategy, direction, and the purpose of the business.

This is an area full of challenge. The very existence of a business or organisation strategy is often opaque for those in the organisation; a statement which doesn’t link to our daily existence, or feels irrelevant to our activities. Often, the stated strategies are at a level which are meaningless, and are hard to translate into any form of practice.

However, we need to go back to the fundamentals of what is needed for the organisation to operate as a coherent whole, working together to achieve the strategic intent.

Imagine for a moment an organisation where strategy is unclear. Any particular decision or project being set up has no anchor to test if it’s overall direction and deliverables are fit for purpose or will help the organisation drive towards its strategic outcomes. Worse than that, it is possible for different divisions or projects to work against others which are already underway. Extending this, it’s also possible to see that it becomes really hard to prioritise different activities if the overall strategy is not clear. 

As any of these issues will cause stress in the organisation as different factions / business units or even individuals, we need to see if we can work in a more structured way. The strategic direction for an organisation needs to be clearly understood by those making suggestions and decisions in order that the direction of travel is maintained.

The next challenge is how clear the strategic direction is. It needs to be written so that the various strands of the strategy being used are both clear and interwoven. As an example, the strategic intent of providing lowest price, highest quality and fastest delivery is unlikely to be achievable as the three elements tend to work against each other at some level. We also need to understand the intent of direction. Highest quality can mean many things and we need to make sure we both understand what that means in our particular marketplace, but also that there is shared understanding inside the business of ‘higher quality’.

The test of the quality of the strategy is that it can be used to distinguish between courses of action: the one progressing strategy more completely is likely to be the right choice.

Of course, this implies that the strategy is correct. Review and update is appropriate, and making sure that it flexes as external conditions demand is good practice. However, it can’t be altered on a whim, or to try to follow a brief fashion. That will just breed confusion.

Our last step is to make sure that the strategy is bought into by those defining new approaches and implementing policies. This is not just a case of publishing the document, but we need to make sure individuals have thought properly about the strategy, and about the ways, they will aim to drive towards that strategy.

None of this happens without intent and action, so picking up your business strategy today, testing your understanding of it and making sure you are aligning with it is the next thing to do.

We’d be happy to discuss how to do this with you and to help you accelerate the delivery of your strategy and the competitive advantage that suggests.

Contact us at

Mark Hubbard

Smart Brown Dog Ltd