Strategy Lessons from Little Red Riding Hood

Strategy Lessons from Little Red Riding HoodStephan Sondheim, the brilliant writer of many great musicals including “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” has some lines in his work, “Into the Woods” that caught my eye. Little Red Riding Hood is going down a straight path to visit her grandmother, a path she has walked many times before. However, a giant has altered the landscape, and she becomes lost. One of her companions suggests that they find another way, but she asserts that “my mother warned me to never stray from the path.” The companion replies, “The path has strayed from you.”

Most organizations have found success with “stick-to-your-knitting” strategies in which a single minded focus on a business strategy results in staple or increasing sales and profits. The team does not allow resources to be diverted from the job of always maintaining the offering and operation at a high level and engaging in incremental innovation to stay ahead of competitors.

The problem is that the path strays. Customers are no longer buying what you are making. No matter how good your offering is or how strong your brand, if you are making SUVs when customers are buying hybrids you will not be relevant. Or if they are buying a subcategory that has a “must have,” whether it be an appealing design like Volvo or motorcycle trip route planning as Harley-Davidson has developed, you will not be considered – even though your offering and brand are better than ever.

To avoid slipping into irrelevance, you need to detect when a competitor has created innovation that has resulted in a “must have” defining a new subcategory. Then, you need to defeat that new subcategory or create an offering that qualifies and achieve visibility and credibility for that offering.

Later in the play, the Prince, asked by the Princess (Cinderella) if he had feelings for anyone else, admitted that he did and noted that, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

Too many brands have a charming but not sincere DNA, because their single minded focus is not on the customer but on increasing sales and profits in the short-run. Brand building will usually go better over time if there is more sincerity and less emphasis on charm.


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David Aaker, Vice Chairman of Prophet consults exclusively for Prophet clients. He is the creator of the Aaker Model™, has published more than 100 articles and 15 books, including his latest, Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant, and others including: Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative, Managing Brand Equity, Building Strong Brands, Developing Business Strategies, Brand Leadership, Strategic Market Management, From Fargo to the World of Brands, and Brand Portfolio Strategy. Follow David on Twitter.

David Aaker




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  1. hyden06 on January 11, 2012 at 10:38 am

    design like volvo……… i like that…. thanks…

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