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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2015
So what do Bounty paper towels have to do with the strategy question? It’s a fascinating case study noted in chapter three of this fascinating book on strategy, "Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works" (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).

It’s so fascinating I now bring a Bounty paper towel roll to client sessions on strategic planning.

At Procter & Gamble in 2001, the president of global family care (the tissue and towel division) saw sales of Bounty plateau in North America. They wondered: could future growth come from Europe, Asia and Latin America?

So in addressing a key strategy question—where to play (chapter three)—the P&G team went back to the drawing table and invested in research. “Deep consumer understanding is at the heart of the strategy discussion,” the authors insist. And they should know.

Co-author A.G. Lafley is the former chairman of the board, president, and CEO of Procter and Gamble. Co-author Roger L. Martin is dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. In 2011, Martin was named by Thinkers50 as the sixth top management thinker in the world. (Not a bad plaque for your office wall.)

So what did paper towel users—the consumers—tell P&G about Bounty?

Bounty “had by far the best equity in its category—one of the strongest brand equities in the company,” the division president reported. “If you asked, virtually 100 percent of the people would say Bounty is a great brand and a really good product. Then some would go off and buy something else.” So they drilled down farther. Obviously, something was wrong with this picture!

Then they did the hard work—they asked the consumer even more. Or as Peter Drucker urges in his classic five questions: #2—Who is the customer? And #3: What does the customer value? (By the way, the book’s dedication: “Inspired by Peter Drucker (1909-2005), mentor and friend.”)

The Bounty team identified three distinct types of paper towel users:
• Group 1 cared about “both strength and absorbency. For this group, Bounty was a perfect fit—a great combination of the two attributes they cared most about. The team found that among these consumers, Bounty was already the clear winner.”

• Group 2 wanted “a paper towel with a cloth-like feel. They didn’t care much about strength or absorbency, certainly much less than the core Bounty group did. Rather, this group of customers cared about how soft the paper towel felt in their hand.”

Paper towels? Really, Pearson? (Really—keep reading. The big idea is coming.)

• Group 3 had “price as their top priority, though not as their sole concern. The need of those consumers was also on strength. It wasn’t at all on absorbency, because they had a compensating behavior to address the absorbency shortfalls of lower-price paper towel products: they would simply use more sheets.”

Based on consumer research, Bounty decided to serve all three segments with the development of two new products. So at stores across North America today, you’ll find three choices:
--Bounty Extra Soft
--Bounty Basic

Interestingly, Bounty Basic is stronger than its competing low-priced paper towels and costs about 75 percent less that the traditional Bounty paper towels. And get this—Bounty Basic is stocked on shelves far away from the traditional Bounty.

Raise your hand if you already knew all of this! (I didn’t.)

The big idea? One size doesn’t fit all. You already knew that, but when is the last time you did a careful, detailed analysis of every program, product, or service you offer? Have you hit a sales plateau? Are you forcing one program down the throats of three or more very diverse customer segments?

(Memo to nonprofit CEOs and fundraisers writing your year-end appeals: Stop sending me mail and emails thanking me for my faithful support—if I’ve never given you any money. Start with two segments: current donors and non-donors. For more insight, read Development 101: Building a Comprehensive Development Program on Biblical Values.)

Study "Playing to Win" with your team and you’ll appreciate the practical approach to creating a winning strategy. You’ll learn what strategy is, and what strategy is all about (choice).

Read pages 4 and 5—and you’re hooked (and convicted)! The authors list five ineffective ways that many leaders tend to address the strategy process:
1) “They define strategy as vision.
2) They define strategy as a plan.
3) They deny that long-term (or even medium-term) strategy is possible.
4) They define strategy as the optimization of the status quo.
5) They define strategy as following best practices.”

Lafley and Martin add, “Every industry has tools and practices that become widespread and generic. Some organizations define strategy as benchmarking against competition and then doing the same set of activities but more effectively. Sameness isn’t strategy. It is a recipe for mediocrity.”
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on December 4, 2017
Concise summary of the strategic decision making process which can be applied to businesses or making other important decisions. Examples from P&G product lines illustrate how to execute on the frameworks introduced.
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on March 18, 2013
Clients, colleagues, and students often ask me to recommend business books that have helped me as a consultant and educator.

Playing to Win--How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger. L. Martin is a book I've been recommending recently for a couple of reasons.

First, it provides the reader with a simple definition of "strategy" which is made even clearer by the authors' explanation of what is not "strategy." Second, the authors take the reader through a rigorous and replicable journey that elucidates how strategy is conceived.

Lafley and Martin demonstrate that:

* "Strategy is about making specific choices to win in the marketplace," and decisions related to "Where to play?" and "How to win?" are critical in this respect.
* Strategy is conceived through an iterative, narrowing down process that determines "an integrated set of choices [a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems] that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value [for customers and shareholders] relative to its competition."

The authors' stated intent is to provide the reader with "a do-it-yourself" guide to strategy and they achieve this admirably.

This is largely due to the "playbook" they've presented for "crafting strategy" in an organization. This "playbook" includes:

* The strategic choice cascade: explaining "the nature of the [five] choices to be made" in conceiving strategy.
* The strategy logic flow: "a framework designed to helpfully direct your thinking to the key analyses that inform your five strategy choices."
* Reverse engineering: "a specific methodology for making sense of conflicting strategic options" through exploring the question: "What would have to be true?" for each "strategic possibility to be a potentially winning choice."

Their five strategic choices, framework, and process for conceiving strategy are easily comprehended through the numerous well-chosen examples. And, the replicable nature of this "playbook" to guide you in conceiving strategy quickly becomes apparent.

Playing to Win--How Strategy Really Works adds a valuable perspective to the practice of strategy and is well worth reading.

If "making specific choices to win" is at the heart of strategy, this is one book that provides you with a winning "playbook" to improve your odds of success in the marketplace.
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on February 21, 2018
One of the best books I have ever read on strategy. At our company we are not even applying a fifth of what is covered in this book and quite frankly that's why our results are mediocre to say the least. However we can change that if we just implement the ideas presented here. I am also of the opinion that the strategy taught in the book can actual guide a successful personal branding strategy.
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on October 6, 2013
Firstly, I am glad I bought the book, because it does have a number of good take-outs, and Roger Martin has always provided good insight in his books. So on the whole, I would recommend it. However, it reads very much like on ode to Procter and Gamble, and it becomes a bit tiresome reading all the P&G war-stories. About a third of the way though the book, I found myself skim reading and flicking over pages to find the gems. To be fair, the description does clearly say it is a book about CEO Lafley restoring P&G's dominance, but still, I would look forward to an edited version of this book that focused purely on the strategic framework and was structured more like a play book, or something like that, because it does have relevance to other industries beyond consumer goods and products. The actual framework - stripped of the P&G hype - is a sound framework for many industries and market sectors.
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on January 21, 2018
So clear and so thorough. The author really broke down how to win in business. I was highly impressed with the reverse engineering tactic. Asking "What has to be true in order for this to be a great choice?" is a great key to success.
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on August 20, 2017
A thoughtful and thought-provoking book. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat thus time spent in thinking about where to play and how to win is time well spent. The authors lay out a convincing argument for critical thinking.
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on January 31, 2016
Reading this for a Strategic Thinking class. It's pretty good. It's not boring like a text book, but it's very repetitive. I feel like I say "where to play, how to win" in my sleep. I guess that's that point though, eh?
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on May 29, 2015
Apply strategic choicecraft at every level from the organization to the personal and find intentional outcomes that speak to your or your organizations real purpose.

This book has helped us create clarity for ourselves and our clients in an ongoing way like no other approach had.

Crisp and clear with many examples from the world of P&G.

Highly recommended reading. We buy a copy for every client when they start working with us. We give a copy to each executive team member in our company.
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on January 28, 2018
Excellent combination of theoretical and practical views, knowledge and experience, presented in a easy-readable and enjoyable way with a lot of real-world and well known cases and examples. It was a real pleasure to read it and I plan to use it in my work on the strategy of my company.
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