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Book Review: 'Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works' by Roger L. Martin and A.G. Lafley

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Strategy is about choices. Deciding what to do, and what not to do. This is the premise of the seminal marketing book that is Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by Roger L. Martin and A.G. Lafley. This management theory book is a solid, practical guide on how marketers should develop their strategy. It is a highly-reputed, well-regarded piece of seminal marketing literature for it comes from real marketing experts, Roger L. Martin, a renowned marketing professor and strategy consultant and A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of P&G. The old-saying goes, P&G is the school of marketing. That if you’ve had a stint with P&G, you’re among the most decorative ranks of marketers. The book reveals a P&G's approach to marketing. It shows the actual strategic framework used by Lafley, working with his strategic advisor, Martin, in doubling P&G’s sales, quadrupling its profits, and increasing its market value by more than $100 billion during Lafley’s tenure as P&G CEO from 2000 to 2009. The book is a guide to marketers and business leaders on how to think strategically and develop strategic plans to run the business, covering day-to-day actions and serving larger strategic goals on where to play and how to win. Lafley and Martin reveal their five-step strategic framework and on how to move across it with specific choices to be made at each step.

What makes Martin and Lafley’s Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works a definitive book on marketing strategy is that it’s based on how the authors have actually used the exact framework to achieve business excellence for iconic P&G brands like Olay, Bounty, Gillette, Swiffer and Febreze. The book is a playbook for marketing, helping marketers make the shift from just playing the game to winning the game. Martin and Lafley’s strategic framework used in the book is among the most common frameworks used by marketers around the world. It’s a practical guide to strategic decision making used by marketers globally.

Strategy is a mystical concept. It’s not like physics. Everyone has their point of view on it, and there’s no coherent approach that everyone agrees on. This means, marketers don’t have the roadmap to navigate the complexity of everyday business challenges and the dynamic nature of the modern competitive landscape. Martin and Lafley’s Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works is a useful and practical guide, built from years of actual strategic excellence, to inform markets that strategy essentially comes down to five choices. Meaning, strategy isn’t an abstract thing, but a discipline process that depends on five choices. Martin and Lafley reveal these choices, step-by-step, implying that strategy works as a cascade. That strategy begins with objectives that cascade down through an organization influencing all its parts. So by articulating a clear, winning aspiration and choosing to pursue that with conviction and commitment is half the job done. Martin and Lafley reiterate that strategy is about making choices, and their whole framework is about how to make them and stick to them with a coherent course of action, and tweaking along to ensure everything aligns with the strategic choice that’s been made. Choosing where to play and how to win with customers is a strategic choice. But marketers often struggle to decide and tend to lose track with choice paralysis. The book offers marketers grappling with complexity a useful framework that allows clarity of choice and conviction, based on the strengths and resources at hand.

Martin and Lafley’s Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works is a book that prevents marketers get lost in lofty vision statements, and instead make clear and difficult strategic choices born from actual objectives. They reveal a five-step strategic framework process, which consists of the following. 1) What’s our winning aspiration? It deals with setting clear objective and goals for the business. 2) Where will we play? It deals with selecting the specific customer segments and market category the business will compete in. 3) How will we win? It deals with the unique value proposition offered that distinguishes the business from competition. 4) What capabilities must we have in place to win? It deals with identifying the resources, skills and processes at hand that help execute the chosen strategy 5) What management systems are required to support our choices? It deals with the measurements that help ensure the strategy is on track. These steps, when pursued, evolved, activated, lead marketers towards strategic business excellence. It’s therefore a strategic roadmap or playbook for winning that can be applied by organizations of all shapes and sizes. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by Roger L. Martin and A.G. Lafley is a seminal book in marketing, offering marketers a practical guide on how to make strategic choices and carry it out with a simple, step-by-step process. It helps them master the art of strategic thinking and be focussed and consistent in devising and executing strategy. In a world that’s dealing with complexity and fleeting trends, this book serves as an important reminder. It helps marketers recognize that strategy is about choices, on what to do and what not to do, and that having clarity and focus can be a true strategic weapon. It prevents marketers from losing focus and executing their strategy by believing in the principle that strategy is sacrifice. Get your copy here:

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