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The Bumper Sticker Strategy Published: Sunday, January 18, 2004 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Even though we come from a university and/or academic setting, (a culture that likes to talk, write and expand); for decades we have advocated for expressing the business concept no longer than a paragraph in length. The idea is to shorten and simplify the process of communicating the essence of a crucial message. However, this sound able predicament has its limits. In an attempt to extract the essence of the statement and condense it down to a bumper sticker it should not become meaningless. It turns out to be so brief that it becomes nothing and people does not understand its purpose.

There are some companies that have captured effectively the essence of its strategy in a phrase like “Real time systems for real world application”, making this statement the thrust of all of its advertisement. On the other hand, one company that clearly understands this concept is Pizza Hut stating that “they are a distribution system for pizzas”, thus making the decision to extend their stores all across airports and shopping malls.

Even though different companies follow the same driving force, they may still have business concepts different enough from each other to be going down separate roads. Some examples from the automobile industry are very revealing. One can say that all of these companies are product-driven: automobiles. However, each of these companies has a very different conception of its product. It is worth mentioning that of Mercedes Benz, stating that they offer the “best engineered car”; Volkswagen, stating they present the “people’s car”; and General Motors, stating they manufacture “a car for each income strata”. As a result, each of these companies goes down a different road and seldom competes with each other even though they all make cars.

Other interesting examples of “bumper sticker” statements are those of Federal Express of “guaranteed overnight delivery of letters and small parcels”; 3M, “innovation working for you”; and Sony’s concept of the “ingenious use of electronic technology”.

Each other categories of driving force brings with it different business concept that can be more clearly articulated once the notion of strategic drive is understood. The business concept influences all aspects of a corporation’s undertakings. It determines the scope of products, customers, and markets; the organization structure; the technologies required; the type of production facilities; the distribution channels; the marketing and selling techniques; and even the type of people employed. It sets the tone, climate, and behavior of an organization.

Finally, because top leaders are sometimes visionaries (the live in the future) they have difficulties in explaining to the people their sense of direction and the strategic drive for the organization, thus they tend to be benevolent autocrats depending on authority and command.

It is imperative, in our view, that the business and/or strategic concept be explicit and understood by everyone. There are two empirical lessons to remember: (1) People don’t implement properly what they don’t understand; (2) People don’t implement what they are not committed to.

People have to understand the business concept and the bumper sticker strategy…


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