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Business frameworks - bona fide or bona fluff?

Kester Tan
Kester Tan

December 14, 2020

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From the well-known SWOT analysis and Porter’s Five Forces to the more niche likes of the Value Chain Analysis, frameworks have long since been a staple for forward-thinking changemakers. You might have heard of some of these frameworks, or even used them in your own analysis of companies - whether your own or your competitor’s. 

Despite their prevalence, detractors have long since dismissed the synthesis of new frameworks and promotion of popular models. Seeing efforts to proliferate frameworks as a shrewd means of profiting off of training materials and books written about these methodologies, disparagers believe these frameworks to be of little to no use or substance. But are there really no merits to employing these guiding principles? 

Tangentially, detailed business plans might be drafted to dictate  the trajectory of your company’s efforts - with or without the help of relevant frameworks. But what exactly distinguishes a business plan from a business framework?

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Both business plans and frameworks leverage on strategic thinking and branding to ensure the success of a company. Business plans are typically crafted in high specificity to the company’s existing situation, often with strict timelines and checkpoints to track progress. Business frameworks, on the other hand, are conceptualised models that can be adopted by a company to tackle a specific problem, or to achieve a goal. Each framework has its own use case, and a keen awareness of the right framework(s) to be employed will be beneficial in helping you structure your company’s approach towards solving problems and achieving targets. Educational superintendent Scot Graden summarises the difference between having a plan and employing a framework succinctly in his blog, noting that:

“A strategic plan tends toward short-term, actionable tasks. A strategic framework, while focused, allows the flexibility to adapt to changing global trends, policy mandates, and marketplace needs.”

Graden highlights several key differences between having a strategic framework and a strategic plan , which include the following:

  • Frameworks are more flexible and can be adapted to fit marketplace changes.  Plans are often too rigid and precise to adapt quickly enough to meet emerging needs and changes.
  • Frameworks provide clear guidance without being too prescriptive, while plans can easily become too detailed, preventing stakeholders from being able to provide their own input.
  • Frameworks enable visibility across various activities and departments of the company. Plans may be so specific that stakeholders do not see connections to greater outcomes.
  • Frameworks are usually well known among strategy teams and company leadership, and are thus easily understood and communicated.  Plans, being much more unique in nature, can be long and convoluted, requiring time during meetings to be unpacked and agreed upon.

Evidently, business frameworks provide benefits for firms - but which framework should you adopt for your brand?

There are multiple publicly available frameworks, many of which have been devised by industry leaders and thought innovators, that are widely used by organisations and businesses across various verticals. For the purposes of illustration, this article explores the 3 more popular frameworks mentioned above, which you may consider adopting to achieve your directional aims. 

Porter’s 5 Forces

Stemming from industrial organisation economics, Porter's 5 Forces has since become a widely used framework for businesses to analyse its competition. The method allows you to conduct competitive analysis for your brand, and involves analysing the microenvironment, that primarily comprises the customer market, along with partners and competitors. The five forces are:

  • Industry (competitive) rivalry
  • Threat of substitutes (products and services)
  • Bargaining power of buyers
  • Threat of new entrants 
  • Bargaining power of suppliers 

This framework is often taught to both undergraduate and postgraduate business students at the foundational level. Beyond being used in case analyses, this framework is a highly practical approach in developing keen awareness of your brand’s industry.

SWOT & TOWS Analyses

Porter’s 5 Forces framework was initially born in reaction to the then-popular SWOT analysis, which Porter viewed as lacking in “rigour and ad hoc”.  However, SWOT analysis - which helps companies identify their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats - still remains a go-to method of analysis amongst many.  

Additionally, the extended TOWS analysis builds upon the SWOT framework and serves as the next step for companies to take actionable steps upon completing their SWOT analysis. By pairing each internal factor with an external factor, the following 4 dimensions are created:

  • Strength x Opportunity (SO): leverage on strengths to maximise opportunities
  • Weakness x Opportunity (WO): tap on available opportunities to overcome weaknesses
  • Strength x Threat (ST): leverage on strengths to mitigate threats.
  • Weakness x Threat (WT): understand how weaknesses can lead to new threats, and minimise weaknesses to reduce said threats

For beginners and newly formed start-ups, the SWOT and TOWS analyses serve as a starting point for founders to gain a deeper understanding of their company beyond its product(s) and value proposition(s). For experts and C-suite professionals, the SWOT analysis is typically ingrained in their perception of issues and is often used as a gateway to diving deeper into the TOWS analysis of specific aspects of the firm. 

Value Chain Analysis

Yet another concept by Porter, this method helps businesses analyse their internal firm activities. The model requires business owners and key personnel to look into the firm’s primary activities (i.e. ones that are essential in creating a competitive advantage for the company) and support activities (i.e. ones that make primary activities more effective). 

This framework can be used for the following purposes: 

  • Identifying competitive advantages on both cost and differentiation
  • Improving on the activities needed to deliver the value proposition
  • Comparing your business to competitors to understand strengths and weaknesses

With all these widely-recognised frameworks, figuring out your brand’s strategy might not be as challenging as having to figure out everything without guidance. However, a lack of understanding of these models may result in them merely being placeholders for an actual course of action. To maximise the benefits of employing business strategy frameworks, two types of knowledge are required:

  • A strong awareness of what each model is used for and how it should be utilised, which informs
  • A clear decision on which framework (or combination of frameworks) would best help your brand

Oftentimes, key stakeholders, C-suite professionals, and Heads of Strategy might not be up to date on the newest interpretation of these frameworks, and having a business degree or similar qualification from years ago might not be sufficient to equip you with the knowhow to navigate the problems your firm is facing. Hence the need for 3rd party input to apply the right frameworks to your company. 3rd parties such as brand consultants, who possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience, can help you navigate the challenges faced. The ideal brand consultant should be able to pick the right frameworks and customise them to your company's unique context. Additionally, consultants that have experience across different industries cross-pollinate ideas and prevent group-think from people who are deep in your industry.

Here at Binomial, we tailor our structured recommendations to your brand’s needs. With a wide range of complex methodologies and frameworks at our disposal, we are well equipped to craft a specialised plan that best helps you stay ahead of the curve.

Binomial is a strategy and brand consulting firm. We help companies be disruption-ready by combining entrepreneurial agility with execution excellence to stay ahead of the curve. Get in touch with us to find out more.

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