The 6 types of product & service strategy

Recently I’ve seen a lot of posts on the bluebird that dance around product strategy. I’ve been debating what that phrase means, both in my replies and in my own mind. 

Anyone with deep experience building digital products or services knows that feeling. 🙂 

There are, in fact, multiple types of strategy that directly impact product & service design decisions, especially in medium-to-large corporations. In my career as a design strategist, I’ve seen the lines blur between six types of strategy that affect product decisions and workstreams: business, brand, marketing, sales, product and systems (architecture) strategy. Rarely is systems architecture mentioned in the same breath as product strategy, and yet it is the structural foundation on which all other strategies are built.

Here’s an attempt at differentiating these 6 strategy types, with an explanation of their purpose and function, their scope of visibility, and how they may get conflated or entangled.

This is a work in progress.

Business strategy

Why the business exists. The vision of what goods & svcs we provide to the world, who we provide it for, and what we shall become in the future, within a given biz domain(s) or industry segment(s). Who we compete against, directly or indirectly, why we compete in that segment, how we gain and maintain advantage to maximize saturation within an industry segment. How business success is measured. Beholden to major shareholders &/or The Board.

May get entangled with all other strategy types.

Brand strategy

Who we are as a company. Our values, behaviors, stories and personality that we wish consumers & influencers to identify with our company and all its products and services. How & why we differentiate our brand and portfolio from direct and indirect competitors. 

Brand identity is generally defined by two aspects:

1. Its intrinsic qualities. Core identity, ethos, behavior and mission. The personification of the company’s founding goals and principles, business practices, trademarks and material impacts in and on society and the world. Often intertwined with the founder’s identity, legend and legacy.

2. Its public image. The brand’s projected personality, carefully cultivated by PR, marketing and charitable programs. Behavioral norms across all customer touchpoint interactions and in society at large. Its aesthetic qualities, its voice & tone in visual imagery and verbal communications, product and service aesthetics, brand design systems and all other promotional efforts.

May get entangled with marketing strategy, or product/service strategy.

Marketing strategy

How we deliver our message to the world. What message & value prop of the company and its products/services are delivered to which specific target audiences. Spans all preferred channels and forms of communication and promotion.

May get entangled with sales strategy.

Sales strategy

How we compete in our industry segment(s), how we gain and maintain advantage to maximize market penetration & saturation. How we find, engage and convert prospective customers, how we keep existing customers engaged, and how we get them to spend more. 

May get entangled with all of the above.

Product or service strategy

What & how we produce, why we produce it in our particular way. How we make sense of customer needs. The tangible substance of the things we provide to the world, the vision of what those things shall be, and the ways in which we deliver what we provide to customers. High level (long term) and detailed (short term) action plans for defining, designing, validating, building, deploying, and ultimately delivering the goods.

May get entangled with all of the above.

Systems-architecture strategy

Systems Architecture is a shared vision of the internal situated landscape of products, services and all the enabling technologies in the offering or portfolio of offerings. Core concepts & integrative structures which establish & maintain conceptual integrity, internal consistency, fitness and clarity of purpose, stability, robustness, extensibility etc. All the deep attributes that comprise product or system quality. Defined collaboratively by product team (interdiscipline) practice leads & select SMEs. What is required is nothing less than holistic systems thinking, shared by the product leadership culture.

Architecture is not just another facet of functional specification. It is the specification that defines and constrains what all other technology teams can construct and deliver.

Audience: the team itself, adjacent teams and future contributors.
A systems architecture holds little meaning outside the team or the community of practice.

Does not get entangled with other strategies… even when it should!

Calling this 6th type of product strategy ‘systems architecture strategy” is a mouthful, and not quite right. It could instead be something like capability strategy, or just product architecture strategy. I’ll give that more thought.

Whatever we call this category, product architecture is not just another facet of functional specification. it is not just a chassis on which we place a motor. It is the structure and specification that defines and constrains what all other technology teams are able to effectively construct and deliver. It is the bedrock of product development.

And because it is literally the structural foundation on which all the other aspects of product or service strategy and execution rest, all other aspects of a company’s technology strategy *must* conform to its philosophy and its physics.

Any strategy that violates the foundational physics of the system will inevitably crumble. For it to succeed, it would have to trigger a costly architectural restructuring – or perpetrate a fraud on its customers. It is demoralizing to admit how often that happens.

These facts are obvious to anyone who actually knows how software functions. Sadly, that’s a frighteningly small percentage of people building, managing and selling software today.


When I say systems architecture, I don’t just mean technical architecture (specific platform or project technology choices) or functional schematics… although those are all vital signs of a clear, strong engineering perspective. A true systems architecture encompasses all the direct and indirect, literal and figurative moving parts AND how they integrate into a coherent, well-functioning whole, across the portfolio of offerings.  Factional politics and unaccountably misaligned technology projects are toxic to a true systems architecture.

Systems architecture strategy also spans many functional areas, operations, disciplines, and system attributes: Multi-touchpoint workflows, user experience arch, software arch, content & database archs, technology usage & philosophy, platforms & other infrastructure, middleware components, API architecture integrating disparate systems (legacy systems, FOSS, Google/AWS, etc.), holistic performance specs, and so on.

A true systems architecture takes into account anything and everything that interoperates across the front end, middle tier, external services, backend, data systems to form the functional and experienced whole of the products, services and solutions.

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