Harvard Business School Professor

L’Oreal Chair of Marketing, Oxford

(former)

I developed Cultural Branding Theory, in my first book How Brands Become Icons. I showed that businesses need to reject conventional branding for a new model if they aim to build the strongest brands.

Eight years later, drawing from dozens of consulting projects, I developed Cultural Strategy, a pioneering innovation model that has revolutionized business strategy.  

BUSINESSES ARE TRAPPED IN THE PRESENT

Cultural change generates extraordinary business opportunities and also vexing challenges. Incumbents get trapped in present-tense competitive battles and, so, are blindsided by these transformations that reconfigure their markets. Companies struggle to understand emerging opportunities until an agile entrepreneur beats them to it. Conventional strategy models ignore historical disruptions, and so they simply can’t help businesses navigate the future.

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EVEN BREAKTHROUGH TECH GETS STUCK 

Tech aims to disrupt categories, but often fails to even try, imitating the present instead. Celebrated start-ups struggle to establish profitable substantial businesses because they rely upon conventional marketing to take their innovations to market.  They spend wads of cash on “growth,” burning through hundreds of millions on generic branding and performance marketing that only creates ever-churning momentary customers. Tech companies don’t understand that they are actually in the business of cultural transformation. Breakthrough tech requires much more than great code. 

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CULTURAL STRATEGY: UNLOCKING THE FUTURE

Cultural Strategy is a systematic strategy framework that I’ve developed over the past two decades while I was a professor at Harvard and Oxford, grounded in extensive academic research and hundreds of consulting projects. Cultural Strategy is a new paradigm. It combines a new set of research methods, a new strategy model, and a new innovation playbook to execute strategy. I use Cultural Strategy to develop comprehensive detailed blueprints that companies used to build leadership positions in their categories. 

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PROFOUND RESULTS FOR COMPANIES WORLDWIDE 

I have built comprehensive strategies for hundreds of companies around the world. From global brands to tech start-ups, from social enterprises to NGOs. I lead every project, working intensively with each client. The results speak for themselves. I consistently deliver far more powerful, precise and actionable strategies than the big global strategy consultancies. Case Studies (hover to read):

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THE CULTURAL STRATEGY MODEL

2004: I introduced Cultural Branding Theory.

For years, I was frustrated by conventional brand strategy. The model that every big company uses (still to this day!) had nothing to do with how the world’s strongest brands are built. So, I conducted detailed historical analysis of a dozen iconic brands and built a radically new theory that explained how iconic brands are built and sustained.  I showed that the conventional marketing model is badly dysfunctional when it comes to building the world’s strongest brands.  How Brands Become Icons became a seminal bestseller, which has influenced companies around the world to embrace a new approach to branding. 

2010: I introduced the Cultural Strategy model.

The result of five years of trial-and-error in dozens of consulting projects, I transformed the theory into a practical strategy model. Cultural Strategy provides a detailed framework, supported by a suite of cultural analysis methods, that guides companies to become cultural leaders in their categories. Using this model, I am able to develop detailed transformative strategies in consulting engagements lasting only a few months. 

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2016: I showed that CULTURAL STRATEGY is ideal for social media.

Social media was supposed to lead to a golden age for brands.  The big brands would create lots of great real-time content that would pull in their fans.  Instead, I argue that the opposite happened—social media made conventional branding obsolete.  I show that social media has made Cultural Strategy even more powerful—the only strategy model that works for most consumer brands.

Douglas Holt

 

 

 

BRANDING IN THE

AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

 

 

 

REAKTOR BREAKPOINT

Helsinki, Finland

2020: I introduced CULTURAL INNOVATION. 

In recent years, I’ve worked on many innovation projects, especially for tech companies.  The cultural strategy model is particularly suited for guiding major innovation initiatives. I discuss cultural innovation in a recent Harvard Business Review article, and in my forthcoming book.

 
 

CLIENTS & SERVICES 

CULTURAL LEADERSHIP 

Many of my consulting assignments aim to help brands that are “stuck in the present.”  Clients come to me because their brands struggle to meet revenue and KPI objectives using the conventional marketing model.  Managers are frustrated because..

The business is trapped in a cycle of commoditization.

The brand has lost its cultural value and no amount of great creative or influencer spending helps.

Consumers don’t care about your “purpose.”

Social media strategies don’t work. 

Performance marketing, the new shiny object, just creates price-sensitive transactional customers.

 

I build strategies to transform these brands into cultural leaders of their categories.  USA, China, Europe, Latin America.

BUILD NEW TECH INTO ICONIC INNOVATIONS

Tech companies have a marketing problem.  Even the most brilliant tech and the best unicorns struggle to scale and turn a profit.  Companies struggle because they are  growth marketing methods: from generic branding to (so-called) performance marketing.  These methods badly dilute the potential innovation and fail to solve the market problems that keep business from scaling.  I apply Cultural Innovation to build great tech into powerful profitable brands that scale rapidly.

SOCIAL ENTERPRISE & CIVIL SOCIETY

NGOs and social enterprises that are working to create a positive social impact desperately need better strategy.  Cultural strategy is a perfect fit for world-changing organizations. We work extensively with these organizations. For small social enterprises and NGOs, we charge very low rates.  We also work pro bono on solutions to the climate crisis, such as the carbon tax strategy below. Tuba Üstüner (Harvard DBA) runs this practice with me.

NEW PRODUCTS

We sometimes find time to work on exciting new businesses making products that we love.

 
 

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CULTURAL STRATEGY UNIVERSITY.

I will be posting lots of content from my forthcoming book. Get it first!

speaking.

I’ve introduced Cultural Strategy to management audiences around the world.  I do a select number of speaking engagements every year.  If you’re interested, tell me about your event on the contact form.

 

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© 2020 by Douglas Holt, Cultural Strategy Group