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Is your brand swimming in a blue ocean or battling away in a sea of red?

By Wandile Cindi, New Business and Marketing Director at Eclipse Communication

Strategy is layered with great complexity, yet it needs to communicate the plan of action in the simplest form possible to drive the profitability of the brand or business.The world is full of great examples when it comes to strategy. From ancient military strategies to expand territories and empires, to modern-day political strategies to win votes from citizens and constituents; right down to our own career strategies, where we aim to one day be recognised as consummate professionals who have left a mark in our chosen industries.

More often than not, some of the most well-known strategists in history are military strategists – think Sun Tzu, Alexander the Great or Napoleon. Why is that? Strategy is often credited as a war on paper. It is about winning the war before commencing with the battle on the field and obliterating your arch-enemy.

In the world of brand communication, competitors are our arch-enemies and our strategies need to increase our share of voice, enhance brand equity and grow market share to drive profitability. Although this sounds simple enough, weaving in the golden thread in the development of brand communication strategies is layered with complexities.

As brand communication strategists, we get briefed on FMCG, pharmaceutical, financial services, fintech, ICT, fashion and beauty industries, to name but a few. Each industry has its own nuances, marketing communications regulations, style, tonality and aesthetics that need to be considered in strategy development.

Is there a set formula for developing a brand/marketing communication strategy? Absolutely, and industry professionals have and continue to follow templates from Kotler and Keller, amongst others, whilst customising them to make them unique to their way of thinking.

However, what sets strategists apart is how they think. I consider three things: is the brand in a red or blue ocean; what type of thinking is required for the brand opportunity or challenge; and what is the purpose of the brand beyond its product or service?

Red Ocean and Blue Ocean strategy

I was introduced to the Red Ocean and Blue Ocean strategy concept in 2014/15 as a social entrepreneur student at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).

Red Ocean is filled with competitors who are competing for market share, trying hard to differentiate themselves. This often involves a bloody price war to gain a competitive advantage and win the loyalty of customers.

In the case of Blue Ocean, there is an uncontested market space with fewer competitors and first-to-market products and services. This presents an opportunity to charge a premium, which customers will pay if the product or service meets their needs.

For a brand that is cruising nicely in the Blue Ocean, catching a tan and watching dolphins, the strategic positioning communicates a pioneering spirit and creates the perception that the brand is an innovator and game-changer.

A brand in the Red Ocean is fighting amongst sharks and needs to prove its worth to customers by highlighting points of difference, competing on price and in essence, spending more or finding innovative communication tactics to remain top of mind.

Types of thinking

Once there is a thorough understanding of what type of brand you are – be it a Red or Blue Ocean brand – the type of thinking required for the brand opportunity or challenge comes to the fore.

There are three types of thinking that we apply when developing a strategy. For existing clients that we are well versed in, we use design thinking, while, for new or complex industries, we use either critical thinking or systems thinking.

Design thinking

The needs of our existing clients tend to differ with each financial year in line with their business imperatives. As an incumbent agency with a great understanding of their brand, we see ourselves as an extension of their marketing and communications team. We apply design thinking to understand the opportunities or challenges for that particular period. In our design thinking, we rely on ideation to design creative communication interventions that can be tested with clients and improved on before going to market.

Critical thinking and systems thinking

We use one or the other for new business strategy pitches when we are working on a communications strategy for the brand for the first time. Our job is to apply a step-by-step analysis of the industry, competitors and the brand to ascertain a strategic positioning and integrated brand communications that address the brief. We do so to provide logical solutions to a complex communication problem or opportunity that is often associated with a new industry or brand.


Once we have applied our thinking to solving the complexity of any new brand brief, be it for an existing client or a new business opportunity, we ask ourselves – what is the purpose of the brand?

During this process, we delve into three things. What societal issues does the brand address and how does this connect to customers? How do the brand’s products address these issues? Is there a way that we can create an emotional connection between the brand and its customers in our communications strategy?

It is this type of thought process to strategy development that enables our Blue Ocean clients to continue sailing uncontested as market leaders; or our Red Ocean clients, to obliterate their competitors by increasing their share of voice, enhancing brand equity and growing market share to drive profitability.

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