Most of us never think about the strategy a company has, we just know whether it appeals to us or not. But it’s not hard to identify what a given business’s strategy is. Consider the McDonald’s strategy.

Their goal is to sell fast food to make money, but their strategy is clear. It says, “We are going to be absolutely consistent. No matter which McDonald’s you go into, you’ll get exactly the same Big Mac, McNuggets, or fries every time, the pricing is going to be extremely competitive, and it’s going to be convenient: You can drive right up, 24-hour-a-day, to locations off any major interstate.”Can you guess what the Ruth’s Chris Steak House strategy is? “Your steak is going to be exceptional in every case, and you’ll get a baked potato that’s as big as your forearm; it’s going to look great, it’s going to be huge, and you’re absolutely going to pay for it.”

Chances are, you’re going to have to look them up to find out where the nearest location is. The Ruth’s Chris customer is somebody who wants to be served, to be waited on, and to enjoy their meal more than they want convenience.

What about the strategy of the chain of women’s clothing stores, Chico’s? “We’re going to make the middle-aged woman feel young and stylish, and we’re not going to be distracted by other stuff.” Chico’s clothes come in sizes O, 1, and 2 to appeal to women who’ve gone from a size 8 in their youth to a 12 in middle age. They’re not trying to compete with JC Penney or Target, and the footprint for their store, consequently, isn’t nearly as big.

If I asked someone at the lowest level of your organization who the company is built to serve, would they give the same answer as you?

Ask any homeowner what the difference is between the strategies of Lowe’s and Home Depot. They have similar offerings, but at Lowe’s you will easily find someone to help you. At Home Depot, you’re going to be lucky to find somebody who knows how a product works. Home Depot’s strategy says, “We’re going to have what you want at the best price.” Lowe’s says, “Come on in. We’ll help you with your home improvement project.”

You can even watch how companies change their strategies over the years. For a long time, the industry joked that Best Buy was really Best Try.

Consumers would go online to learn about big screen TVs and decide which one they wanted. They’d go to Best Buy to see if they liked it. Then they would go back online to buy it from someone else for the cheapest price. It was the place to go and see what you could buy so you feel comfortable with it.

Now, based on my own experiences, Best Buy’s sales people are much more friendly and trained to help you make a decision. I don’t know how much better their results are today, but you can clearly see in local stores that they’re doing something different. Their strategy might be: “If they enter our store, we will do everything we can to help them make a wise choice while they’re here, because if they leave they’re going to buy it somewhere else.”

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A version of this post originally appeared on and was written by Ed Eppley, Aileron Facilitator of the Course for Presidents.

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