Understanding what is meant by a strategy being stuck in the middle
A ‘stuck in the middle’ strategy is one without a focus, unable to compete successfully on any dimension because it tries to prioritize everything. A classic example is trying to compete at a premium price point while also trying to be a cost-leader. There are inherent differences in how firms in the two areas often compete, and thus trying to compete across areas may make the firm less effective in either area than a company that has a clear strategy and knows where it is competing.
Indicators of being stuck in the middle
Some common indicators of having a strategy that is stuck in the middle include:
Not able to prioritize
A firm that is stuck in the middle may have a hard time prioritizing. The strategy is so broad that it includes everything, with little indication of what the main objectives are. If a company faces a tradeoff, there may be limited guidance in the strategy for which aspect to concentrate on.
No clear direction for how you will compete
A connected indication of being stuck in the middle is that there is no clearly defined direction within the company for how to compete. Employees may each have different views over what the firm stands for. Top management likewise may not share the same vision, instead each having their own take for what the strategy of the firm is.
Trying to be everything to everyone
The next indication that the firm may be stuck in the middle is if the company has the explicit objective of trying to appeal to everyone. This is sometimes seen as a good thing – why narrow our base on a particular audience when we can target everyone. The problem comes that in attempting to target everyone, you end up prioritizing no one. It is rare that all of your customers will have the same needs, and trying to please everyone may mean you don’t live up to satisfying any particular market segment.
Not being competitive relative to more focused firms
A final indication of being stuck in the middle is when a company is outperformed by companies with a more clearly defined focus. Being outcompeted by more focused firms is a clear illustration of the weakness of having a very general strategy – that is, being stuck in the middle.