ISIL: Branding, Leadership Culture and Lethal Attraction

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Project Details


Drawing from a team with diverse academic expertise, this study examines ISIL from the organizational strategy literature, organizational psychology literature, and marketing/branding literature using unclassified primary and secondary sources.A two-part framework was applied to provide the organizational profile of ISIL. First, an industry analysis was conducted with first-level affiliated groups of al-Qa’ida Central (AQC). Specifically, a Porter’s Five Forces framework was applied to evaluate potential opportunities and threats to global jihadist violent extremist organizations (VEOs). This “industry analysis” provided an outline of relevant pressures in the global jihad “industry” as well as salient opportunities and threats.

Second, researchers conducted an internal strategic analysis of ISIL to identify what resources and capabilities ISIL controls (either internally or through strategic alliances) to develop and deliver its services to sympathizers and current members. The project's specific report focused on the human and organizational resources and capabilities leveraged by ISIL, rather than surveying the population they try to influence.

Finally, researchers conducted a VRIO (Value, Rare, Imitable, Organization) analysis2 to evaluate the competitive implications of the resources and capabilities controlled by ISIL, specifically, the likelihood of ISIL.

Primary Findings:

Using an internal strategic organizational analysis, the study found support for the hypothesis that ISIL is a durable movement in the geographic region it currently controls. There are three strategic resources and capabilities that the study posits will allow ISIL to become a durable movement: (1) unique leadership style and structure, (2) state-of-the-art cyber usage, and (3) organizational legitimacy in an unstable region.

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This project employed a historiometric methodology in order to evaluate the strategic and comparative threat posed by ISIL. Following the steps described by Ligon and colleagues,6 we defined the sample that would provide the best comparative attributes to evaluate the Islamic State within the larger framework of global jihadists. After identifying the sample, we gathered data from primary and secondary sources, evaluated the organizations in our sample using the LEADIR (Leadership of the Extreme and Dangerous for Innovative Results; DHS S&T funded START CSTAB 1.12 project) content coding scheme, indices of technical capabilities and sophistication, and the Porter’s Five Forces framework.7 Finally we conducted analyses to identify organizational attributes and resources that differentiate ISIL from other competing organizations with the global jihad industry and may contribute to the continued threat posed by this organization.


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