What Business Are You REALLY In?

What Business Are You REALLY InWhen I ask my students what business are you really in I get blank stares or descriptions of their product, service or offer. That's okay. It's a trick question.

When I'm consulting clients on their brand foundation, this is the place we start. 

The feedback that I get afterward suggests that it's one of the most impactful aspects of my branding workshop. Why?

The answer is rarely what you think.

The common trap for business owners is to become attached to what they are selling - the product or the service. It's the easy answer. If you own a carpet cleaning company, it seems obvious to tell people that you clean carpets. This is thinking small, short-term, and doesn't incorporate strategy. It also makes it more difficult to develop your brand messaging. I'm going to explain the reasons why you want to think bigger when it comes to what business you are really in and then give you some examples of big brands who understand what they are truly selling.

Don't Be a Commodity

When a company thinks small it can put their operation in danger of becoming a commodity. Society has never moved as fast as it's moving right now. The dot-com era is a good example of technology outpacing demand. Think about the newspaper industry, the publishing industry, and the music industry - things are moving quickly and if you don't change and adapt you'll be left behind. Blockbuster is a good example because they didn't diversify when the industry changed. They double-downed on the VHS and DVD rental market only to watch interest in that dissipate as technology advanced. Connecting your brand to a product or service puts you in danger of becoming a commodity when your industry changes.

Having a Long-Term Vision

If your business currently sells something that may someday become a commodity, that doesn't mean you will fail. Many brands have learned to pay attention, early adopt and adapt to industry trends. Where businesses drop the ball is by not having a long-term vision for where they want to go and who they want to be. The question of where you want to be in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years is not just about the tactical aspects of your work or your goals - it's also about where you want to be within your own industry. What is the long-term vision for your brand? How do you want to influence your industry? What do you want your reputation to be in a decade? How will you be serving your audience? Notice that the answer to any of these questions shouldn't be 'I will still be cleaning carpets." The answers should be about impact, influence, and growth.

Reverse Engineering

Before we dive into examples of companies who know what business they are really in, I encourage you to reverse engineer your thought process when it comes to how you serve your customers or clients. After you have delivered on your promise or project, how do you want your customer to feel? Understanding the answer to this question will not only get you closer to discovering what you really sell, it should also inspire you to look at your process to make sure that each person that interacts with your brand has the appropriate emotional response. It's about value, yes, but it's also about branding. This is the best way to influence people to experience the emotional reaction you want them to have regarding your brand.

Brands Doing It Right

Still confused about what business you are really in? Here are examples of household names that understand what they are truly selling to their audience.

Nike: At face value, Nike is about selling shoes. However, that isn't all that Nike does and for good reason. The potential expands when they approach their business from the stance of inspiring the athlete in everyone. Do you see how that turns a possible commodity business into something bigger? Even if sneakers go out of style, there will always be athletes and those athletes will respond to the right inspiration.

Apple: If Apple had chosen to simply be a computer company, many of the innovative products we use today would never have been created. Would a computer company create the iPod or the iPhone? Since Apple's brand has always been about challenging the status quo and being the rebels of the tech industry, innovation outside of computers and tablets is possible. 

Red BullIf Red Bull stayed in the energy drink lane, they would not be nearly as well known as they are today. Red Bull gives you wings, but not just because you drink their product. Red Bull encourages people to live life to the extreme. They are actively involved in different sporting and outdoor endeavors including air races, race car driving and even music. In fact, if you visit their website - you will find content on extreme sports and living an active lifestyle - not advertising their energy drink. They are building an experience for their audience. 

McDonalds: Probably the most fascinating example of long-term vision is the world's largest fast-food chain. While no one can argue that McD's knows what it is doing when it comes to fast food, if you explore the company's business model you'll uncover a brilliant strategy that isn't obvious to their customers. McDonald's is actually a $30 billion real estate company. Read this article if you are curious about the business Ronald McDonald is really in.

After reading this, let me ask you again, what business are you REALLY in? Are you currently a commodity or are you creating an experience for your audience that ties into a long-term vision for your company? The real value of what you offer is SO much bigger than providing a product or service. If you are struggling to determine the answer to this extremely important question, you probably have some brand clarity and brand foundation work you need to do. I've built a roadmap for building your brand. Send me a message and let's talk about how you can get started.

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