What Business Are You Really In?

Every business starts with a proposal to deliver certain products or services to those would be their customers.  The business model encompasses operations processes,  sales distribution and early stage marketing messages.  But over time,  the business owner or marketing team must achieve a more sophisticated knowledge of target customers and use that understanding to advance from exclusively dwelling on the functional aspects of items sold and the obvious benefits.

Successful products or services become  “brands”  by marketing the intangible essence that is associated with what they sell.  Brands connect with an unspoken motive of the customer and promote reputation,  image and aspirations.  Luxury brands like Neiman Marcus,  Chanel and Jaguar sell the image of wealth and status.  Nike sells the image of the focused,  independent,  athletic ideal self.  Puma,  another athletic shoe company,  avoids the athletic angle and sells urban cool along with their sneakers and other apparel.  Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt  (1925 – 2006)  described this phenomenon and its implications in  “Marketing Myopia” ,  his seminal article that in 1960 appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Brands rise above being mere purveyors of products and services,  otherwise known as commodities.   Getting a handle on the  “je ne sais quoi”  unspoken  mission of your products or services as perceived by customers is the only way to achieve break-out success.  Delivering high-quality products and services via the optimal business model is how to build a following and earn a good reputation.  Being known as trustworthy and dependable are integral elements of building a brand.  But it is only the beginning.  Consider this: a film studio does not function to merely make and promote movies.  A film studio’s real business is entertainment.

So let’s figure out how to learn what business you are really in.  Why not start by teasing out the motives for doing business with you rather than a competitor?  Were you lucky or well-connected enough to persuade a powerful person to do business with you?  Does the coolest kid in class wear the clothing you sell?  The recommendations of thought leaders and other trusted sources are worth their weight in gold.  If a VIP gives you an assignment,  others will want to emulate that VIP and do business with you,  too.  Overwhelmingly,  people are followers and want to be seen where the  “in” crowd goes.

Keep that tendency in mind as you peel back another layer and decode the self-identity of your target customer and the image that your archetypal customer wants to project.  Get your arms around the social or professional impact of your products or services.  Who do your customers aspire to be,  whom do they emulate or identify with?  What is the underlying purpose of your product or service?

When you can decipher and describe the above,  you will discover the business you are really in.   Apply that knowledge and create marketing messages that resonate;  advertising choices that deliver the desired ROI;  design product packaging that customers respond to;  institute a pricing strategy that reflects the perceived value of your products and services;  and write a tag line that reflects the self-image,  aspirations and/or unspoken motives of your archetypal customers.

FYI here is a 1975 version of Theodore Levitt’s classic article  “Marketing Myopia”  http://www.sitesuite.com.au/files/marketingmyopia.pdf

Thanks for reading,



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