What Business Are You In?

by Infinity Concepts | Dec 14, 2018 | Branding

By: Guest Blogger, Mark Thomas, Managing Director & Executive Producer, CULTIVATE MEDIA*

If you meet with the CEO of any successful organization, you’ll no doubt find the best salesman in the whole company. They have to be. If they can’t believe in what they’re doing, then how can they expect anyone else to? Staff, vendors, and customers will all have difficulty buying in to what’s being sold if the CEO can’t sell them.

Whether you’re the CEO of your organization, serving on a leadership team, or someone who’s in-charge of communications, to be successful one must adopt the mantra of “ABS” — meaning Always Be Selling.

EXCEPT, there is a problem…

We don’t actually “sell” anything… People “buy” things.

For example: If you were to show me the new car you just acquired, I doubt you would say, “hey, let me show you the new car this guy sold me.” In fact, you’d probably say just the opposite, something like: “hey, let me show you the new car I just bought.” Does that sound more accurate? I think so, and that’s where visioning should start.

Let’s say you can have a vision for something like being the King of the World. However, it would be doubtful that you could sell that vision unless you could prove in a very compelling way how the value of that proposition would benefit your target audience (buyers).

For some, in starving nations, oppressed by evil regimes, you might make a sale. So, in that case, you wouldn’t be the King of the World, but you might be able to rule a few smaller lands, where you would be seen as a solution to their problem, which in-turn lets you accomplish your vision.

I am big on backwards problem solving. What does that mean? Let’s look at it: Forward: We need to have 3,000 new customers this year. Backwards: Year this customers new 3,000 have to need we.

While the grammar certainly doesn’t meet the satisfaction of most English scholars, the formula holds up. Meaning, if you’d like 3,000 new customers, they have to NEED what YOU ARE SELLING.

Which leads me to this question posed at the start of this article: What business are you in? Sometimes the answer is not as obvious as it appears. Let’s do the following exercise:

What business do you think Starbucks is in?

Whenever we do this exercise, most people answer: the coffee business. That makes sense, they sell coffee, but that’s not the business they are in and it’s not what people are actually buying. Let’s think about what people are really buying…

Starbucks is in the “third destination” business. Their thinking is this: Most everyone needs three destinations in their life, which are:

  1. A place to live
  2. A place to work
  3. A place to unwind

Believing that, they aspire to fulfill the third need. That’s why there are couches, Wi-Fi, music, board games etc. If it’s your hangout and you stay awhile, by default you’ll spend more money.

What business do you think McDonald’s is in?

After the Starbuck perspective, you’re probably not going to answer “hamburgers”, so good for you! A lot of people respond with “real estate” and that certainly makes sense, because they do own a lot of it, however they “buy to build” (rarely to sell). So, what are you buying from McDonalds?

McDonald’s is in the toy business. If you have kids, you will relate. When our kids were little, if we asked where they wanted to go to eat, Mickey D’s was the number one answer. What did they want? The Happy Meal… and why a Happy Meal … the TOY!

The fervent belief about McDonald’s is that they are a place for the whole family. But McDonald’s knows if they can connect to the kids (and they were connecting way before social media was ever even thought of) they can win the parents. When that happens, they did not just win a battle; they won the whole war.

Not one of McDonald’s competitors has managed to connect with kids and even tweens the way they have. And, who do you think is happier about that? Your children, or the financial people at McDonalds? Candidly, both were/are. It’s a win/win for the kids and the company.

We all love to see our kids happy, so the whole thing actually does work as intended: to varying degrees, everyone is happy. And speaking of happy, one more question from corporate land:

What business do you think Coca-Cola is in? Coca-Cola makes and sells soda, but that’s not the business they’re in. That is only part of what you are buying. Coca-Cola is in the happiness businessand they have been for decades.

From “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” to “Have a Coke and a Smile” to other campaigns, one of which was literally called, “Happiness”, they have been associating what they sell (soft drinks) with the actual business they’re in, Happiness.

To recap:

Starbucks sells all kinds of coffee, but is in the third destination business.

McDonalds sells Hamburgers, buys real estate, but is in the toy business.

Coca-Cola sells soft drinks of all kinds, but is in the happiness business.

All of these companies are in the need business way more than the want business (and yes, your kids actually need the toys in the happy meal… just ask them!)

This leads us to this: What business is your organization in?

At first, that might seem tough to figure out, so for us, the light went on when we came to this understanding: What we do isn’t necessarily who we are.

In our particular field (advertising) we arrived at this: “Though we make ads, we’re really, in a certain kind of way and at least in part, in the assurance/insurance business.” Meaning when a client gives us an assignment, they place their trust in us, and we essentially guarantee the work, so that’s tantamount to assurance/insurance.

Once we clearly understood that, we started shifting focus to make sure that everyone who works with and for us, made that forefront in their thinking, so we make certain we never take that trust for granted, and value it at all times. For all of us, figuring out what business we’re truly in should lead to both a new perspective and a more effective path for growth.

If, you are in ministry, your answer to the question above might be something like “win the lost” or “see a huge harvest of souls saved”. While you certainly believe that you are here to do those things — may I gently and respectfully submit that’s not the business you’re in? And here’s something to mull over: Neither was Jesus.

What? What in the world are you talking about? (I hear many of you saying that…don’t worry, hang in there and see if this makes sense in a bit?)

Let’s examine what Jesus did when He was on the earth and see if there’s a model there worth embracing.

First off, who was His competition? I can hear you saying, “He didn’t have any”, or some of you might say, “Well, John the Baptist was, but he acquiesced as soon as Jesus began His ministry” and while I understand those observations, His real competition was the same as yours today:

He was competing for people’s time, trust, and commitment.

To do that, He had to win their hearts.

Sure, the religious leaders were offering services at the temple – but they weren’t the primary competition, and He knew it. It’s clear to me that Jesus knew the following:

  • He knew whom He was competing with.
  • He knew what His vision was.
  • He knew what His mission/plan was.

Apparently, He knew a lot and He knew His purpose (where do you think the term “man on a mission came from?) But, fundamentally He knew what business He was in. He was in the heart business…

Don’t just think about what you are selling – consider what your customers – or donors – are buying.

For all of us, figuring out what business we’re truly in should lead to both a new perspective and a more effective path for growth.

*GUEST BLOGGER: Mark Thomas, Managing Director & Executive Producer, CULTIVATE MEDIA

Mark Thomas is one of the most sought-after Executive Producers in the commercial production industry. Regarded as someone with a keen eye for talent, he has earned the trust of directors and advertising agencies from around the world. Though the years, Mark has remained focused on garnering strong, simple concepts, pairing them with exceptional directorial talent, and shepherding the process of creating famous work. Along the way, he has won virtually every award in advertising (well over forty to date), including Cannes Lions, Clio’s, AICP/MOMA, Addy’s, Monitor’s, Hugo’s etc.

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