Are You Sure You Are in the Business You Think You

People are not always in the business they think they are. A tights manufacturer might consider that they are in hosiery. Yet women don't buy hosiery. They buy allure. And allure is a much more valuable market. In one sense the difference is semantic. In another it's dollars.

Kodak thought it was in the paper processing business and diversified into cigarette papers. While it seemed not a bad move at the time it was made, the philosophy, attitudes, and priorities that went with it led Kodak to miss the chance of going into digital cameras. If only they'd realized their real business was information storage.

If, for example, you are writing a program to design forms, think for a moment. Which would an international corporation be willing to pay more for, a program that simply prints forms, or a program that gives them outgoing communications control of their empire? The first definition restricts usage to forms. The second makes possible central control of corporate policy documents, map directions, training courses, instruction manuals, and more.

Your product may be significantly more valuable than you ever conceived it to be. By the time consumers realize its possibilities, some competitor may already be working on a more cleverly positioned rival. Don't give them the pearl in your oyster. Listen carefully to what colleagues and contacts suggest. Ask program testers openly and early on if they can think of any other use for your product. Organize that brainstorming session to see if your team can place you in a smarter position. It could transform your entire strategy and future.

Firms that don't know what business they are in will flounder. Coca-Cola sales only skyrocketed when someone realized that a pick me up can be more than a health drink. Similarly, AT&T isn't about telephones; it's about communication. The definition that centers on the physical product usually misses the point. People don't buy products; they buy benefits. Good definitions are inspiring, incited, and open vistas. Firms that define their business incisively rarely fail. So if you think you're only in the IT business, think again. You are also in your customer's and your potential customer's business.

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