What Are You Selling Us?

Alan Maites

(And why should we care?)

I know it’s been a long time, but I hear college is still a time for exploration. Not just to “find yourself” or “experiment” but to realize what it is you might want to do with your life. And the hope is to do it without succumbing to external pressures. To this end, if you can make the decision on your own, you’ll likely be happier than if you follow the suggestions of others.

Likewise, understanding what you like to do and what you do well can help guide your direction and goals in life.

The same should apply to businesses, large or small.

It’s easy for a business that produces, say, athletic apparel to define themselves as a sporting goods business. But is that enough? And would we accept that behavior if it were us? If we were being defined by what we do rather than who we are?

To this point, it’s no wonder Nike had a 46.9% market share in 2010. Of all sporting good brands, they’re the one with an identity. Nike isn’t just about selling shoes and sports jerseys, but that they urge people to go for it, no matter what it is you want to do. They’re about motivating people to be active. That’s what they stand for. What does Reebok stand for? Adidas? New Balance?

In the same vein, Oprah was not merely about daytime television, but rather, self-reflection, self-improvement. People knew what to expect when they watched Oprah, they knew she had a purpose beyond the guests trotting onto her stage; this fact helped her separate from the competition even when other talk shows, like Donahue, were king.

Tower Records is a prime example of a company failing because they didn’t know who they were. For years, Tower Records was one of the leading music retailer in the nation, trumped only by Virgin Records (which, three years after Tower’s demise, also became extinct in North America).

Tower Records were under the impression they were in the CD selling business. That we came to their stores to buy CDs. But did we really? We were really interested in collecting thin plastic casings? No, we bought CDs because it was the form music took. Tower Records sold music, but because they were fixated on CDs, they died when the popularity of CDs eroded. Sure, they also stocked clothing, books, and DVDs, but those items were peripheral, merely side dishes to the entrée. Tower Records, like Virgin Megastores, lived and died by their CD sales.

Like people, who are driven by goals and ambitions that typically extend beyond their toils, businesses should stand for something more than what they produce. It will help set the direction of the business and in turn, help sell the brand to consumers, whether that be an athletic clothing line, music retailer, or a yarn store.

As Charles Revson of Revlon once said, “In the factory, we make cosmetics. In the store, we sell hope.”

Alan Maites President, Robinson & Maites
Copyright 2011 Author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.


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