Brand vision and the dangers of losing sight of the big picture.

What business is your brand actually in?

This may sound like examining the obvious, but it is an important question. It is often enticing to focus upon the detail of the service or product you are currently delivering and missing the wider offer. For example, a business manufacturing lights for cars might easily define themselves as being in the car light business. But this may be a narrow vision and may limit their strategic brand ambitions. Standing back and assessing their core competencies, connections and distribution channels may point to the fact that they are actually in the automobile electrics business or the lighting business in general. Taking that sort of standpoint may free up aspirations or critically, disclose opportunities.

We see some oil companies reassessing their business in the light of ecological, social and reserves issues. They recognise that they are actually in the energy business.

History is littered with organisations who could not take a more global view and were caught out when social changes or technological advances threatened their business niches. Paradoxically, it is often successful companies who fail to make this assessment because they are too busy exploiting the rich seam they have found. A recent example is Kodak who made the mistake of believing they were in the film business. They were not blind to digital photography, in fact they developed on of the first digital cameras. Their business as they saw it was ‘film’. Digital was seen as disruptive innovation and ‘not their business’. Had Kodak taken the view that they were in the ‘imaging’ business they may have been less short-sighted.

Restaurants are not in the food business but the hospitality business. Rail companies are not in the railway business but the transportation business. It may seem like semantics but it is important to not limiting the brand view.

I often see this issue at a fundamental level when advising small businesses on branding. It usually first arises when considering brand names. Someone making teapots in Bradford may logically choose the name ‘Bradford Teapots’. All well and good, but what if public taste swings heavily to coffee? What if new product developments make teapots obsolete? What if he has to re-locate from Bradford? These questions are not about the name, but about what business he is actually in – is it the teapot business, the tableware business, the tea and beverage industry, the pottery business or the housewares business? What competencies and values does the brand have and how widely are they transferable?

So I would suggest that all brand owners stand back, look at their brand, its positioning, competitors and values, and ask – ‘What business are we actually in?’ It may not be such a silly question after all.

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