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What business are you really in?

It’s not a new question but it’s an important one to ask. Theodore Levitt wrote an article for Harvard Business Review in 1960 entitled “Marketing Myopia”, where he encouraged businesses to switch their focus from selling to meeting customer needs. He asked an important question to the railroad industry: What business are you really in? Railroads or transportation?

The question requires you to think about your bigger purpose, that of serving the needs of your customers. For a publisher that means forgetting about the media of newspaper or magazines, and thinking about how do my customers want to consume my content, which has quickly migrated online and now to mobile handheld devices.

What does that mean for small business? Are you a coffee shop or time-out business? Are you an accountant or in the business of building personal wealth? Are you a builder or do you make people’s dreams a reality?

I’d like to take it a step further. The ‘service’ you offer, whether it’s cutting someone’s hair, doing their tax or making widgets are really the operations of your business. The reality is, no matter what ‘business’ you’re in, you’re actually in the marketing business.

John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, defines marketing as “Getting a person with a specific need or problem to know, like and trust you”.

When you look at your business in this way, it can change your whole approach to business. Instead of viewing marketing as an add-on that only happens when sales are down, it becomes an all-encompassing outlook that informs every activity of your business. Marketing ceases to be about sales but delivering an exceptional overall customer experience.

For a great example look at Zappos.com. They started as an online ‘shoe’ store that has expanded to include over 1,000 shoe and clothing brands. However they actually view themselves as a ‘customer service business’ that happens to sell shoes and clothing. This approach has taken them from start-up in 1999, to $1 Billion in sales in 2009.

For some excellent small business examples closer to home look at Vivo Café (www.vivocafe.com.au), Brasserie Bread (www.brasseriebread.com.au) and Mumu Grill (www.mumugrill.com.au). They may sell coffee, artisan bread and sustainable steaks but marketing is at the core of their business. They understand the importance of building trust with customers and prospects alike, and they have evolved their core service offering to deliver a WOW customer experience.

What business are you really in? How would you approach your business differently as a ‘marketing business’?

What do you think?

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Joel Norton

Joel Norton

Joel is Chief Strategy Officer of <a href="http://Boosthq.com.au">Boost Marketing</a>, a specialist small business marketing consultancy. He is an accomplished marketing professional with 22 years experience, and is passionate about delivering strategic, practical marketing solutions that help small business to be more profitable. Joel is also a sought after speaker on the elements of small business marketing. You can follow Joel on twitter <a href="http://www.twitter.com/boosthq">@BoostHQ</a>

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