There are articles all over the place and books overloading shelves in the business section of the stores having to do with strategies and branding. One of the theories that I find appealing is that, when it comes to strategies and visions and missions, it’s important to leave your products or services out of these guiding statements altogether. A company that determines its goodness or place in the lives of its Customers based simply on what they produce or do is missing a bigger piece of the puzzle: Why a Customer should care in the first place.
It has repercussions on the ground: If you make men’s shoes, that’s great. But your brand and your vision should likely be more than simply, “we make good/great shoes.” One reason for this is if the maker of “good/great shoes” were to go out of business tomorrow, a competitor would simply come in and buy up whatever is left of value—be it the supply chain, the raw materials, the cobblers (or elves?), the brand logo—and run on with whatever they’d been doing all along regardless of any greater purpose the recently out-of-business company may have had. In short, the erstwhile shoe maker wouldn’t be missed.
It’s the non-product (or service) based sort of vision or purpose that leads brands like Apple to make phones instead of churning out ever-less-inspiring computers. (Of course, Apple churns out ever-more-inspiring computers, but that’s also based on being…well, not simply a computer company.) For Apple, the experience is the product, and that approach means they’re not bound by manufacturing things. And the things they do manufacture have resonance and, in a sense, a shared personality. There’s no reason not to believe they may make washing machines someday. And they’d be awesome washing machines integrated into their ecosystem of their other products that everybody wants and loves.
I was reflecting on this principle recently as it pertains to the turmoil this spring brought. While it’s understandable to become comfortable in our own processes that make up our companies’ daily life during normal times, it’s when everything’s thrown up into the air and nothing seems right anymore that we come to find how inadequate our systems really are. Whether it’s state, local, or federal government structures or business services or products, this episode has given all of us opportunities to see how “the way we do things” doesn’t always live up to what’s needed when times are hard or when circumstances require something more or different. You may have experienced it yourself personally, or perhaps saw it from afar or even read or heard about it…but 2020 has been an eye-opening experience for many who’ve been used to things operating smoothly in non-panic mode.
When we keep our heads down and follow our own processes and tick our usual day-to-day boxes, we can become very proficient and even realize some great efficiencies. Turning the crank and making the same thing happen every day is great for widget-making and even lots of types of reliable service offerings. It’s often understood that that sort of reliability goes a long way to promote good CX. That can be true to an extent. But when things change, how well suited are we to dynamically changing what we offer? This is where I think that strategic theory comes in: If we create, say, widgets, we can do that all day and night. We can commoditize them and churn them out exactly the same one right after the next, ad infinitum. But if we create solutions for our Customers (surely in the shape today of widgets, but with the purpose of them being solutions), it can be much easier to pivot to creating other things (or even to start providing services instead) to reach those ends.
One of the things we preach in Process Engineering (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.) is that “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not the right answer. That’s a good rallying cry for those in Change Management or who want to identify new and better ways of doing things. It’s a key to the creative spirit of improvement. But when everything is in turmoil, it can also be a good way for us to focus not on what we do (or even how we do it), but rather why we do what we do. That mindset is what allows us to pull our eyes up and take a broader look at how the things we do and produce fit into a larger world and meet people’s needs. In the end, being dynamic should be our manner of working so that our goal can be centered on solving problems, not making (or doing) things.
When we concentrate on solving our Customers’ problems (or generally making their lives easier or more fulfilling, say), what we do is only incidental to why we’re doing it. That will go a long way to endearing our Customers to us and our brands, but it will also make disruptive times much easier to navigate because it will provide vision and purpose that simply producing things or providing services can’t.
So don’t rely on “we build things” or “we provide services” to define your business. Instead, try “we solve problems” or “we help our Customers live their lives more easily.” You’ll be surprised what great ideas you come up with. And the next time things go sideways, it’ll be easier to stay on track because you’ll have more focus on what you’re all about.