This famous and apparently naïve question is most closely associated with Peter Druker, the American management consultant and author. It is intended to get businesses thinking about what they really offer to their customers, and to spend less time talking about what their product does and more time emphasising how it will improve your life. This is often referred to as the classic features vs benefits discussion.
A recent TV ad by Homebase is a brilliant example of this approach. An item of kitchen furniture is described as a two seat breakfast bar and as a means of spending more time talking to your children. A can of paint can cover so many square metres of wall and make your son or daughter happier and more relaxed. The ad concludes with the line ‘over 25,000 ways to help improve your life’. It almost makes a trip to the DIY store seem like therapy – genius.
The starting point when reviewing what business you are in is always the same – your customer. What personal benefit are they deriving from your product or service? How does it make them feel happier, safer, wealthier, healthier or more relaxed?
As technology moves ever faster, you also need to look at how your business presents itself to the world. In Drucker’s famous example, rail companies in the US went into decline when better cars and trucks entered the market because they considered themselves as being in the railway business, not the transport business.
Considering your product or service in terms of what it does for people as opposed to simply what it does not only makes your business more flexible, it also offers new opportunities. If a trusted manufacturer of locks sees itself as being in the business of making people feel more secure, there are all kinds of possibilities for expansion and diversification.
In our case, product design is often seen as being about making things look good. In reality, we are in the business of increasing manufacturing profitability. Some of this is down to appearance, because a good looking product will always sell better than an ugly one. However, much of our work is concerned with reducing costs, minimising risks and solving problems – all of which can make a huge difference to manufacturing profitability.
We are in the business of making you money!