WHAT your business does vs WHY it matters

By Mark Varder

What matters to your customers should become the heart of what matters to your business…

What does your business do? That’s an easy question to answer. It invests money on behalf of clients. It manufactures kitchen cupboards. It is a bakery. But why does it matter? That’s a more difficult question to answer. For two reasons, as far as I can tell. Firstly, it means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and experiencing the world from his or her point of view. For the first time, you must look at what you do from a different perspective. You must imagine being the receiver and user of what you do. Why is your product important? What difference does it make in a person’s life?

Secondly, it is surprisingly difficult for human beings to put their finger on why a product matters to them. What role does it play in their life? Why does it matter? Any reason beyond the most superficial is hard to bring to the surface. Take an example. Old Mutual. We know what Old Mutual does. It invests people’s money. It provides a comprehensive list of financial services. But why does Old Mutual matter to my nephew? Is it because of its 173 years of experience? Is it because the company is solid and reputable – and when it comes to handing over his money those qualities matter a great deal? Or is it because investing with Old Mutual makes him feel that he is being responsible? Or does it make him feel proud that he’s stepped up to the mark and he’s associated with one of the most respectable institutions in the history of South Africa?

Quality, pricing, efficiencies, innovation, distribution – the intrinsic properties of what a business like Old Mutual does – are of course essential. But with those factors in place and constantly improved, why the business matters to millennials like my nephew will determine its fortunes. The more it matters, the more they will value the business.

But mattering to people runs deeper. Why you matter – and why you could matter a whole lot more – is a crucial understanding.

The answer will form the core of your strategy. The answer will explain – to anyone who cares to ask, from employees to investors to managers – how and why your business is valuable. And the answer will animate and guide everything you do.

Write it down
You know what your business does – that’s the easy part. But it’s not enough to have a vague idea of why your business matters. You need a thorough understanding.

You need to write down the answer. Writing down that seven or eight-word sentence, in simple English, on a whiteboard, will not be easy. It will require re-visiting far more often than you thought possible. The exercise will take you on a journey – often a frustrating one – that could well open your eyes, make you reassess your strategy and re-focus that simple thing: what you do. At the very least, it will create the foundation from which you market yourselves. Quite possibly, you will need an outside perspective. Someone who will know when you are on the right track and when you have wandered into the woods. You know, someone like me.


Why does your business matter?

The answer will:
▪              Form the core of your strategy
▪              Explain to anyone who cares to ask – from employees to investors to management – how and why your business is valuable
▪              Animate and guide everything you do.

This article appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of Your Business. Read the issue online or download your free copy here.

* Mark Varder is a brand strategy consultant and has worked with companies of all shapes and sizes from Miller’s Company to SABMiller. He is the co-founder of the consultancy Varder Hulsbosch.