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What Business Are You In?

Quick. What business is McDonalds in?

If you guessed that the iconic Golden Arches are all about Big Macs and McCoffee, well, think again.

Did you know that McDonalds corporation in 2011 owned 45% of the land and 70% of the buildings housing its over 30,000 restaurants around the world? It also charges its franchisees a healthy rent, fees and other charges that make each parcel of land a true “cash cow” for the company.

Although from a consumer point of view, McDonalds is a restaurant, but to an investor, that real-estate arm, which probably holds the most strategic land and buildings in almost every city and town, looks mighty tasty.

The question “What Business Are You In?” therefore has a different answer depending who is asking. To your suppliers, you are a source of revenue. To your customers, a way to satisfy their cravings. To your investors, you are ROI. To your employees, you are where they spend half their day at (and probably the other half thinking about).

The answer to this question is one of positioning – what a person thinks about when they think of you. You therefore need to be intimately familiar with how different groups perceive you, and be willing to shift your thinking to connect with their context, a technique also know as code-switching. Sometimes when I mention this to an entrepreneur, their first reaction is that this is “dishonest”. But it’s completely the contrary: what you are doing is presenting the part of your idea that is most important to them in a way that passes through their context filters, their values, their priorities, and what’s occupying their attention in the moment.

The answer to this question can also evolve. To get back to the case at the beginning of this post, for many years, for its customers, MickeyD’s was synonymous with hamburgers. Then in the 90’s it decided to offer pizza and overnight became one of the biggest pizza outlets in the US. Now the company is upscaling its image with the McCafé concept, becoming a rival to the iconic Tim Horton’s coffee chain here in Canada. So you have the opportunity to adjust your positioning as you evolve.

This is why it is important to explore the different dimensions of what your business means to your various stakeholders, and to get comfortable switching between positionings. The value of your business is not in your technology or your product or service, it’s in the ADDED VALUE that your offer brings to the stakeholder you’re addressing – therefore it is all about perception.

What business are you really in? The answer lies not what in you think it is, but in what the person asking the question thinks it is.


For more information

McDonalds looks to buy more property (The Globe and Mail, Nov. 11, 2011)

McDonalds Is A Real-Estate Company

Image credit: chollingsworth via Flickr
Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chollingsworth/4532732671/
Used under Creative Commons licence

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