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Idea: How to Answer the Question “What Does Your Company Do?”

In a previous Idea Email, we explained why a more important question to answer than “What does your company do?” is “Why does your company exist?” While the answer to that question will help you distinguish how your company is unique among your competitors, the “what do you do?” question is the one that gets asked daily by everyone from potential customers reading your website to your Uncle Bob at a family reunion.

Conventional wisdom suggests you should be able to explain what your business does in one sentence. Of course, that’s the same type of conventional wisdom that suggests you should be able to explain your business model and raise $10 million of venture funding with a 3×5 card on an elevator ride.

The fact is, some businesses can’t be described in one sentence. So the company’s leaders head to a boardroom room to develop a mission statement that may make sense to the people around the table, but, to the rest of the world, it sounds like it was created on an internet mission statement generator.

Here are the keys to answering the question, “What does your company do?”

  1. Accept that, whatever you say, the recipient will hear the message through personal filters based on all sorts of factors.
  2. Such filters mean that what you say means nothing. What the recipient hears means everything.
  3. Develop three different answers to the question, one each for the following groups:
  • Friends, family and people you meet at a non-business social function. (“We’re a media company,” for example.)
  • People you meet randomly, but who ask an insightful question in response to your first answer. (“We specialize in helping companies use media to communicate directly with the people who are their current or potential customers.”)
  • People who respond to that answer with enough precision and interest to make you think there’s a business card exchange at the end of the conversation. (“Are you familiar with ____?” And then explain how what you do is related to the name in the blank. Preferably, you’ll be able to say, “We are the company that helps them do that.” Even if not, the point is to at least provide them an image to connect with your company.) As the social scientists say, alter their cognition.

Bottom Line for Marketers: The recipient of any message determines whether or not a message is understood. This applies to conversations, advertising and elaborate sales pitches. The more complex “what you do” is, the more important it is to find less-complex ways to explain it.


(Photo: Wikipedia)