Vol 33: What does your business stand for?

The North Bay Business Journal, a publication of the New York Times, is a weekly business newspaper which covers the North Bay area of San Francisco – from the Golden Gate bridge north, including the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa counties.



Article published – January 12, 2009

BUILDING A BUSINESS: It’s ’09: Do you know what your business stands for?

by Lary Kirchenbauer

“I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody … instead of a bum.” – Terry Malloy

The night sky is etched in vivid black and white tones, and in the back seat of a chauffeured car prowling the streets of Hoboken, N.J., a lawyer for a mob-connected union boss confronts his brother, Terry Malloy, about testifying against the mob in court.

Malloy, despondent over these threats, is stunned when his brother pulls a gun to emphasize his point. Their relationship had reached a nadir, and Malloy was distraught that his brother helped dismantle his fledgling boxing career. In his dark lament, he delivers the memorable line quoted above – that he “coulda been somebody.”

Our moms also told us to “be somebody” – although our behavior at a particular moment may have altered her tone … “Be somebody better than you’re being right now” or “Get off the couch and quit loafing.”

What does it take to BE SOMEBODY?

To be “somebody,” though, means you first have to figure out who that somebody is. And as business executives, we need to remember that our companies, too, need “to be somebody” – to our customers, employees, suppliers – to stand for something that is clear and articulate and specific so that our customers can tell us apart from others, so they can differentiate us from the competition.

Consider this recent advertising slogan: “Lewis & Clark didn’t load the canoe with Mojitos!” – the rum cocktail.

A canoe or kayak company? An outdoor clothing company? An adventure tour operator? Nope. Jim Beam, the proud purveyor of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey since 1795, celebrating bourbon as America’s “official native spirit.” They’re making a statement about brand identification – that it’s a drink for rugged individualists and outdoorsmen who might wear a Carhartt and carry a hatchet to fetch their own firewood – certainly not someone who would drink a “Mojito” (which is actually pretty good, if you ask me, but then, I’m not packing the canoe).

 First, KNOW IT. Then, BE IT!

Jim Beam is committing to a very specific target audience. They understand that it’s a death wish to be so confused with other businesses that your customers can’t pick you out of a crowd. Yet, companies resist clearly defining their market segments because they fear losing potential customers.

There’s great danger, however, in diluting your message to customers, employees and suppliers.

Jim Beam focuses on a very clear proposition. They know who they are, who their customers are and what they expect from them. Could they sell whiskey to others? Sure, and they probably do, but that’s not their core market.

It might be stated as simply as this: If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. If customers don’t understand why they should buy from you, chances are they’ll buy from someone else. They’ll have no loyalty to your brand or products.

So take some time to reflect on your business right now. Grab your favorite beverage and retire to an armchair with a blank sheet of paper and pen, and think deliberately about who you are and what your business stands for. For 2009, commit yourself to reshape your business around a crystal clear mission that all of your customers will understand. And make 2009 your best year ever.


Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. He works closely with senior executives and their businesses to accelerate their growth and improve personal and professional performance, and he hosts a CEO Round Table for middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit his blog, The Daily Bull, at www.exkalibur.com.

Leave a Reply