“What business are you in?”
How do you answer this all-too-common question?
Do you name the company you work for?
The industry you’re in?
The function you perform?
Bad news, your business isn’t defined by the company, the industry, and even your function.
Good news, the business you’re in is defined by your customers.
And their definition unlocks incredible potential for innovation and growth.
The 2:00 am Answer
In my first few months as an Assistant Brand Manager at P&G, I had a truly terrifying experience. Sitting in a training session, a senior executive locked eyes with me and asked, “What is Brand Equity?”
My first thought was, “you tell me, buddy. I’m the newbie here.” My second thought, and the one that came out of my mouth, was probably something straight out of a marketing textbook.
“Wrong!” he exclaimed. “Brand equity is what a consumer says if you wake them up from a dead sleep at 2:00 am and scream ‘What is [brand]?’ in their face.”
I don’t know what scared me more, being yelled at for being wrong or the idea that breaking and entering and screaming brand names at unsuspecting sleepers was suddenly part of my job description.
The 2:00 am Answer is the business you’re in
The 2:00 am answer applies to more than just brand equity.
It reveals the business you’re in.
Because it’s the Job to be Done your customers hire you to do
As the training went on, we learned how this mantra manifests in everything a brand (or company) does – its products, pricing, packaging, distribution, and marketing.
For example, if the most important thing to you about laundry is that clothes come out of the washing machine clean, you have dozens of options and probably buy the cheapest one.
But, if you want to be sure that clothes will be immaculate after the first wash because you know your kids will wear anything, even if it has stains, which will lead the other parents to judge you, you have one option – Tide.
Why the 2:00 am Answer matters
The 2:00 am Answer also defines where you have a right to play and to win.
Sometimes this space is bigger than you expect, revealing incredible opportunities for innovation and growth.
Sometimes it’s smaller than you want, exposing a strategic misalignment between what you offer and what your customers want. This happened to LEGO and took the company to the brink of bankruptcy.
In 1998, LEGO posted its first loss in company history. To reinvigorate growth, it shifted from being in the business of Toys to being in the business of Play. This led to two decisions that, while strategically aligned with Play, almost bankrupted the company. First was the introduction of new toys specifically designed to be built in less than 10 minutes so kids could start playing quickly. The second decision took LEGO into other aspects of play – video games, amusement parks, and a TV show supported by a line of action figures.
In 2003, LEGO reported a $238M loss, and with only one profitable product line, the future was bleak. So, LEGO started talking to customers (though probably not at 2:00 am). Through the conversations, LEGO learned that its expansion into all forms of play and the prioritization of Play over creation (building) wasn’t LEGO-y in the minds of consumers. So they rejected the new offerings. Instead, people loved LEGO because it offered “creative play” – the freedom and ability to turn ideas into tangible and interactive 3D models.
LEGO listened and went “back to the brick.” The results speak for themselves. In 2015, LEGO overtook Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand. In 2021, LEGO earned $8.06B in revenue, a 27% increase from the prior year.
How to get and use the 2:00 am Answer (without committing a felony)
First, get clear on the business you WANT to be in. Ask yourself and your colleagues, what do we want our customers to hire us to do? Push beyond the easy and obvious answers (usually functional Jobs to be Done). How do you want customers to feel after hiring your company (emotional Jobs to be Done)? How do you want them to be perceived (social Jobs to be Done)? What Job to be Done do you want to do uniquely well?
Second, talk to your customers one-on-one at a time and place of their choosing. Ask them why they hire your business. Again, push beyond the easy and obvious answers to understand what they want to feel and be perceived after choosing you. Ask what other options they considered and why they hired your business.
Find and close the gap. What’s the difference between what you wanted to hear and what you actually heard? If the gap is bigger than expected, how can you expand and innovate your business to grow into all the Jobs people want to hire you to do? If the gap is smaller, how can you shift or redirect efforts to grow in ways where you have permission to operate?
The 2:00 am Answer can be the key to defining, growing, and transforming your business.
Who says nothing good happens after midnight?