What Makes You Different?

One of the principle problems organizations and their teams face is a lack of clarity about the business they’re really in. Now, understandably, this can be a challenging concept for most organizations – surely we all understand the business we’re in?

However, I want to suggest that the true nature of our business, the game we’re really playing is not the products we sell or the services we provide.

Consider the PCO industry. Professional conference organizers provide a unique suite of products and services covering everything from logistics, human transport, advertising, party planning and talent management. But are these activities the business they’re really in.

When uncovering the game you’re really playing, it’s useful to think about the value exchange you’re really engaged in. In other words, what are your customers, or constituents or clients actually getting out of the relationship – what are their metrics?

This may be an emotional benefit, a tangible tool or even something that reflects on a customers sense of self. In most cases, it will be a combination of all these factors and is fundamentally determined by the values of the customer themselves.

If they’re risk averse, they’re looking for safe hands.

If they’re an ambitious ladder climber, they want something a little more noteworthy.

But let’s go back to the example of PCOs. People hold conferences for any number of reasons; to engage customers and staff, to create opportunities for collaboration and networking, to showcase new products and partnerships and to reinvigorate, retool and re-skill their teams as we all get caught up in a world of change.

So what is the business they are really in?

Before offering a few suggestions, consider the business that Kodak was in. For years, they pulled at our heart strings with commercials depicting precious moments shared between family and friends, and yet, in Kodak’s mind, they were in the film business.

In truth, their brand position more accurately reflected their true business – memory preservation. Now, memory preservation is a multi-billion dollar piece of business, in terms f data storage, cloud computing and USB technology. Much of this technology was actually developed by Kodak. In fact the original DVD storage disk is photographic technology. In not understanding the game they were playing and simply focusing on ‘producing product’ more cheaply and efficiently, they missed the shift as the market changed its focus.

So what business are PCOs in? Again, the benefits its customers derive will vary based on their particular values set, but the principle benefit they provide is large scale human connection in a mostly neutral environment where objectivity is available in ways it would never be in a day to day office environment.

What makes this such a contribution to organizations is that it is so easy to get caught up in a production mentality and look for efficiencies in both cost and performance and in doing so miss the critical factor to our success.

In the end, I always like to think of businesses in terms of metaphors. For PCOs, I think what they really provide is a chance for all of us to pull over to the side of the road, check the map and make sure we’re all agreed we’re heading in the right direction.

Dan is touring the US with co-author Kieran Flanagan, speaking about their new book Selfish Scared & Stupid; if you would like to arrange to have Dan speak at your event, please contact marketing@odemanagement.com.

For further information on Ode team or to enquire about making a booking for your next conference or event please contact the friendly ODE team


  • +61 2 9818 5199
  • info@odemanagement.com

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What Makes You Different?
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