“What business are you in?”

I recently finished and enjoyed Frank Rose’s “The Sea We Swim In: How Stories Work in a Data-Driven World,” which focuses on the power of narrative, particularly for brands. There’s a nice collection of what might be called ancillary brand communications initiatives, including MyJohnDeere, described as an online “information exchange for farmers” — offered as a supplement, say, to the company’s digital brochureware meant to advance the sales pipeline.

It adds up to a radical reenvisioning of what John Deere is and why it exists. As Sunil Gupta of Harvard Business School put it, the real question is, “What business are you in?”

Rose quotes Gupta at length:

For the longest time, if you asked John Deere this question, the company would say they are in the business of producing farm equipment … but if you look at it from a slightly different angle, the reason why a farmer buys John Deere equipment is to have better productivity on the farm. Slowly, John Deere recognized that they are not in the business of producing tractors and trailers, but instead, are in the business of farm management to help the farmers increase the productivity on their farms.

Stephen Schenkenberg @schenkenberg