Ira’s “What Business Are You In?” Game

Participants in the DIY Brand Camp hear us say it again and again: your customers might think that you are in a very different business than the one you think you are. For example, Theodore Levitt famously suggested (pay wall, but you can read the executive summary for free) that if the railroad companies had recognized that they were in the transportation business, not the railroad business, they may still be alive today. And Kodak very obviously ignored their understanding that they were in the memories, not the film, business.

So I was delighted when over lunch last week Ira Bryck, the Director of the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley, shared a story about a game he has invented to help leaders get to a better understanding of what business they are really in. He shares it here. – MA

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you must have realized the logic to “sell the benefits, not the features.” Customers can find what you offer in many places, and choose you because that decision benefits them in measurable or mysterious ways.

Which brings me to the time I gave a talk to a gathering of garden center owners. After the talk, we relaxed around a lunch table, and I suggested we play a game, which I now call (for lack of a better name) Ira’s “What Business Are You In?” Game.

I invite you to try this at home (or work).

I started it, by contributing the easiest answer: “I’m in the GARDEN CENTER business.”

I then invited the person to my left to tell me what business she was in (all were garden center owners, as I already said), but NOT use the words GARDEN or CENTER. She said “I’m in the beautiful nature business.”

The next person had to tell us their business, but not use the words GARDEN, CENTER, BEAUTIFUL or NATURE. I think he said “I’m in the LEISURE / GROWING business.”

The last person was now restricted from using the several obvious and far fetched words to describe what they do, but still was able to describe his offering with “I’m in the ANTI ANXIETY business.”

Then we all had a fun time brainstorming about how to market all of their garden centers by finding how to promote ANTI ANXIETY, FUN DIRT, EARTH’S REJUVENATION, and more. We came up with advertising campaigns, clever ways of competing, how to differentiate ourselves from the vanilla garden center down the block.

I’ve tried this with other small groups of business owners, to dig down to find how to best explain their value to customers. Also, it’s a great way to get the young people in your family to think more expansively about what your family does to make a living, benefiting everyone.


This article appeared first in the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley weekly newsletter.

Photo by Jay McAnally, via Creative Commons.


  1. This is a great way to help people get the concept of understanding the need that their brand fulfills. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mitch Anthony says

    I agree, Myrna. By eliminating words and concepts you are forced to go deeper and deeper still. I told Ira that I am totally stealing his idea and incorporating this exercise into my DIY Brand Camps.

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