According to NYU Professor Scott Galloway, any successful brand is able to clear these 3 hurdles: differentiation, relevance, and sustainability. We can use them to study any business, including our own.
Differentiation is how we tell one product or service apart from another. If someone can pick what we do out of a lineup or tell a friend why “we” aren’t like “them,” we’ve cleared the hurdle. If we, or more importantly our customers can’t answer why we’re different from a competitor, it’s back to the starting line.
Relevance is why we matter. If someone can prioritize our offerings over their other needs or tell a friend why they insist they try us first, we’ve cleared the hurdle. If we aren’t timely, if our product or service is dated, if we don’t feel urgently necessary, it’s back to the starting line.
Sustainability is our ability to stay in business. If our intellectual property, assets, profits, or whatever other factor is able to keep our business operating in perpetuity, we’ve cleared the hurdle. If we can’t secure funding, or sales dry up, or our assets aren’t worth anything to anyone else – if our idea can’t reliably and regularly be reinvested in with a successful outcome, it’s back to the starting line.
There are all sorts of failing combinations to watch for too. Some businesses are different but not relevant (ex. the starving artist). Others are indistinguishable from their competition but the service is needed (ex. gas stations). All long-lasting businesses are NOT permanently sustainable either, so we should ask what’s keeping an old business afloat (ex. is debt keeping a dead business on life support? Is the owner bankrupting themselves to keep a bad business alive?). There are plenty of variations to watch for.
Most importantly, when we apply these questions to our own businesses we have to take the perspective of our clients first. Consider this part of your leadership skills with the highest priority. Our clients have to intuitively understand why we are different, relevant, and sustainable (think also: reliably still in business next time they need us). If we can ask the questions, we can troubleshoot the problems. It doesn’t guarantee success or even that we’ll avoid failure, but it does give us a framework and target to build from and aim towards.