In many ways our lives are simply an answer to the questions we are asked and that we ask ourselves. It is true for the life of a person and for the life of a business. In my work as a management consultant, one of my roles is to change the conversation. Sometimes I am required to change the conversation in a board meeting; other times I am required to change the conversation in a strategic planning session; often I am required to change the conversation for a marketing campaign; and occasionally I get to change the conversation for a whole industry. People, businesses, and whole industries often get stuck in the wrong conversations.
The banking industry provides a perfect example. It doesn’t seem to matter what city I am in, or what highway I am driving down, I see billboards announcing free checking. I have been seeing them for more than a decade. Free checking is no longer a new offer, but the billboards persist. Now, banking is a highly competitive and massively commoditized industry. That is, the services provided by your bank are widely available and interchangeable with the services provided by every other bank. In such a market, innovation (and hence market dominance) comes not from new products or services but rather from changing the conversation. The same banking industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on advertising—television advertisements, print media placements, radio spots, and billboards. And what message do they choose to deliver? Free checking. At this point isn’t free checking a given? Isn’t it clear that if you want free checking, you can get free checking? Someone needs to change the conversation, and the bank that does (and does it properly) will capture market share at an alarming rate. How would a bank change the conversation? Simple. Easy. A new media campaign. Core message: “What’s Your Dream? We Can Help. XYZ Bank.” If you are driving to work and you see this message on a billboard, you are going to have a very different reaction than you would to the “Do you want free checking?” message. Both messages contain a question, but one question leads to entitlement and the other leads to empowerment. Are banks in the “free checking” business or the “partnering with customers to fulfill their dreams” business? I know which business I would rather be in. Sometimes in business we just get stuck on the wrong question. It happens in life too, and when it does you need to change the question. Your life today is an answer to the questions you have asked up until now. The good news is that you can change the questions anytime you wish. Ask better questions and you get better answers. Sometimes changing our lives can be as simple as changing the questions we habitually ask ourselves and others.
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