BLOG_business_life_cycle_LH-01I’ve worked with hundreds of brands in every stage of business life cycle over the last 25 years. For as diverse as the businesses and people have been, there is one striking — and concerning — consistency. Wherever the conversation starts about a business, it quickly goes something like this:

Me: Tell us about your business goals. How is your brand different? Why should people care?

Smart businessperson:  There’s a huge market for what we’re selling. Here’s what people need to know about our company/product/service …

What follows is a 10-minute riff by very smart, very successful people about what their company is selling. Regardless of business stage, industry, level of success, size of business — the theme is always the same: this is what we’re selling. Then our team politely interrupts and asks for an answer to the only question that matters: Is the market buying? If your company is attracting dream customers and hitting its growth targets, bravo. If there’s room for improvement, it might be time to do a 180 and “face the market.” Market-facing brands are in high demand by customers seeking solutions to challenges and opportunities in their professional and personal lives. Companies driven by providing what customers need and want today and tomorrow win bigger than those that trade on past wins.

How do you know if your brand is market facing? Look for three key behaviors.

1. Are company insiders talking about the company or its customers? It’s not about your business. Customers rule. It’s that simple. Give them value or die. Harsh, I know. 2. Is your company listening? It’s never been easier to listen to the unfiltered market. Monitor and understand the key themes in customer, employee and competitor conversations. There is pure strategic gold in social, news and customer feedback channels. Spend time observing how customers use, interact and navigate with products and services in real settings. This kind of ethnographic research leads to empathic design. It’s the kind of “customer knowing” Steve Jobs was describing when he famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Jobs wasn’t saying customer insights don’t matter. He was pointing out that people often don’t know they have a need or a problem, until you show them how much better an experience can be. Here’s a case-in-point blog post by Forbes contributor David Stuart. Who among us could imagine life without liquid laundry soap? Not this mother of three. 3. Is your company asking? If your company thinks it’s nailed a new customer solution – get it in front of customers, the earlier in the process the better. Customers will tell you what they love about it. They’ll also tell you what’s not important and what could be better. The same goes for current underperformers and over-achieving product portfolios. There’s huge benefit in understanding – from the customer’s POV – why something is hot … or why it’s not. It takes courage for brands to wholeheartedly face the market. There’s fear in learning what we might not want to know. There’s also untapped potential and unlimited opportunity for growth.