Mark Cuban, the Shark Tank veteran, sports mogul, and business maven (not to mention billionaire) is known for giving punchy one-liners and pointed advice to anyone who'll listen. And I'm listening to what he recently said (or reading it rather) on his blog in late July, because it's a one-sentence nugget of pure wisdom.

Cuban wrote about the experience that he wants to create for fans at his Dallas Mavericks games (Cuban owns the NBA team). He has resisted many overtures from marketers wanting to create fan engagement tools for use at the games, all delivered via the smartphone. He hates these pitches because they force the fans to look down, not up, thus not enjoying the live experience right in front of them.

My wife and I are NBA fans and when we watch a game and see people sitting in the front row (in seats they likely paid thousands for) and they're staring at their phones, we want to scream. Cuban feels strongly about not leveraging people's phones as part of the in-game experience because of one question he keeps asking himself, "What business is the NBA in?"

As he wrote in his blog (edited for clarity):

As in every business you have to always ask yourself what your product is (what business you're really in) and the best way to deliver it.

So wait, why would anyone have to ask what business they're in or what product they sell? If you don't know that, you're in trouble, right?

However, really stop to consider the question for a moment.

Think about your own company. What business are you really in?

Cuban feels the NBA is actually not in the business of selling basketball. They don't merely deliver a sport, complete with winners and losers each game and statistics and playoffs.

The NBA is in the business of delivering an experience. Their competition is all the ways families and couples can spend their money to have a good time creating memories with people they care about. Cuban contends that when you go to a game, years later you don't remember the score or even who won, you remember that outing with your dad, or kids, or wife.

Cuban has reframed, expanded and reimagined the category the Dallas Mavericks compete in to broaden and deepen its appeal (and ticket sales). Other innovative businesses have done the same.

I spent several years in the laundry detergent business at Procter & Gamble and can tell you that Tide detergent (a P&G brand) decided years ago they're not in the laundry detergent business; they're in the clothing-care business. It led to the launch of Tide Dry Cleaners and a host of higher end clothing care products and claims. They don't just get clothes clean. They care for your garments, in many ways, keeping them newer, longer, maintaining their color and shape better, and so on.

Special K, a Kellogg's brand, decided they're not in the cereal business; they're in the healthy-lifestyle business and an explosion of product line extensions (and sales) followed.

You can apply the same line of thinking.

Ask yourself, "What business am I really in?" Think about that business in broader terms. The broader you go (without losing the core of what you do), the more possibilities to introduce new users (and even new uses) to your product. Craft new benefits and offerings based on your broader definition of the business you're in. Check with consumers to make sure where you want to expand and take your product to makes sense, is appealing, and even solves an unmet need.

Ask who your competition really is than do something that your competitors would envy. Do it first to own the broader positioning and do it well.

Cuban could have stopped at selling tickets to a basketball game, but thinking about it as a memory-making experience changes the entire way he looks at the product and what he actually sells--for the better.

Your business just might be bigger and better for having considered a broader worldview as well.

Published on: Aug 6, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.