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Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (Marketing Memo, June, 2004)

A recent Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit featured Paul Gauguin's colorful Tahitian paintings. His enigmatic Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-8) poses questions that all businesses should periodically ask. If you are unfamiliar with your origins and destination, how will you be able to get to your destination? How will you be able to communicate to customers and vendors what you are all about?

You may use the web and other online sources to identify prospects and vendors. Using these sources, you often don't know "what business they are in." Information found in electronic databases and in traditional directories is often vague and inconsistent with information from web sites, which themselves may have multiple contributors providing conflicting information.


Changing Conditions: To keep up with changing business conditions and changing customer needs and preferences, companies must evolve. Once, IBM "pumped iron." In the eighties it focused on software. Now, IBM is building up its consulting and financing services.

Complexity: High tech products and services are hard to describe and hard to understand, tempting people to resort to jargon, which baffles people outside the industry.

Multiple Offerings: Most companies provide too many products and services to summarize in the proverbial one-minute elevator speech.

Perspective: Like the blind men with the elephant, your staff just know about the parts of your business that touch them. Which products or services are included in descriptions reflect this phenomenon. Business descriptions are a reflection of the department that creates them.


Like old photos, old business descriptions merely capture the past. Therefore, you should:

  • Periodically apply Gauguin's three questions to your business.
  • Develop an accurate and jargon-free two- or three-line company description.
  • Include the business description in sales and marketing material.
  • Embed the description in a one-page company FAQ sheet. Ask employees to keep the FAQ sheet and the company description nearby so that even temps can answer simple questions about the business. Callers will get a better impression of your company.
  • Decide which description and which SIC or NAIC codes to use, and make one person responsible for putting company descriptions in databases and directories. People will not find you if someone put you in the wrong basket because they were unfamiliar with what your company does.

Winett Associates provides market research and writing services and helps companies identify business partners and acquisition targets.

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