The internet enables people to go from being just customers to become members of a company or co-creators in the culture surrounding a product. The consequences of this is much larger than we give it credit for – and the reason for us underestimating the potential of change is our ability to give huge measurements, mediocre names and tags not fit to reflect the potential of change that they carry. By referencing several of these current changes as social media, digital media, mobile media or new age media, we limit the perspective and reach of our ideas. We see these activities as satellites outside of core business, insignificantly flirting with the customers compared to the bigger commercial changes we are not taking notice of.
The world is changing and this time it is the individuals’ control of their own everyday life, driven by the access to and liberation through technology giving them a voice and a presence. Sharp increases in higher education, standards of living, social complexity, and longevity over the past century gave rise to a new desire for individual self-determination: having control over what matters, having one’s voice heard, and having social connections on one’s own terms.
The leading edge of consumption is now moving from products and services to tools and relationships enabled by interactive technologies. Amazon, Apple, eBay, and YouTube are familiar examples of companies trying to provide the power in the hands of consumer.
The last time we experienced a change of this magnitude was with the arrival of mass production, when products reserved for the elites where being made available for the masses (for example in auto industry think of Henry Ford and the Model T). Shoshana Zuboff, former professor in business administration at the Harvard Business School wrote in an article in the McKinsey Quarterly in 2010 about a new chapter in capitalism. Something that historically happens every 100 years; new chapters emerge when the demand from the market acquires a new pattern, which businesses have to accommodate. This ends in conflict and new businesses come in from the bottom and deliver on the demand that old businesses can’t meet.
We are standing at the doorstep of years with great strain on business foundations and models. Participation and dialogue can be one of the answers, but it has to be implemented at the business level, not as an activity driven exclusively by the marketing and communications department. By referencing this as digital media, we are standing in an era of mass production and looking at ourselves in the mirror.
This is not about one single tool entertaining customers or allowing the creative brains to experiment as the business itself is doing ‘business as usual’. Technology has forced through new consumer habits and created a time for great change – affecting how businesses think about demand and offer. Even if these are slow mechanisms, which require maturing, we have to ignite our ideas and believe in bigger things.
Five ways I suggest welcoming this change
Uncomplicate: The reason large parts of the corporate internet is boring, difficult and of little direct use/effect is because we are unnecessarily complicating it. For example, why on earth do we need to fill up an eight field form while trying to use FREE Wi-Fi at Delhi airport? Why on my personalised banking web page only 15 per cent is dedicated to my personal banking and 85 per cent of real estate goes to marketing, navigation and completely uninteresting bank/CRM stuff? Are they in the business of media channel and marketing? The internet is simple, and should be simple. Unfortunately we are thinking of it with the wrong mindset; as something complicated, something that doesn't work, something we don't understand.
Presence: All traditional marketing, advertising and designs are built around a core idea of transmitting a thought process of a creative bunch creating anticipation towards the use or consumption of a product or service in a given situation. Inside this mindset, digital offers some abilities that are new and speeds up some abilities that are old. But in essence digital is nothing more than a technological option – a choice between newspaper, billboard, TV, radio or internet, etc. Traditional marketing delivers a promise to the consumer, but has never been able to deliver on this promise – this responsibility is handed to the product and business design team. What online has done is something much bigger than offer new extensions to media, or surfaces – it’s creating presence in people’s lives – we are designing and building meeting places between the brand and the customer. Equal in importance to the product design itself
Meeting place: Consumer experiences and brand propositions are often involved in a typical Venn diagram where the overlap gives birth to a common ground that becomes a favourable arena for brands. However, what we have done up till now is limit our thinking of what online can do based on a narrow view of what marketing can do without paying much attention to this arena exactly like traditional media. Traditional advertising and design has one goal: to deliver a promise, either based on what the consumer wants to become, or what the brand wants to become. But what happens when marketing changes, digital walks out in the road for real? Start treating that overlap hyperbole as an opportunity where you can meet the consumer face-to-face and create experiences that are remarkable and therefore, sharable. Make your presence felt in their lives beyond banner ads each time they log in to Facebook, Yahoo, etc.
Activities: The internet, since the beginning, has been all about information; ‘content is king’ and all that. But this is no longer necessarily true. The internet is only partly an information platform. In fact, as an information platform it even has some clear and present weaknesses. The more interesting question is not how we can make the internet better at information, but at seamlessly improving our everyday life? And information is seldom the solution to this; it is much more interesting to look at how the internet can help us do stuff.
Relationships: The internet was originally, and still is, a great mechanism for direct response; being instrumental to a lot of the business value generated directly from the net today. But, at the same time as it is changing sales and market presence world-wide, it is also turning out/developing abilities positioning it as one of the best arenas for connecting and offering a valuable, relevant and present relationship with customers. The internet has grown into a platform for cultivating and capitalising on a new generation of customer relationships, those that change behaviours.
“We are at the lightbulb stage of the internet,” said Jeff Bexox, CEO, Amazon, and decoding the same today I feel that it is too early for us to get boxed in any definitions, silos and make things unnecessarily complex and boring. Let us rather focus on simple solutions which are remarkable and extends the joy of experiencing our brand propositions in the real life, making it sharable.
The author is Co-Founder, LIQVD ASIA