We have lived through some pretty amazing technological evolutions over the past years. I don’t want to date myself too much, but I remember as a kid when changing the TV channel meant walking over and physically pushing a button. More recently, I remember when 1GB of RAM for a Macintosh would cost upwards of $15,000.
The pace of technological advancement shows little sign of slowing down. Just five years ago, the mobile device of choice in the workplace was the laptop computer. Now, as we’re increasingly entrusting our lives to the web (and in particular, to the Cloud), many people find that a tablet device such as an iPad is all they need when they’re out and about.
But it’s not about the technology itself. It’s as much as what its implications increasingly mean to every one of us on a daily basis in terms of changing our behavior and habits. And that includes how we consider, view, and choose the things that we want to buy. Consequently the way that businesses consider their customers and the processes that organizations have used for decades to attract, inform and transact with their customers needs to evolve – and soon.
More than 40% of firms at the top of the Fortune 500 in 2000 were not there in 2010.
There’s a growing list of companies that are no longer here because they didn’t observe and react to a changing consumer landscape. As consumer behavior evolves and technology evolves with it, at some point these changes reach a point when a company can no longer react.
Story after story (Tower Records, NewsWeek, SAAB, Blackberry, Kodak) demonstrates to us the result of what happens when businesses fail to address a change in their customer’s behavior. When businesses produce pipelines of products and roadmaps and fail to innovate based upon new opportunities. Alternatively (and just as bad) is when they innovate too much and ignore their existing customers.
No business is too big to fail – or too small to succeed.
Look at the three biggest drivers for change today – Social, Mobile and the Cloud. These changes are disrupting conventional customer behavior – in other words they’re disrupting your business. How people communicate, share and discover is changing. Simply marketing and selling in these new channels is not enough.
At the moment you hear a lot about something called “Social Business“. The idea of matching this new breed of “always on”, internet-empowered consumer with its equivalent from a marketing perspective. What if you adapted along with that “networked” customer, and rebuilt and re-engineered marketing not just for a different type of commercial transaction, but for a different generation of business and relevance?
The “Networked” Customer
The Networked Customer is not only real, but is growing in both number and influence. In fact, perhaps you are the very person that you are trying to reach. The way that you interact on social networks, perhaps using multiple devices (PC, smartphone, tablet – connected TV, etc) means that you could very well be part of this movement. Interestingly it’s a movement not necessarily bound by age, geographic location or even income – it’s one influenced by lifestyle and interest.
The behavioral changes that we’re seeing as people – forget about being “customers” for a moment – is changing dramatically. From checking email/Facebook/news/whatever from our smartphone or tablet first thing in the morning before we’re even out of bed, to reading books and magazines on a Kindle or iPad, to watching a film or TV show on Hulu or NetFlix before going to sleep. Remember: none of this behavior existed five years ago. Business is changing because the fundamental behavior of people is changing – and changing at a rate unparalleled throughout history.
This “digital lifestyle” is now so seamlessly and tightly woven into the fabric of much of society that I find it increasingly more ridiculous when business managers or CEOs ask when this “fad” is going to pass. When are we going to go back to “the good old days”? Never. This is it, guys. Get used to it – or get out.
It’s exactly this type of question that clearly demonstrates how leadership has to change. But this can’t – and won’t – happen because everyone goes into the Boardroom, decides that the company needs a social and/or mobile strategy, looks around to see what everyone else is doing, and copies that. Companies are struggling because they’re not thinking about connecting at that fundamental level that mirrors the customer’s current behavior.
The question you need to ask yourself is what do you need to do to make sure that you’re one of the places that they go to with their Nexus 7 while they’re having breakfast?
Customer online habits are changing radically. Increasingly, savvy-customers are moving away from search and gravitating towards social. Rather than searching on Google for answers to their questions, they’re tapping their trusted online communities – social media channels, blogs, forums and so forth. This has enormous implications for businesses of all kinds, as customers start getting to hear about you from what others are saying, rather than how you want your business to be seen.
Your Website Is – Probably – Irrelevant
Take company websites, for example. Increasingly, buyers are steering away from a company’s website as a place to learn about its products or services. Instead, they’re moving to information that they feel (rightly or wrongly) has less of a sales/marketing slant on the product or service that they’re interested in. All that stuff in your website about how great you think you are, how your products are the best in the world, etc. isn’t being taken seriously any more (assuming that it ever was). Too many sites use language that no-one in the real world uses, outside of people that are trying to sell you something. It’s as though the text has been written specifically for the internal manager who’s job is to approve the copy before it’s published on the site – which is probably the case.
Today, many customers visit your commercial website only after they have already made the initial decision that whatever you’re selling has made the shortlist to what they’re considering to buy. The initial stage of product awareness, fit-for-purpose, buying experience, customer service, support, etc. has already been reached – thanks to their influencers. This means that the kind of information that they’re looking for on your site is different to what it used to be in the past. They’re coming to your site to find answers to questions that they have about using, buying and after-sales.
The Evolution Of The Sales Funnel
For years, businesses thought they had customers all figured out. Customers read newspapers and magazines. They watched television (without skipping through the ads) and listened to the radio. They read “Which?” or “Consumer Reports” or analyst reports to help them decide on which products or services they bought. Customers were completely won-over by product packaging, billboards and advertisements and once they did business with you all they did was talk about you and how great they thought you were.
That’s still how most businesses are structured today – blindly built around the sales or customer-acquisition funnel at the exclusion of everything else. But your new customer is wired differently. Today, technology is ingrained into their lifestyle – in how they connect, how they’re influenced, and how they (in turn) influence. This changes everything.
It’s Not About “Doing” Social. It’s About “Being” Social
All anyone seems to talk about today is social media. Social this, social that, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, whatever. Hopefully, you’ve already bought in to the premise of how important it is for companies to embrace social media based interaction. In a couple of years’ time we’re all going to look back to today and won’t believe that we were arguing about social media’s place within a company’s business plan.
But the challenge you have today is not simply making a case for social media. Yes, it is a way of business, but it’s so much more than that. It’s that people are becoming connected and, as a result, their expectations, preferences and interests change. The question is can business – your business – change along with it?
Recognition Is Part Of The Solution
Many newer companies seem to have a better handle on addressing the needs and expectations of the Networked Customer, as they’ve had no choice. Companies of a “certain age”, however, often have a harder time.
Older companies have had the luxury seeing the perspective of what had come before, and what was changing. It’s therefore easier for some of us to get stuck in “what was”. We refuse to see “what will be” because we take comfort in “what is“.
Often the hardest step lies in the recognition that the Networked Customer movement is happening today, and bringing these observations within the organization. That’s where connected marketing and connected engagement starts. But the next step isn’t simply to go out and build social networks and mobile strategies for your business. Part of your work is to inspire a new era of engagement: What does it mean to do business with your business?
As people continue to become more public about the questions and decisions that they make, your new role is that of an equally-public adviser, or consultant. The elements that make up this new role are based upon an infrastructure that:
- Listens to the conversations taking place on whatever channels that your audience has chosen;
- Learns about the problems that your audience faces, and the various elements that – together – they see as resolving that set of problems;
- Engages with them, at their level (i.e. without corporate rhetoric or sales pitches) with pertinent, timely, interesting content that they feel has so much value that they want to pass it on to others;
- Adapts the company’s business value proposition accordingly, to maintain and help ensure relevance moving forward.
All of this is applied based upon the company’s greater vision and purpose in using these technology channels to create more meaningful customer experiences. It’s using the technology that’s out there to help you deliver an integrated brand experience, deployed via a clearly-understood plan with regards to guidelines, training and monitoring that can be extended throughout the organization.
Only then can you can apply this to processes, where it becomes something tangible to the point that your people can realize and apply its core message in what they’re doing at a day-to-day level, designed to engage at a customer level.