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 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 development 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 increasingly entrust our lives to the web (especially the Cloud), many people find a cellphone is all they need.
But it’s not about the technology itself. It’s what its implications increasingly mean to 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 processes that organizations have used for decades to attract, inform, and transact with their customers must 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 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 your marketing efforts? Not just for a different type of commercial transaction, but for a different generation of business and relevance?
The Birth Of 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 you interact on social networks, using multiple devices (PC, phone, tablet, etc) means 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 first thing in the morning while still in bed. To reading books on a Kindle or iPad, to watching a TV show on 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 seamlessly and tightly woven into the fabric of much of society. So much so, I find it increasingly more ridiculous when business owners 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.
How Does A Business Earn Customer Attention?
It’s exactly this type of question that clearly demonstrates how leadership has to change. But this can’t – and won’t – happen by having a meeting, deciding there needs to be a social and/or mobile strategy, looking around to see what others are doing, and copying 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 is one of relevance. What do you need to do to be one of the places they go to on their phone 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. 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 they feel (rightly or wrongly) has less of a sales/marketing slant on the product 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? It isn’t being taken seriously any more (assuming 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 whose job is to approve the copy before it’s published. The funny thing? That’s probably the case.
Today, many customers visit your commercial website only after they have made their initial decision. 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 the kind of information they’re looking for on your site is different to what it used to be. 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. Once they did business with you, they were happy to 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, 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. Soon we’ll all be looking back to today and won’t believe we were arguing about social media’s place within a company’s business plan. Stakeholders will see brand language and content strategy as tangible assets that influence shareholder value.
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, can have a harder time.
Older companies have had the luxury seeing the perspective of what had come before, and what was changing. It’s 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“.
What Does It Mean To Do Business With Your Business?
Often the hardest step lies in the recognition 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 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). Delivering pertinent, timely, interesting content 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 technology to help deliver an integrated brand experience, deployed via a clearly-understood plan. Guidelines, training, and monitoring that are extended throughout the organization.
Only then can you can apply this to processes, where it becomes something tangible. Your people then manifest and apply its core message to what they’re doing at a day-to-day level, designed to engage at a customer level.