Companies that don't choose to be authentically customer-centric and learn to quickly communicate, iterate, and adapt to change will struggle.
I read the news and it makes me sad for businesses today. It's no news that we are in the midst of one of the worst economic crises ever, while working our way through one of the greatest periods of change ever. These two things are not unrelated. We are undergoing a revolution in commerce, logistics, and communications as disruptive as the Industrial Revolution.
Some gurus will self-assuredly tell you it is the "social media revolution." That's just one strong signal of the revolution that is occurring. In our book, "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark," my brother Jeffrey and I explained his concept of the evolution of commerce. We wrote that in the history of sales and marketing, the need that drives this evolution is reducing friction in the customers' buying process. As changes in technology, communications, and logistics become possible, market forces push businesses to evolve strategies that entice customers to buy.
So what is this revolution that we can all readily observe? Ubiquitous connectivity has brought us to the tipping point where the customer is now largely in control of their experience. Where that isn't true yet, it's only a matter of time till it is - no business will be exempt. From now on, customers will increasingly seek experiences that meet or exceed their expectations and let them buy the way they want to. Companies that don't choose to be authentically customer-centric and learn to quickly communicate, iterate, and adapt to change will struggle.
Think about how much has changed in the last five years on the consumer side since the book was written.
Hey Retailers! Offline Is the New Online
For the past decade, people have been announcing and still waiting for the year of mobile. It never came because of the limitations of mobile technology. Enter smartphones (e.g., iPhones, Android) and now we are an "always connected" customer. Applications like RedLaser and ShopSavvy give consumers the ability to walk into stores, scan bar codes, read reviews for products, and find the best value either locally or online (logistics make the differences minor). If the ability to gather information before buying products online made customers harder to sell, what do you think having that information at their fingertips while in your store will do?
Still buying on a little phone isn't easy, and most retailers' mobile apps are no better than websites from 1995 to 1996, but just imagine when women who control the spending have their 7 inch iPad or similar device in their purse and the experience is far smoother. It's coming!
The problem: Is your organization ready to handle this change?
Is Your Corporate Metabolism Sluggish Like the Economy?
Corporate metabolism is the term I use to describe the speed at which organizations can make decisions, adapt, and evolve. Things are progressing at a faster pace today than ever before, yet corporations struggle to empower themselves to change with them. An example of why Amazon was able to capture about 25 percent of the e-commerce transactions in the U.S. is how two hours after the death of Michael Jackson, it had reconfigured its MP3 store. That's right; in two hours most companies couldn't even coordinate a conference call, yet Amazon reconfigured the home page of one of its most important businesses. At any given time, Amazon has almost 200 tests running on its website and it was among the first to leverage social commerce effectively by harnessing the power of ratings and reviews. Jeff Bezos proclaimed early on that advertising as we know it was dead and that he was better off investing his millions in advertising budget into building a better experience. He understands the dynamic forces that are driving commerce. Does your organization? Can your organization keep up?
This is not exclusively a retail issue. It's hard to imagine the number of companies that were innovators in a technology that were able to capture a significant portion of the marketplace because of their first mover advantage, who then lost that "startup" edge. What happened is that their corporate metabolism slows and then they struggle to grow. If you need a cautionary tale, think about why Yahoo failed versus the speedy and agile Google. Will Skype be the next poster child for a slow corporate metabolism killing a company?
The Management Bureaucracy Must Evolve
Think about the typical command and control corporate bureaucracy that exists in most companies. All those layers of management were best suited for the Industrial Revolution's factory model of doing business. For over a century that worked fine, but that model is ill-suited to today's environment.
Change is the one business concept you can count on. Whenever you're feeling comfortable, fat, and happy there is somebody who will eat your lunch and they'll do it quickly and inexpensively. How quickly you handle change depends on how much your employees are empowered to make decisions and how fast you can shift your entire organization. You can leverage technology that helps speed up your organization and that gives you the flexibility to test, target, and personalize across channels the experience the way customers want it. If you haven't made significant changes yet, you better find ways to change and speed your corporate self up rapidly.
Technology, logistics, and communications are coming at us faster than a meteor. Remember that it was a meteor that killed the dinosaurs but allowed mammals (smaller, speedier, and adaptable) to survive. I hope dear reader that you're not a dinosaur.
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Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.
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