In the future, people won’t care whether or not they’re online.
I came to this conclusion recently after playing around with Tellme, a voice-portal service (1-800-555-TELL) that allows you to navigate web-supplied content using voice commands over your telephone. After I used it, I started thinking: “Is this the web? How is it different?” And then I realized the truth that separates the new economy “then” from the new new economy today: It’s not the protocol that gets you the information (or service) that matters; it’s the information or service itself.
The new economy that spawned the dot-com explosion was based on the assumption that the web mattered. It was a revolution. The old rules didn’t apply. Businesses were expected to succeed because they were on the web, not because they had earnings, stable business models, or good management teams. The medium was the thing.
Marketers, too, fell victim to the assumption that the web would replace all that had come before it. Professional-services firms or web-based marketing agencies such as Razorfish and Sapient saw huge valuations. Agencies desperate to stay on the cutting edge snatched up small “new media” firms in a big hurry.
Of course, things turned out a little differently than planned. Companies whose only differentiator was being online are going out of business in droves. High-flying firms that based their businesses on the new economy have seen their values tank in the last few months. VCs are now holding the purse strings a lot tighter.
In retrospect, one big mistake we all made was in thinking that the consumer cared about the medium more than the information. Does anyone using a service like Tellme care if his or her driving directions are being processed via a voice middleware application pulling data over a network running TCP/IP? Of course not! Will the gamer kid of the future care what protocol his or her PlayStation 2 uses to communicate with other gamers? No. And will the archetypal Joe Sixpack of 2001 care if his sports data is coming from an Internet-connected set-top box? Not a whit. He’ll be happy just to have the stats at his fingertips.
If the new economy was based on the assumption that the technology mattered, the new new economy we’re heading into will be based on the assumption that content rules, not the tech that delivers it. Whether over the phone, on a PC, in our TV, via satellite radio, in a game, carried on a PDA, or in a disposable computer purchased from a vending machine, tomorrow’s consumers won’t care… as long as they get what they’re looking for when they want it.
The new new economy will require us marketers to think holistically about our marketing tactics, working from the customer out, not from the medium in. Here are 10 rules I think can help us as we move into the new new economy:
- Be where the customer is. The No. 1 rule for marketing in the new new economy — it doesn’t matter what medium you’re using as long as it’s the one your customers are using. In some cases it may be the web; in some cases it won’t. Distributing budgets BEFORE knowing where the prospects are makes no sense. The most important thing is to reach the greatest number of eyes (or ears) in the most effective way possible. Artificially limiting your messages to a limited number of media is suicide. Find where the customers are, and go to them.
- Measurement and optimization rule! One thing the web has done is that it has brought radical accountability to advertising. On the web, your clients aren’t satisfied with vague assurances. They want the measurable results the web offers. And as more and more marketers become comfortable with the measurability the web offers, they’re going to start looking at the not-so-hard numbers of other mediums and start demanding accountability. Use these increasingly accurate measurement methods to ruthlessly test your assumptions about where your customers are, and adjust your campaigns accordingly.
- Focus. One of the big reasons people like Wal-Mart (and other “big box” retailers) is that all the stuff they need is in one physical location. Consumers find everything they need in one place, saving time and money. But on the web, physical location doesn’t matter. Everything’s more or less a click away. Consolidation for consumer convenience doesn’t make much sense when no “distance” separates one store (or business) from another. Doing one thing and doing it really well is what will win out in the long run.
- Fit the creative to the medium (and really know the medium!). You might remember “brochureware” sites consisting of poorly repurposed print designs. Luckily, we learned that the sites that actually incorporate some interactivity and provide value to the customer worked the best. We fit the message to the medium. As more and more delivery options become available, it is vital that we take the time to understand how the medium affects the message. Effective creative must match its delivery vehicle.
- Come together. The impression of physical proximity that the web provides can work against online retailers who still think they’re operating in the physical world. (See Rule 3.) One-stop shopping isn’t necessarily something that consumers want or need online. Companies need to do what they do best. However, there’s no reason why networks of focused sites can’t work together in an integrated fashion by forming partnerships, alliances, or affiliate programs.
- Differentiate where it counts. Many current dot-bombs assumed that people would use them because they’re on the web. Not! As history (and the market) is proving, novelty will only get you so far. If your store, service, or product is just another “me too” player in a crowded field, you’re doomed. And just being different isn’t enough — being different in the new new economy means being different in a way that makes sense to consumers. A goofy mascot, a famous celebrity spokesperson, or a nifty business model may not mean a heck of a lot if killer service, lower prices, and free shipping are all your customers are really looking for.
- It’s the experience, stupid! In a world of nearly infinite choices, easy price comparisons, and instant access to perfect (or near-perfect) information, consumers are going to base their buying decisions on what company provides the most compelling experience (all other things being equal). The winning companies of the future are those that have the best stories to tell, not necessarily the best prices.
- Don’t become a commodity. If there’s one thing the web (and all other mediums that are for instant information access) can do is instantly commodify nondifferentiated products and services. When anybody can compare prices at any time, competing on price alone leads to a death spiral. Fight commodification through service, quality, features, delivery, experience, or whatever will make your brand stand out to your customers.
- Old habits die hard. Changing consumer behavior is hard. When somebody has spent a lifetime shopping for groceries in the grocery store, it’s tough to get him or her to change that habit and buy online. Rationally, it doesn’t make sense, but who says consumers are rational? In the new new economy, if a company can’t provide a truly compelling reason for consumers to change their behavior, they won’t.
- There is no one solution. Finally, as much as a lot of popular e-biz book writers would like you to believe otherwise, there is no one solution to marketing to consumers. While tactics such as permission marketing, viral marketing, wireless advertising, and location-based marketing all have very good applications, none of them are or ever will be THE answer in every situation. Jumping into the latest fad of the minute is one sure way to waste a lot of money, especially as new technologies come along. Test, measure, optimize, and keep your eyes on the lookout for better ways to reach your targets. Chances are the best way will always be a combination of new and old ways.
By definition, a “revolution” cannot be a steady state. It happens, a new regime comes in, and we move on from there. Today, we’re at that stage. The new economy revolution is over. We won. Get over it. It’s time to get down to business.