07 MAR COMPANIES MUST UNDERSTAND, THE CUSTOMER IS THE CHANNEL
We are living through a revolution. The technological and digital age is creating changes in society not seen since the Industrial Revolution. It is affecting all aspects of our lives from work to shopping, politics to education and far more besides.
In terms of communications, this revolution is simple to understand. For the first time in history everyone owns a channel. There was a time when virtually all the information that we consumed came from media companies. Whether it was news, music, T.V, literature, films or even business to business trade information, distribution of the books, CDs, programmes, newspapers and magazines was in the hands of relatively few media companies.
Today, this is simply not the case. Of course, media organisations are still putting out their content. However, now all companies have their own media channels. From websites to social platforms and blogs to YouTube, businesses possess their own media channels which they can use to distribute information direct to their customers.
Most importantly, perhaps, every individual now has their own media channels. For example, Facebook is close to having two billion users, and that is merely one of the options available. While these media channels may not be ‘broadcasting’ in the traditional sense, they could be thought of as ‘narrowcasting’. In other words, individuals have a way of sharing their thoughts, en masse, with family, friends and colleagues amongst whom they do have an influence.
In fact, whereas traditionally the main way information was distributed was via broadcasting and publishing, presently the primary source of distribution is ‘social sharing’. Social proof (what other people say and do) has always been the biggest influencer on human behaviour. That is why word of mouth has always been important to the success of any good business. However, today, because everyone now owns media, and continually ‘narrowcasts’ to an engaged audience, word of mouth and social proof are more important than ever before.
The result is simple; customers are no longer just purchasers of products and services. They are so much more. Now, they are a channel. In fact, they are likely to be the most important channel to market a company has.
The ramifications of this for business are huge. We have entered the ‘experience’ economy. In an age where products and services are ubiquitous, companies are no longer competing merely on ‘what’ they supply. Rather, they are competing on the whole experience they offer. This includes considering how they involve their customer and how they make their customer feel.
Whether it is encouraging and utilising customer feedback, data or other information, to create new product offerings, improve existing lines or feed into general innovation, the more customers can become ‘involved’, the more of an experience is provided. Listening to customers is important, but it is not enough. Engaging customers and allowing them to participate, almost as partners in the brand, is how companies can start to deliver a real and meaningful experience.
To create an amazing experience, companies must also consider how they want their customers to feel emotionally. In other words, do you sell candles or romance? What is the emotional deliverable of your offering?
Delivering experiences matters for two main reasons. Firstly, it is unlikely that a company will be able to compete solely on a product offering. The plethora of choice available, in the market, makes differentiation incredibly challenging. However, experiences are more three dimensional. Once differentiation is about the whole user journey from how customers are involved and how they feel through to products which also deliver on that emotional promise, companies have far more opportunity to become distinctive, even in the most competitive of markets.
Secondly, today the customer is the channel. Social sharing on digital platforms is becoming the major way we learn, discover and explore. People generally don’t share product information. Rather, they share moments, stories, thoughts and feelings. In other words, experiences. By creating and delivering a great experience, companies and brands can become part of the conversation and, therefore, truly benefit from the most important channel to market that exists today.