“Our relationships are no longer with the service providers”
A few years ago, Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) wrote this in a popular and thought-provoking piece called “The Battle Is For The Customer Interface”. I have returned to it a few times over this past year while helping clients interested in creating greater levels of engagement with their customers. As Mr. Goodwin clearly describes, new digital platforms are being adopted en masse, and traditional businesses (travel, telco, banking, automotive, media) are being left behind as the “dumb pipes”. Taking this concept down to the marketing level, I see a similar challenge. Brands are getting further away from the customers they want to directly engage, and the gap is being filled—and in many cases caused by—new digital platforms.
- Services: Financial planning and budgeting is being managed completely through Mint (vs. RBC)
- Marketplaces: Consumer products are being researched and bought completely through Amazon (vs. Kitchenaid)
- Advice: Hotel, transport, and destination planning is being completed through TripAdvisor (vs. Starwood)
- Expertise: Fashion brands and beauty products discovered through influencers and Gilt (vs. Macy’s)
- Activities: Fans are following teams through news, trivia, and betting via DraftKings (vs. NFL)
- Resources: Recipes and food advice is being found and shared through Pinterest (vs. Kraft)
- Support: Electronics owners are learning from enthusiasts and each other through Mac Forums (vs. Apple)
Depending on your organization and industry, different combinations of these forces and seemingly parasitic players are making it increasingly difficult for you to engage customers directly. Your products are their widgets to sell, your content is their assets to publish, and your data is their APIs for new services. Marketers need to determine how to address these challenges in order to be present in the lives of customers in more meaningful ways, through experiences that they can more fully control.
One way that I approached this challenge recently was by sketching out a mind-map of engagement points for a brand. What I tried to do was open to open up our aperture and identify out all of the ways that someone might engage with the underlying passion area related to the brand. This way, we could start exploring different tangents and adjacencies that might represent new ways to create connections with customers without being trapped by traditional conventions of the category.
For example, airlines are quickly becoming the “dumb pipes” for travel now that people have adopted services such as Expedia, Kayak, and Skyscanner. We can explore new ways for an airline to connect with customers by widening our frame to how people engage in ‘travel’ instead of how people ‘buy flights’. From there, we can research and identify different ways that people engage in the underlying passion area of travel, and review these more abstract points of engagement.
Where are we today?
Creating such a map can help clarify where a brand is present today, and where new opportunities may lie to create a new connection. Where are those areas where you provide value to customers today? Where are those areas where you are becoming dis-intermediated from your customers the most?
Where can we play?
Many of the areas in this engagement canvas may be well served by other brands, organizations, and services. In some cases, this may be to your benefit—such as having your news or content being shared by other platforms. The point is not to cover the board like a game of Risk. Ask yourself, are there other areas here where your brand can provide value to this network in a way that no one else can?
How can we win?
Considering these spaces where you may want to play a greater role, what can you do? As a travel brand do you want to compete in a new area by launching a new platform (like AirBnB launching a new travel magazine)? Do you want to partner with a complimentary brand to extend your reach (like Starwood SPG members earning points through Uber rides)? Or do you want to extend your existing services to provide even greater value over time (like Air France allowing passengers to finish movies after their flight lands)?
By creating your own map, you may find new ways to bridge this widening engagement gap between your brand and your customers.