The Economist has an excellent leader article about what important lessons the remarkable tale of eBay’s growth points to for any business trying to operate online. Today that includes, one way or another, most firms.
The commercial opportunities presented by an expanding global web seem almost limitless. But the pace of change is rapid, and so is the ferocity of competition. To succeed, firms need agility, an open mind and the ability to reinvent themselves repeatedly. Most of all, they need to listen carefully to their customers, paying close attention to what they do and don’t want. Such qualities, of course, would be valuable in any kind of business. Yet for online firms they are not a luxury, but necessary for mere survival.
Hence their writing on the wall for the marketing industry about the ’empowered consumer‘. They translate the many-to-many nature of the internet into the need to pay attention to every whim of the customers. Which is good advice, but I would go even further - businesses should understand that the barrier separating them and the ‘consumers’ is breaking down. Their employees are the same people who create the ‘consumer class’ and the big divide between the ‘broadcaster of the message’ and the ‘target audience’ is no longer what it used to be in the industrial era of mass production and pretty much mass everything…
The Economist looks at the entire landscape, sees the changes but does not go beyond the company and industry edifice:
The internet is not only growing, but changing rapidly—which, in turn, changes the rules of the game for any business relying on it. The barriers to entry are still low compared with those for most offline businesses, which means that just keeping track of your existing rivals is not enough. These may not represent the greatest competitive threat tomorrow or the next day. That could come from a number of directions—a firm in a different type of online business; one that does not yet exist; or even from one of your own customers. On top of all this, the behaviour of many consumers is constantly changing as well, as individuals discover new ways to shop and interact with each other via the web.
Here we go, finally a mention of the most fundamental change that the internet has cause in how we conduct our affairs. The user rulez. We now see a ‘new tech sector’ where technologies emerge and spread like wildfire as users are designing, developing and inventing things for other users. This has major implications on both the functionality and the format of what is being created - modular, inexpensive, constantly evolving and above all often capable of doing more than large corporate ‘solutions’.
All these factors make the internet a dangerous place to do business, as well as one full of promise. For managers of any business, the lessons of eBay are both exhilarating and daunting: the prizes offered by the internet are dazzling by any measure, but only those who can satisfy the demanding and changing tastes of consumers, the internet’s true sovereigns, will survive to enjoy them.
Indeed. It is about paying attention not to your consumers but to the dymanics of this ‘dangerous place’ in order to fully immerse yourself in it. The blogosphere to me is like a Petri dish, where I can observe, analyse and understand what drives people, their interactions, communications, connectivity, innovation and creativy - and all those social dynamics that the online has become synonymous with. I can do this not because of some external ‘qualitifications’, ‘methodologies’ and ‘analytics’ but because I have been part of it for some time and my understanding comes from understanding the impact on the individual. From that, over time and with interaction with many other bloggers I have built up a clear picture of how that understanding can be extrapolated and applied to businesses. All rather straigthforward, really. And most of all, it’s fun to see it work…
Cross-posted from Media Influencer