Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Screen As A Strategy : Understanding The Internet

I closed the previous article {found here : Understanding The Internet : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems} with a statement that few organizations truly understand how to use the 5-21” space of the screen;  this article looks at this aspect in a little more detail. A great many companies use the customer-facing aspects of the internet as merely another tool to communicate and connect, completely ignoring the full power of the internet ecosystem.


The Screen, first of all, is mistakenly defined as just a mere device that displays, or acts as a window, disseminating information to your prospects and customers, and the general audience. The screen is more of a doorway, a portal that transports – or has the ability to – transport your customer into a world of constantly interacting stakeholders in your product, your company and your addressable market segment. If that doesn’t scare you as a Brand Manager, as a Marketer, and as a Sales Professional, high time it did.


Before the internet ecosystem evolved, the touchpoints a customer had for interfacing with your products were limited – The Shop, Company Offices, Other Customers who were limited to those who were met personally, Media, Competitors and a few more. But cut to today and that has undergone a sea-change, with the potential ability of the customer connect having increased to almost infinity, with the feasibility of getting exposed to and influenced by a much larger array of touchpoints, viewpoints, opinions - as well as both positive and negative customer feedback and experiences


It stands to reason that in the changed environment of freer flow of information & increased touchpoints, the customer communication has to change from a one-sided monologue to more of an engagement with the customer. The reason is straightforward – a greater number of touchpoints mean larger information volume and interactions, contrarian opinions, noise and greater scope for replaceable products to engage with prospective customers, as well as greater potential of the medium to enhance audience experiences.


Thus far, we are on established management jargon, which is spouted by a good number of companies. Only a select few organizations manage to actually convert the monologue with an active engagement; very very few, in fact. For, a large majority of the sites I visit, at least in India, still adhere to the old style of communication; little effort is made to enhance the customer experience, and make it more rewarding and meaningful. In some cases, the customer experience is actually negative in many ways. The reason this is not showing in sales is either due to the price differential; products are cheaper on the Ecommerce sites, or due to other attendant disadvantages.


Let me illustrate with 2 examples : one B2C and one B2B. The internet is so vast, that it is not feasible for me to cover more in a blog post; neither is it advisable. In B2C, let us take books. Why does a customer buy a book online? There are two reasons : Price, and Convenience, which has lead to galloping sales at online book stores. But halt a moment, and analyse in depth. And, instead of asking what does the internet give you, ask what does a book stall give you? Reverse your viewpoint for a minute!


In a book store, you can get a feel of the book, you can flip its pages – which is pretty damned important if you are reading a new author, or a serious topic; you can easily compare similar books or two options on the same subject. Furthermore, you can far more easily spot new books; the interface is much bigger than a small screen; in a store, you are exposed to 4 walls crammed with books, which  make for easy discovery.


To compete with this, you have the price-offs and the convenience factor of the small screen; till date there has been on attempt at going beyond this. Reviews do not count in the age of the convergence of technology; it is simple enough a task to look a book’s reviews on your smartphone and purchase offline! The offline stores are also now becoming more nimble, willingly offering discounts to regular customers, and other small facilities, like getting selected books for them. They are now allowing customers to sit on sofas in comfort, and browse books to their heart’s content – in other words, they have added several value-additions to the customer interface, making for a much more rewarding experience


And that is where the digital players are not doing anything : trying to make the customer interface more rewarding. Sure, this will be expensive, time-consuming and demanding; but it will have to be done sooner or later. Currently, you are not facing the pain as the market is untapped, and there is a scorching growth pace, that is hiding the underbelly. All are advised to study Telecom, and how its ARPU fell, and draw parallels and extrapolate to the future, with penetration at higher levels. That is a reality every industry has to face.


In our example, a moments’ thought and you can spot any number of ways that the customer experience can be made more rewarding. You can facilitate browsing titles – and the usage of technology can ensure that the browsing experience in online stores will be leagues ahead of the offline experience, as you can offer targeted searches in the book’s content. Author-searches, cross-selling opportunities, specific searches of interest – all of which can make the customer experience exceptionally powerful.


You cannot match the dexterity and ease of new book discovery in offline stores; but you can work around this issue by offering other advantages. You can offer first 1o pages downloads free, as an example. You can look at facilitating direct interactions with the author, fan pages, discussion forums; you can facilitate book searches and book discovery in a much wider database, and can give options for time of delivery if book not in stock {beyond the current We Will Get In Touch When In Stock} and so on and so forth.


All this can be achieved at the touch of a button for the customer, which cannot be matched by the offline store. The current model of price-driven sales online is already driving a deep schism into offline models, leading to a massive backlash by offline models, who are competing with extraordinary tenacity and dexterity, and are in the process not only maintaining relevance, but actually winning back lost ground.


And all because the online people aren’t using the full power of the medium; and that is because the pain isn’t showing in the numbers, as the high growth rate is ensuring the new customers are greater than Churn. As I said, learn from Telecom : there will come a time when Churn will exceed new customers. And no one can say how far away that time is, given the stunningly scorching growth rates in this industry.



In the next article, I shall take a look at the B2B marketplace, as well as some interesting entirely avoidable mistakes made by the best of them in this trade in both the B2B and B2C Space. 

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