Don’t have time to read? Here’s a quick but comprehensive summary of Brian Solis’s “What’s the Future of Business?” released on March 11.
Who should read this: The leaders of later-stage companies who are concerned about staying relevant in the face of new technologies and new consumers (which, Solis would argue, should be everyone).
Elevator pitch: The new generation of consumers value experiences – what they see, feel, and touch during every interaction with your product – and they expect experiences to be constantly improving. The traditional views of customer acquisition and “engagement” don’t capture this. Solis explains how to shift the mindset of your business and become truly disruptive.
Author: Brian Solis is a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a research and advisory company that helps companies with disruption. He is also the author of The End of Business as Usual and Engage, and he speaks frequently on social media, disruptive technology, and the consumer landscape.
With the popularity of social media, many businesses spend their time and resources responding and rectifying negative experience that customers share. But to save money and thrive as a business, you need to be proactive and not reactive: to minimize negative experience by creating positive, meaningful experiences in the first place.
Society and technology evolve faster than businesses’ ability to adapt, hence the constant dethroning of Fortune 1000 companies. To survive, you need to create a culture that is customer-centric, empowered, and innovative.
To evolve your company will be like the hero’s journey, and the first part of that is discovery: collecting and interpreting data on the behavior of your customers.
Although many companies focus on millennials, you need to think even more broadly about Generation C: connected consumers who live on social networks, make decisions based on customer reviews, and care about (and share) experiences. Customers can now be ranked according to how many followers they have, which translates into how influential their opinions and posts about your company will be. You need to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they value.
The popular view of the sales funnel is obsolete. Customers today don’t proceed linearly through a funnel; their view of your company may be influenced at all times from many different sources. This involves four stages: the zero moment of truth (ZMOT), when they start to research the product online and on social media; the first moment of truth, when the buying decision is made; the second moment of truth, when the experience of your product either delights them or does not; and the ultimate moment of truth, when people express an opinion about your product. Companies need to design experiences that are shareable, creating positive ultimate moments of truth that drive positive ZMOTs.
People check multiple sources of information (between 5 and 15) before making a purchase decision. But most businesses focus on just a few traditional sources for advertising, while avenues like social and mobile are growing exponentially. In fact, 70 percent of consumers (according to one survey) relied on an online recommendation from friends or family to make a purchase decision.
You can reimagine the traditional sales funnel as an infinite loop, the “dynamic customer journey” (DCJ): consumers consider your product, evaluate it, purchase it, experience it, become loyal to it, advocate it, and raise awareness for it, which in turn encourages others to consider it.
To connect with the connected consumer, listen to how they communicate about you, learn how they move through the DCJ (whom they listen to, where, and with what technologies), engage during moments of truth (to provide value or resources), and adapt your processes, strategies, and investments in technology. For example, you can engineer features that drive more sharing, engage influencers, consider policies like price matching, and respond to queries on social networks.
Specifically, to improve what consumers see during the ZMOT (when they’re searching for information), monitor discussions about your product and figure out what keywords people are searching for. Create social content like videos and blog posts that provide information, fix negative experiences so they aren’t shared more broadly, and incorporate your learnings and customer feedback into new innovation.
During this process, remember what drives consumer decisions from a social psychology perspective: social proof, authority figures, scarcity or exclusivity, people they like, past decisions, and the feeling of reciprocity.
It is the experience you want your customers to have that eventually defines your brand – and both of those things must be constantly reinvented and improved as times change. “The brand is . . . a collection of shared experiences aimed at creating alignment between your vision and customer aspiration.”
Key here is the UX (user experience) team. They can shape the way customers feel about the product and engage with it. The idea is to use UX to evoke emotions, causing the customer to feel empathy with your vision or brand.
Businesses need to be constantly transforming to stay relevant. That means listening to the experiences of individual customers, then implementing changes in vision, strategy, and culture. Part of that process involves distinguishing truly disruptive technologies from hyped fads, then assessing how they can improve things like your brand, customer experience, and returns.
Remember from The Innovator’s Dilemma that true disruption means your product creates a new market, starts off “not good enough,” and has a different type of value from existing products. You should create a cross-departmental task force within your organization to come up with new ideas and connect them to a better customer experience.
Change is a journey, within individuals and within the organization. You (as a leader) can help employees get ready to take action by instilling confidence and emphasizing the benefits. In an organization undergoing transformation, you should expect to find allies, encounter obstacles, start seeing benefits, then keep learning – like the hero’s journey.
Grade: B. If you take nothing else away from this book, you will learn that experience matters to your customers, and you should really listen to the experiences they’re having around your product. This lesson even applies to startups, although the book seems targeted at larger organizations who have things like CMOs, departments who don’t communicate with each other, and existing technologies that need to be innovated upon. But I would have hoped for more concrete examples throughout the book. Without them, his ideas about experience, alignment, and transformation remain a bit abstract.
But perhaps that’s the point. “Sometimes the abstract is just what we need to inspire a new generation of thinkers and change agents,” says Solis. “What sets the future of business apart are those who lead and those who follow. This is a book for people who realize that their path will not be defined based on the examples of others, but instead break new ground to define the case studies of the future.”