One of my mantras is that we can’t confuse the business with the tools. I remind clients of this all the time when they’re confused about the imperative to be on a specific platform or address a particular market segment. While they might think their need is to build a better app, I’d rather we explore the underlying business processes and make sure they’re optimal from a customer perspective. The app we’ll then build will reflect a great customer experience and not magnify the flaws in our offering.
Here is another mantra. People hate middlemen but love people who add value. Think about the great sharing economy that’s emerged over the last few years. Uber doesn’t own a single car but facilitates millions of rides. They’re a middleman but they add value by provide generally inexpensive, fast service to consumers while providing income for people with a car and no particular place to go. AirBnB has done the same thing for lodging. I have a spare room or a vacant apartment, you are visiting where I am and don’t want to pay ridiculous rates (and “resort fees“) to stay in a so-so hotel. They add value by putting us together.
In both of those cases, as in others like Etsy, the business has not changed. Someone needs a room or a ride or a scarf. They want them to be fairly priced. They want them to be of great quality and dependable and delivered on the customer’s own terms (timing, etc). These companies have not changed the business. They’ve changed how they made the business happen. The “how” is new, not the “what.”
We need to stop thinking of transforming into “digital” companies. There are too many of us trying to serve the technology rather than making the technology serve us. Maybe it’s the old guy talking but I don’t see much difference now in the business world I entered in the late 1970’s. Find people with problems and help them to solve them. It may be a need to get somewhere or to be better informed or to be in two meetings in two different cites an hour apart. We’ve solved those business problems with technology. My business – media – has been among those most affected by this and there is no doubt that the next two or three years will see even more change as people migrate to more over-the-top viewing. But the business hasn’t changed, really. People want to be educated and entertained and are willing to pay – either through attention or through their wallets – to see content that does that. Boy, how the “how” has changed, but at it’s core the “what” is that same as it was when Uncle Miltie made America laugh.