There are a couple of excellent articles in this month’s Harvard Business Review (here and here – sadly behind the paywall but worth the price). Both argue that the right thing for companies to do has also become the only way for them to survive – they have no choice but to fundamentally rethink the way they’ve done business for decades and re-organize once and for all around the needs of the customer.
The New Consumer Age
It’s no secret that consumers – both B2C and B2B – are taking full advantage of the ubiquity of information made available by the web. Huge and increasing numbers of them are utilizing ever-sharper digital tools to research, rate, review, compare and share opinion. Weak products, poor service and unacceptable corporate behavior are constantly being outed. There’s nowhere to hide. And no amount of positively-spun advertising or PR will help once the vengeful consumer pack and their advocates in the blogosphere are unleashed.
With that in mind it’s become obvious that to be successful companies need to radically rethink the way they do business.
The old top-down belief that consumers can somehow be forced in a linear process down the ‘purchase funnel’ based on just the right mix of communications tactics no longer works. It probably never did.
Similarly the mantra of ‘acquiring and retaining’ customers is part of a command and control ‘CRM’ approach that’s irrelevant in a context where consumers have no loyalty except to their own best interests.
Companies do not and cannot ‘own’ the customer. That belief leads to arrogant behavior and sub-optimal products and service. Instead success now and in the future will be based on their ability and commitment to ‘understand and serve’ the needs of their customers. The customer really truly finally is king.
The Corporate Challenge
But what does organizing around the customer actually mean? What are the required inputs and processes to consistently understand and deliver what consumers need? And how do companies overturn organizational structures and cultural beliefs that have grown up over years or decades?
The mission of this blog is to provide some answers. Over time we’ll talk about the companies that are successfully embracing the reality of consumer empowerment for the betterment of both parties, how they’re doing it and the results they’re achieving.
Such a fundamental shift in corporate mission and direction is hard, often wrenchingly so. It impacts all aspects of company culture, strategy, organization, management, and stakeholder relationships (not to mention communication). As both HBR articles point out change as significant as this must be driven from the top. Without active CEO leadership change is trumped by the urgency of business as usual.
This is all pretty dramatic stuff. But over the past few years progressive executives at companies large and small have demonstrated not only that they grasp the fundamental truth of this argument, they’re actively changing the way they conduct business in order to deliver on what they (accurately I think) perceive as an enormous opportunity.
We’ve reached a tipping-point. Reversing the polarity of a company is hard. It’s complex. And transformation can’t be alchemized overnight. But the logic of the approach is clear and compelling. And it’s doable. This is the next leap forward for corporate America.