OK, Time to Open 2008: The Year of the Totally Cool Social Customer


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I love you.

You love you.

And, as I said, in such a manly dramaqueeny sort of way, two and a half years ago- most companies don’t ACTUALLY love you, but want you to think they love you – because you love you (unless, of course, you have a self-esteem issue – but even there, you know you should love you – or you wouldn’t know you have the issue).

What does THAT mean? It means that style – and even stylin’ – matter to all of us as customers – and has to matter to the business half of our schizophrenic selves.

And so starts 2008 – Social CRM with style.

Think not? Take a look at this article on how consumer technologies are beginning to drive innovation in business. Then add to that brew, the study referenced in my favorite blog entry of all time “Pardon Me. Is That Laptop a Real Louis Vuitton? It was done by Intel and Turay Ultrasuede. It found 76% of the respondents stated that when they made a technology choice, style mattered. More interesting, 73% of the respondents said that when they looked at someone else’s technology, they looked at the style. So you have consumer thinking and technologies beginning to impact innovation and decision making in business too.

Now that Web 2.0 is becoming part of the vendor landscape, the issue of style is becoming one of the most important issues as hardware and software are increasingly commoditized and products become increasingly part of a set of aggregated offerings from business. The differentiators move from feature/function to looks and style. Traditional software and hardware vendors have begun to catch up and they now realize that style is genuinely important – and it, like Web 2.0, is being driven by the customers right through the steel hearts of the corporation and the steel heads of the analysts (that would include me, I guess).

That is by no means a shallow thing as we shall see.

To start this journey, take a look at this week’s Business Week – that would be the recently redesigned, newly horribly ugly, changed look Business Week. There’s an article that is well worth looking at called “That Computer Is So You.”

The fact that the customer is driving the changes in thinking is stated in econotechnospeak by Dave Fester, the GM of Product Marketing of Microsoft:

“The market is pushing computer makers to do this.”

So true, but, in some ways, so sad.

What’s So Sad?

You would hope that businesses in general, especially those that profess to be at the cutting edge, like technology providers, would be foresighted enough to anticipate this market, but they apparently aren’t. So customers have to do the thinking and then make it clear to businesses that they have to agree to this or they (the customers) simply won’t do business with them. The businesses on the other hand, should be realizing that, by this time, that, in fact, most of the people who run these businesses that are caught flat-footed by these changes – are also consumers, so they should know how consumers think.

But they didn’t know. And that’s sad. A lack of foresight and they’re caught flatfooted. You saw how long it took for them to adopt Web 2.0 – so imagine what it does to an technology enterprise’s ego to think that style is going to be a key frontier for 2008. As we see some of them are.

What’s So True?

The customers are driving this market because the market was defined when these customers began concerning themselves with personal choices and individual customization and began sharing their choices with their peers – outside of business.

Remember this phrase, my colleagues, my friends – OUTSIDE OF BUSINESS

Thing is, the change in communications that we now take somewhat for granted, though are fascinated by its newness still, took place outside of innovation at the enterprise. This was a social evolution driven by IM, SMS, and MySpace; by 14 and 15 year olds on their cellphones, as much or more than it was ever driven by a company. It is a social change that actually impacts economics, politics, culture, institutions of all types and sizes and changes the nature of human demand which means changes individual expectations of all institutions. Among those expectations are immediacy of response, visibility into the institution (truthiness) and the means to sculpt one’s own experience.

This makes Joe Pine’s and James Gilmore’s mass customization uniquely more interesting to business – and its because of what I formulaically could say is “personalization + sharing = a hell of an interest in mass customization + a twist.

Think of it this way. The peer-to-peer sharing of personal choices, looks, behaviors and interactions (made obvious by Facebook) created the market that Dave Fester talks about above. The reason it is a market is because they are all shared. Shared. Shared. Shared. In other words, others had access to them with either positive or negative judgments attached to the value of those choices, looks, behaviors and interactions. That desire to judge is inherent in our gene pool. All of these were judged, say, “cool” or “uncool”; “good” or “crap”, “useful” or “what the f— good is THAT?!!!”. Or a myriad of other emotional or behavior descriptors. Proof of concept has been around since the first member of the species thought that fire was “cool” (not “hot”). Social sites that do reviews like Yelp, etc. are also proof. Their popularity is boundless.

When we each do that and we use our mouths to spread the word, to share those definitive judgments we throw out there, we create buzz or maybe, buzzkill.

Its why Dave Fester also says in the same Business Week article, once again from behind the enterprise firewall, “There’s a new bar being set.”

The way its being set is kind of funny in this particular case. Microsoft is sponsoring a “fashion show” that’s being run by three fashion mavens including the wildly popular (for reasons beyond any logic I can actually construct), Nigel Barker from “America’s Next Top Model.” Their job is to judge the runway where a dozen PCs will parade and they have to choose the one that’s the most fashionable.

Read the article. It confirms time and time again that 2008 is the year of style when it comes to customers and, by extension CRM and by further extension, CRM strategy. One more quote from Michael Dell (from Dell….??? Duh.) before I move on.

“We’re in the fashion business. The products we sell increasingly make a statement about who you are.”

Michael “Versace” Dell, dahling.

For those of you who remain skeptics when it comes to the power of style and its rightful placement at least along side function and feature (it no longer follows function – See Louis Sullivan’s world famous “form follows function” architectural concept from the early 20th century. Go to Chicago and look at his beautiful, beautiful buildings, while you’re at it.), got a couple of books for you to read.

First, The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel, so you can locate the role of style in how it affects history and business in particular. Even more germane to this particular entry, read the aforementioned Joe Pine II and James Gilmore’s The Experience Economy. Pine and Gilmore make the pint that the customer’s experience – of which style happens to be a feature – can be a highly profitable venture for businesses – especially when the tools of mass customization are brought to the fore. This is supported by Donald A. Norman, a professor at my alma mater, Northwestern University (which automatically means he’s right) and author of The Design of Future Things. “The proper way to design is not target an individual type of customer. You want 100 million customers.”

Personally, this is where I would include the “twist” I mentioned above. Design for 100 million, but include the tools that allow each individual in that 100 million to craft the design to the style and substance that they want. The 100 million person design is a framework that provides the capacity, flexibility and tools for an infinite number of possible singular instances. Meets the need for mass customization and individual style simultaneously and makes the experience that the customer is having both valuable to the business providing it and wonderful for the customer having it.

All in all, we’re kicking into 2008 with an unprecedented transformation of the business ecology – as it is increasingly being sculpted and shaped by the customers a.k.a. people who are driving social change in the way we communicate and with a fresh new set of expectations – more than ever before in their own hands. Businesses, remember something. You’re customers too. You’re either institutional customers in a B2B world or consumers when you go home and engage in family life and that B2C world. That’s a good thing because you can understand how style impacts your business because you can understand how style impacts you.


“You got style. You got grace. You’re a member of the human race.”

Welcome to (bust a move) 2008. The Year of the Seriously Cool Lookin’ and Actin’ And Stylin’ Social Customer

Paul Greenberg
The 56 Group, LLC
Paul Greenberg, the president of the 56 Group, LLC, is the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, 3rd edition. Greenberg is co-chairman of Rutgers University's CRM Research Center and executive vice president of the CRM Association. His blog PGreenblog won both of the only two awards ever given to CRM blogs.


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