The Art of Zen: Learn from platforms and ‘BE’ the customer


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Amazon, Uber, lyft, Asos, Skybe, ebay, Airbnb, Box, SeatGeeek, Prosper, Craftsy, esty, Hired, pluralsight, iCracked… The list of successful platform businesses is growing by the day. Research shows that by the end of 2020, now less than 12 months away, a quarter of the global economy will be driven by platform businesses. Moreover, 81 per cent of senior executives say that platform-based business models will be core to their growth over the next three years. It is clear that traditional businesses can learn from their disruptive platform counterparts.

One of the clear similarities amongst platform brands is their approach to the customer. As long as the concepts of customer centricity and CRM have been around the idea of getting to know the customer have been paramount. But platform brands have taken this one step further. It’s not just about getting to know the customer. It’s about actually being the customer. For example, fashion platform Asos lives and breathes its customers. The average age of their employees is 26—which is slap bang in the middle of its target audience. Asos is the customer. It knows what customers want and need because its employees use the platform and are completely in touch with trends and competitors in the market.

In today’s complex markets for organisations to succeed, they need to live and breathe their customers—not just “get to know” them. Brand-builders need to develop organic profiles of their customers (rather than static segmentations) and develop and refine the profiles as customers change and to accommodate multiple touchpoints. By their very nature, segmentations are outdated almost immediately. Customers change. Constantly. Two ABC1 20-somethings living in central London won’t necessarily be two ABC1s next year. In very little time, customers can develop a host of different needs and wants. Likewise, what a segment wants and needs today may be very different as trends and tastes change (and at faster rates than ever before).

It is clear therefore that today’s brands need to become their customers, not just know them. How? Embed organic insight within your business. Immerse the entire business in your users’ world. Are your staff from your target demographic? Are they customers outside of work? If not, create a shadow board like Gucci’s “Millennial Committee” to review and test ideas among different demographic groups or mind-sets.

The greatest platform businesses are those that put their customer insight to work. Deep customer knowledge, combined with data, can lead platforms toward simple and creative services. Traditional businesses should follow their lead and fill needs customers didn’t know they had, with products and services they now can’t live without. As platform brands increase—both in number and in prominence—staying at the forefront of customer’s minds is what they consider key. Their major priority is not to get deleted from their customers’ phones to save space. Instead they are “being” the customer, becoming the fabric of everyday life, and working creatively to anticipate and delight consumers. Relatable. Indispensable. Creative. Those are the characteristics that build (and strengthen) today’s brands. To thrive businesses must live and breathe their customers and extract as much data as possible, from every source available.


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