Prior to the rise of mass production and assembly line processes in the latter half of the 20th century, new products and services were often created in response to a direct conversation between consumers and businesses.
If a consumer – they weren’t called that then – wanted to make a purchase, they would explain their requirements to a person or business they thought could fulfill those needs and then negotiate a price. It sounds impossibly time consuming to us today, but the approach had it’s advantages:
- those delivering products and services were assured of a market before they’d expended time or resources
- costs were kept low because there was little, if any, marketing overhead
- because consumers were directly involved in the process of devising the product or service, their requirements were more likely to be met
- pleased customers would tell others (word of mouth)
During the 20th Century, in particular it’s latter half, production and service delivery has become profit, rather than consumer, focused. Most often it’s now businesses that come up with product or service ideas – designed for profitability – then utilise mass marketing to generate consumer need, and mop up the resultant disappointment with neutralising doses of customer relationship management and PR.
Although originally devised to fill the gap between consumers and businesses, mass marketing and CRM, most often impersonal (even if they do call you by name) and delivered from a distance, is de-humanising or worse. Whilst production costs are arguably reduced by providing one size for all, the additional costs involved in artificially generating demand and protecting reputation are of no benefit to consumer or society as a whole as they don’t contribute towards the creation of better products or improvements in service delivery.
It hasn’t always been like this, and we now have the tools to effect real positive change, as my colleague Lee Bryant argues in his presentation The 20th Century was Wrong:
“Some people see new social technology and networked culture asdangerous and ‘new’, and they fall back on their experience oftechnology and organisational culture in the late Twentieth Century asthe ‘established’ model. Yet, in fact the reverse is true. TheTwentieth century took the ideas of the industrial revolution andapplied them to people. Mass production. Mass marketing. Mass slaughter.
If you look at a longer timeframe, you will see that our new era ofsocial technology and social business is in fact more traditional, andcontinues very old, resilient models of network-based trade, businessand socialisation. The difference is, we now have the technology andinfrastructure (and arguably the globalised world) that enables us toscale up these old ways of working to support our modern life.“
In short, consumers can and should be closely involved in the co-creation, testing, reﬁnement and marketing of products and services – something that nearly always involves a conversation – and social tools are now available to support this.
Over the last 6 to 12 months we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of times we’re asked about social media monitoring. In response we’ve investigated, and in some instances implemented, solutions. The packages and services on offer come in various shapes and, as Richard Stacy points out:
“there is a huge industry selling incredibly impressive black boxes thatreel off reams of charts and data and figures and tracking, withsentiment analysis and conversation mining (conversation mining?) andall sorts of other wizardry.”
Finding conversations about topics or brands can be genuinely useful but, as compelling as I find graphs and other forms of data visualisation, I’m not quite ready to believe that human behaviour is something that can or should be turned into zeros and naughts to be categorised, visualised and measured.
Whilst it’s true that, at present, most social media monitoring is being used to protect existing mass processes, I remain enthusiastic about it’s potential to help genuinely social businesses gain a foothold by helping them identify opportunities, make contact with those with a need (“the market”) and build awareness of their ability and eagerness to fulfill that need. That, however, requires more than just a monitoring solution – it requires a consumer focused strategy, utilising a variety of social tools to support consumer involvement in every step of the process, including product or service definition, testing, refinement and marketing.
I want to prove this works, so here’s my challenge – I’m looking for a client who wants to genuinely involve individuals, members of the public, in what might best be described as a circular process, where consumers (or audiences) are put at the centre of your business, and are pro-actively involved in the processes of devising, defining, creating and possibly even delivering new product or service offerings. By them, for them, with you facilitating. We’ll help you find the audience, create the work flows, and support the necessary processes through the use of social tools and social business strategies. You’ll get nothing short of an opportunity to transform the way you do business. Ready?