Despite what we’re told, the world isn’t changing as fast as it seems.
Though there are new technologies that seem to be appearing and becoming readily accessible at pace, our fundamental needs as consumers and humans have largely stayed the same. Ironically, it’s companies that are at the cutting edge of digital innovation that are realising this faster than anyone else.
Gunjan Bhow (SVP/GM of Digital and e-Commerce at Walt Disney; previously at Amazon and Microsoft) reminded us that what people fundamentally want when they engage with brands is to get stuff – “faster, cheaper, better”. Amazon’s success doesn’t come from its digital capacity, it comes from anticipating people’s needs.. Amazon has managed to get inside people’s homes and heads by predicting what they want before they actually need it.
Bhow advises that the power of digital is its capacity to identify and solve problems in customers’ experience. When Amazon launched its Prime Video platform, they worked hard to gain licensing rights for as many movies as possible in order to compete with Netflix, Hulu and the like. But it wasn’t working – customer acquisition was sluggish, and existing customers didn’t engage with it much at all. The solve for this problem came from the data they had on their customers through the Prime platform: they could see people were engaging with Prime Video primarily in the evenings, and only for an hour or so. Amazon identified the customer need for different content: TV shows, so people could watch just an episode or two to unwind after work.
The old adage “people don’t know what they want until you give it to them” rings true, even for a behemoth like Amazon. Bhow spoke of two projects during his time there: one which had thousands of people and millions of dollars sunk into it, the other a small project team of 7 people with little funding. The former was the Amazon Fire phone – a flop which cost the company US$8.5 million and 3 months of R&D time. The latter? Amazon Echo – now the top selling individual product on the site in the US, with companies like Google and Microsoft sprinting to try and catch up to Amazon’s 70% share in the category. Echo is offering a way in for Amazon to grow their customer base as well as their lifetime value of each customer. Not only is Alexa popping up in more people’s homes, she’s getting them to spend more as well:
As an industry we’ve let digital parade in the emperor’s new clothes. Most of us understand less about digital than we’d like to admit, yet it’s become a mandatory component of every business strategy, brand platform and ad campaign. It’s easy to see why: ‘digitally-led’ as a concept is enticing. It’s relatively cheap, efficient (over effective), accessible, targeted and automatable. Bhow warns of the pitfalls of misunderstanding digital; for businesses it is merely a tool, a channel, a means to an end – not the end itself. Bhow is an advocate of the Alfred Hitchcock approach to digital: the director reportedly started the process of creating every movie by imagining how the viewer would react to and talk about the movie after seeing it, then work backwards from there. Similarly for businesses, it’s the human impact of technology that needs to be determined first, rather than figuring out how to integrate the next big digital trend post-hoc (here’s looking at you VR/AI/Agile).
Digital’s wild west era is coming to an end – after enjoying years of unregulated growth and success, digital platforms are starting to be held accountable for their actions. The current state of Facebook illustrates this the best: though it seemed too big to fail it’s being chipped away at by a groundswell of brands and individuals who have had their trust violated by a company that they gave full access to their entire lives (unwittingly or otherwise). Bhow implores businesses to value and grow customer trust over almost everything else, even revenue: money comes and goes easily, but trust must be earned and maintained.
"Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust. Nothing is as fulfilling as a relationship of trust. Nothing is as inspiring as an offering of trust. Nothing is as profitable as the economics of trust. Nothing has more influence than a reputation of trust." - Stephen Covey