Be Where Your Customers Are

In reflecting on Luke Wroblewski’s presentation “Mobile to the Future,” Peter Merholtz’s response was “Don’t design for mobile“, design for your customer relationship.

Merholtz points out that “It’s never been about the technology. It’s about where your customers are.” Dead on.

I have pontificated on this issue many times to my limited audience at the studio where I work: it’s not about social, or mobile, or whatever new flavour of the day comes our way. It is absolutely about connecting with your customers where they are, serving them in whatever context they choose to connect with you.

Deliver an Effective Website, Regardless of Screen Size
If they’re on the internet, ensure your website helps them do business with you. Your web analytics will tell you whether they’re accessing your website using mobile devices. If they are, ensure that your website is usable on those screen sizes; ensure your website doesn’t chew up their data plan.

What about mobile apps?
Deciding on whether to deliver an app or take advantage of the mobile web comes down to the central issue of purpose.

It’s important to understand what your customers need to do, what you want them to do, where and when it’s convenient and makes sense for these things to be done.

The simplest way to answer the question of “Should we build an app?” is to ask another question:

Why would someone want to install the app?

This second question gets to the fundamental issue whether the proposed app serves a real unmet need. If the need is missing, it’s difficult to put together a coherent business case to support the investment of resources. Successful apps are not built and then forgotten: like web sites, they require regular maintenance and improvements.

Design for Your Users and Their Contexts
To put it yet another way, the question that must be answered is:

Do you want to support your customers within the contexts that they are accessing your content?

If the answer is yes, then your mission is to stay aware of where your customers are. Yesterday, they were bound to their desktop; today, they are on different types of devices, often mobile; tomorrow, who knows? By framing your mission in terms of where your customers are, you broaden your perspective and prevent yourself from addressing issues too late in the game.

Influence versus Trust

Stumbled on an insightful post by @servantofchaos about influence versus trust, pointing out that trust is the fundamental driver in human behaviour.

To take the argument further, it’s trust that drives influence. Trust is the proximate cause that results in influence.

Marketers and communicators who chase the notion of influencer outreach are chasing the rainbow.

Instead of trying to erect smoke and mirrors, why not focus on product, service, and experience design? If you deliver a compelling consumer experience, those consumers will spread the word for you to those they influence.

I realize this is easier said than done: in most organizations, the marketing and communications departments are merely the messengers rather than ambassadors. And there’s the line that separates success from failure.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, a piece of crap by any other name is still a piece of crap.

The long tail of data sales

In doing some client-related research last week, I approached eMarketer to find out if they had relevant data sets for me and about their pricing structure. Predictably, their business model continues to be based on the large enterprise model, not unlike the blockbuster model that drives the movie and book industries. The all-you-can-eat buffet pricing structure at eMarketer serves their mental model, but it serves neither their potential customers' needs nor eMarketer's business needs.

In their undated Harvard Business Review article, Rethinking Marketing, Roland T. Rust, Christine Moorman, and Gaurav Bhalla commented on the fact that many firms are still managed, as if we were still in the 1960s world of mass markets, mass media, and impersonal transactions. The inertia and/or unwillingness of many to stop the cycle of insanity and to accept the new reality is nothing less than stunning. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's witnessed the disastrous results wrought by this affliction.

The authors points out the distinction between a traditional company and what they refer to as a customer-cultivating company: the former is organized to push products and brands, while the other seeks to serve customers and customer segments. For a data company such as eMarketer to so completely miss this point is disappointing, though perhaps predictable.

As a customer needing Canadian data, eMarketer is of limited use to me, but when its data sets are of relevance to me, does it make no financial sense to provide on-demand self-serve access to their online databases? We may have been liberated from the tyranny of buying entire music albums for the pleasure of one song, but clearly, we're still at the frontier of this brave new world.