The question is: Are you listening?
Let’s dip back into the canon of the early days of the web browser. In 1999, the authors of
The Cluetrain Manifesto (a classic, and one of my favorites) posted their “95 Theses,” starting with:
- Markets are conversations
- Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors
The authors went on to describe the bazaars of ancient history where makers and buyers met face-to-face and haggled over goods. They had conversations about the wares. The same holds true today. In fact, in our digital world, there are many ways to communicate—you just need to be part of those conversations. But who has time to curate every social media and web platform out there? How can you let your customers in without causing havoc?
Advances in Big Data, machine learning, AI and the like will help make sense of some of it, but you will benefit from those tech advances only if you build a culture of working with the users of your products right now. Start at the top, be consistent, and it will permeate your organization. Here is a simple exercise you can do for 15 minutes a week.
Invite your entire senior leadership team to consider Blue Apron. It’s a popular food service that delivers a meal kit with pre-measured ingredients and instructions on how to assemble dinner. Customers prepare these meals at home and many post photographs of their finished product on social networks such as Instagram. Smartphones with cameras, internet access and social networks all make it easy for Blue Apron to hear the conversation among these home chefs. Blue Apron literally gets to see what happens with the products they ship each day.
Maybe you don’t create something as tactile as food. Perhaps you create information your users discuss at conferences. You can still hear your customers. Listen in. When users are across several networks, I’ve had success when each person on the team picks one network. (With one project, for example, Anya followed the conversation on LinkedIn, Mariya on Facebook and Anastasiia on Instagram.)
Keep this exercise to just 15 minutes a week. Do not ask your senior leadership team to engage in conversations on social media. You already have that covered by your customer service, marketing and tech teams. The important thing right now is that you just listen to, and learn from, the conversations your customers are having.
A digital transformation takes hold when everyone in your organization hears what the customer is talking about regularly. Only when a company has a culture of working alongside users can it profitably deploy sophisticated tools such as AI and Big Data analysis. However, without understanding the fundamental value of the conversation (like in those ancient bazaars), then any Big Data or social media targeting initiative will never really leave the confines of the IT department.
Where is your conversation?