Sometimes when you look at a specific situation or problem it helps to think opposite. When you think opposite or try to do things entirely against existing rules it helps you to understand the system or to find new ways of dealing with it.
I was thinking about that last night while going to bed. I entered this half dreamy state right before you fall asleep and my thoughts were uncontrollably unleashed. A stream of thoughts appeared, related to activities on the web. I remember thinking about Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, all the major websites that drive traffic all the time. I linked it to current on-line advertisement models and thought about how everyone is locked into this advertisement trap (all of this sounds like a conscious stream of thought, but it wasn’t really ;-)). The portal, the network, the traffic, all of that is important for advertisement revenues. But this catch 22 leads to lock-in of the user instead of freedom. It leads to data hogging, instead of setting your data free. It leads to non-portability instead of the user travelling free around the web globe.
And then it came to me, what if we would turn it all around. What if we would think opposite? I fell asleep with this feeling that was a great thought, although now I’m awake again it is difficult to get that positive feeling back again. But I decided to think it through a little to see where it would take us.
What if customer lock-in was changed to customer freedom? Instead of portals and (social networking) sites trying to lock you in (for advertisement revenues) they would set you free. Customer lock-in is a term thought up by marketeers. It helps them get a grip on their work, but it is pretty abusive to the one being locked in. Of course, all marketeers are idiots and do not understand customers any ways. Letting go of your customer or user is pretty scary stuff. But locking them in and thinking you really have a meaningful brand experience with them is an illusion that is held up by CPM metrics and other old school advertisement tricks.
Setting your customer free means a different approach and philosophy to web service design. No more big portals that have an urge to drive traffic. No more pulling in the customer and never letting him out again. No more data hogging or big brother is watching you. No more not allowing the customer to take his data away to another service or even burning it to a DVD archive (ever tried exporting your Facebook profile data?). It means the service owner doesn’t own the customer (yet another term thought up by old school marketeers), but provides the customer service. It means that monetising the network isn’t important any more. Instead the service provider needs to monetise customer value. It means the end of endless and annoying registration and profile processes when a user wants to obtain a service. No more profile mapping to advertisement schemes (SocialAds). These are pointless as we all look much better on our on-line profiles than in real-life.
Where does that leave the customer? It provides freedom. Freedom of choice, of movement, of service, of data. It means the customer is back in the driving seat. He or she travels around on-line and decides where to stop end get service. It makes the customer important again. It means that the major services do not force the customer to come to them, instead, they come to the customer when he wants them to. The network is not important any more, it’s the customer. The Internet evolves around the customer, instead of the customer evolving around a Web service. But freedom comes at a cost (it always does). It leaves responsibility where it belongs, with the customer. The customer is responsible for his actions, his movements, his data, his privacy. It means that the customer might have to pay for a service that provides him value (now there is a weird thought), instead of running of to the nearest free service (that locks him in again). Freedom is great, but a bit scary too.
Where does that leave the service owner? He needs to stop thinking in monetising the network, social graph or user profile. He needs to monetise customer value. Instead of locking the customer in with free services he needs to draw the users attention by providing him value. He needs to compete on customer value services instead of the size of his user profile database and advertisement revenues. Letting go of his customer, and trusting that this customer will return for more because he provides him valuable services. No more social networking, but instead focusing on social interaction. It means sending the customer a bill, instead of sending a bill to the advertiser. It means counting on slow uptake of your service (as it might not be free any more), but getting customers on board that actually pay to obtain value. It means organic and natural growth instead of testosterone based power growth. It means you need to rethink your business model instead of going with the current free a-based model. Look where that got Amazon! It isn’t a bad business model to monetise customer value. It’s aactually the most effective business model there is.
Where does that leave the advertiser? He needs to stop thinking that screaming out his message to a large crowd provides the crowd with value. Providing the customer advertisement while he is interacting with his friends within a social network isn’t the right thing to do. It doesn’t provide the customer value, it’s most likely intruding. Thinking negative attention is better than no attention is a lost strategy. Instead the advertiser needs to think how his message, in itself, can provide the user value. Advertisement can only be effective and valuable when the advertisement itself provides value in the context that it is seen. That is why advertisement is so effective in search. That is why Google makes a fortune out of it leaving all competitors way behind. When a customer is searching for something advertisement makes sense. When he is interacting with someone, leave him alone, you’re only trespassing.
Sounds like a great plan to me. But who am I kidding, I was only half awake when the thought hit me.