P2P Conversations, Crowdsourcing, Your Customers, And You.

I have been thinking about the arc of the new social age over the last few years, and the impact on organizations and customers, and the technologies that have enabled Crowdsourcing and P2P conversations. I am reminded of a speech I was asked to give to one of our customers in February of 2002, almost 10 years ago to the date.

Matson Navigation, a venerable old San Francisco company with walnut paneled executive offices and board rooms, and a secretary for every senior manager was thinking about how they might embrace this new thing called the Internet. We were hired to help them develop a set of transactional websites for cargo booking for their trans-pacific freight lines.

Here is an excerpt from that 10 year-old speech.  The fundamentals haven’t changed.

Compounding the transient nature of customers is a new form of market created by the Web. For companies beginning to do business on the Web, it is critical that they understand the kinetics of dynamic networked markets. Reading “The Cluetrain Manifesto” by Levine, Locke, Searls & Winberger will give you valuable insight into the behaviors being created by this new market form. I brought a dozen copies for you, but here is my summarized version of their crucial messages for beginning to think about Web strategy and this new medium.

The Internet is not just another distribution channel. The Internet is an enormous aggregation of dynamic networked markets; markets that are in the process of self-organization at extraordinarily high speeds. These markets are better informed, smarter and infinitely more demanding than traditional hierarchical markets. They are conversing in networked communities; a true paradigm shift from static demographic models characterized and targeted by conventional mass media campaigns.

Because Internet markets are networked, they are capable of rapid social organization and knowledge exchange. People within these markets are able to get better information about a company’s products or services from one another than they are able to get from the company itself. Word of mouth or grass roots marketing campaigns are not new. What is new is the speed with which these campaigns are conducted in a Web-enabled, dynamic networked market model. This speed of information distribution combined with reach, time independent boundaries and the laws of large numbers soon will have the power to make or break a company or its product offerings overnight. Literally.

In dynamic networked markets, companies who tell the truth will win. Markets actually want the truth … customers and employees alike. These new markets represent not just a company’s target business prospects, but their employee population as well. And, now since companies have an unprecedented opportunity to reach a mass market instantly and acquire a 24/7 touch-point, they must accept the fact that their employees do also, and are now an integral component of their marketing strategy. What do you think a reading of your employees’ e-mail would tell you?

Dynamic networked markets want stuff: information, pricing, service, products, position, values, point-of-view, honor, and integrity. Traditional marketing campaigns are designed to hide stuff; to “position” the company or its products. New media campaigns must focus on revealing the truth about your company, before the networked markets reveal it for you. Dynamic networked markets are intolerable of corporate communications designed to obfuscate or dissemble. How fast can a click-and-order customer change suppliers? How fast can your best knowledge workers change employers?

Dynamic networked markets are, by definition, smart markets. They can’t be treated as previously captive brick-and-mortar markets were treated. Not only could they not leave you so easily, they weren’t as smart, and they didn’t talk to each other. Dynamic networked markets will seek out and hook up with suppliers who speak their own language. When they do, if they don’t like what they learn they will be gone. What did Saturn do? They personalized the voice of an auto manufacturer. They suggested that real people built their cars. Just like the real people who were to buy them.

To succeed in dynamic networked markets, companies must learn to speak in a human voice. Not the language of brochure-ware or traditional corporate messaging re-purposed to the Web. They will need to connect their networked markets with their employees, so that they can go beyond the platitudes embedded in sales scripts or product demos. These markets already know who you are and have strong opinions about you. They want to talk to you. They want to tell you what they want, what they think, and how they perceive you. Are you ready to listen? Is your Web site in receive mode? Or, are you too busy telling your customers what you think? Do you return e-mail from customers? You better start.

Control and command models won’t work in dynamic networked markets; they will be met with hostility and distrust. Just as the passive couch-potato demographic your company has always targeted in your media campaigns for television is not the same guy now that he is on the Web. He is now connected to lots of people and he is doing what the Web has enabled. He is now engaged in conversation. That connectedness is what the Web is really all about.

What was the killer app that AOL purchased from ICQ for a ridiculously huge multiple, that “made” AOL’s dominant position in their space? Instant messaging suddenly allowed Mr. Couch-potato to join in and talk with groups of other people dynamically and spontaneously. A lot more fun than TV. No longer isolated by the very medium you used to be able to broadcast to him through, he is now connected and actively engaged. Your traditional messaging will no longer work for him. If you want to reach him now, your Web presence needs to be built from the middle out, not from the top down.

Your own employees are speaking to this new market as you hear this, maybe even to Mr. Couch-potato; about your products, services and the kind of company you are to work for. What are they saying? To traditional brick and mortar companies developing an eCommerce strategy, the notion of a dynamic networked market is frightening. It challenges the core beliefs and hierarchical systems and methods of marketing and organization that have served them so well in the ‘old’ economy. In the new, digital economy, dynamic networked markets will prove those core beliefs, systems and methods obsolete.

Dynamic networked markets organize quickly. They have new tools and new ideas. They belong to a powerful new community of market conversation. They have no rules to slow them down. And they aren’t going to wait for you.

Dynamic networked markets obviously underscore the need to sharpen your focus on process. Improving your customers’ process for doing business with you in all contexts demands continuous scrutiny, but the process of building and nurturing web presence is continuous as well. You must constantly and rigorously examine and refine your Web presence as it defines your new Web process. Have you incorporated enough of your brand legacy into your new Web site? Maybe you have incorporated too much? Have your customers told you how they feel about the new you? Who are your customers of tomorrow? Is Grandma Foley in Indianapolis offended? Are you ready to abandon her for your “new-media” customer? Do you even know who she is and what she buys from you? You do? Who says so? Your sales guys tell you they know? Trust me – they don’t know.

Have a customer-centric Web strategy. Make customer satisfaction on the Web your number one issue across your entire company. If your senior managers have not bought into your vision for Web dominance in your category, force him or her to adapt, or allow them to migrate. The vision must be universally shared and everything you do must consider the impact on your Web presence. This is where your customers are going to be and if you are lucky, they will be there soon. Track customer behavior and even if you are as fortunate as REI.com, keep making it better. One of the wonderful things about this channel is the ability to modify its merchandising behavior rapidly. Unlike sales channels that rely on traditional print and other media campaigns which cannot be corrected once the content is committed, your Web content can be modified hourly. Tracking site activity will lead you to doing more of what appears to work and less of what doesn’t. But, it’s time to start. I know Crowley Maritime has a Web Media group, and trust me, they aren’t just sitting around. Thank you.

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About Steve King

iPeopleFINANCE™ Chief Operating Officer. Former CEO of Endymion Systems, Inc. a $36m Information Systems Services company. Co-founder of the Cambridge Systems Group, the creator of ACF2, the leading IBM Mainframe Data Center Security product; acquired by Computer Associates. IBM, seeCommerce, marchFIRST, Connectandsell alumni. UC Berkeley alumni. View all posts by Steve King

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