I am currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Organizational and Strategic Communication through Queens University’s Knight School of Communication (long name, isn’t it?).
To complement my course in Strategic Communication: Analysis and Theory, I recently purchased Brian Solis’ newest book, The End of Business as Usual. I have yet to read his other works in their entirety, including Engage, which is still on my list.
What I like about Solis is that he continually returns to research – it’s not about his own observations as much as it’s about his continual questioning and probing. Makes sense, because he is employed with research-based advisory firm Altimeter Group.
Brian Solis’ latest book brings to life a new breed of consumer who will control the future of commerce in the palms of their hands. In The End of Business as Usual, Solis starts by giving us an in-depth look at how consumers – particularly the next generation of consumers – are actually changing their habits as a result of the social tools available to them.
This is not another “people like social media, so you should embrace it too,” type of book. I imagine that much of the research included in this book will be studied for years to come, as it points to a larger shift in consumer behavior. It’s not just where the behavior is happening (online vs. offline, shared vs. private), but it’s HOW the behavior is happening. How consumers make purchasing decisions today is already quite different from ten, or even five years ago.
Solis gives one example of a teenage girl who literally deactivates her Facebook page each night, only to re-activate it each morning, simply because she can better control who is able to have access to her information and who can post on her timeline.
He argues that the varied and vast ways in which people interact, coupled with how they choose what content they create and/or share, has changed us from “consumers” to “egosystems,” broadcasting our identities – our likes, our purchases, our loyalties – to our varied circles of influence every day. “You are the center of your egosystem,” he said. “Your connections and networks build a framework for how, when, and where information finds you.”
Solis focuses on the “connected consumer” – those of us who have varying layers of connections across multiple platforms, and who “bring our connections with us everywhere we go.” He points out that 81 percent of children under the age of two have some kind of digital profile – a sign that consumers of the future will be connected, whether they make that decision purposefully or not. As a result, their brains will be “wired differently” and their behaviors will inevitably adapt – so, businesses must adapt to be prepared for this next generation of consumer.
The key for business really clicked for me in Chapter 12 when Solis states:
Introducing shareable moments into the routines of connected consumers helps them curate interesting and personalized moments, spark threads of interaction, and collaborate in decisions. When shareable experiences are designed into products and services, the stage is set for advocacy and loyalty.
If you want the research to back up reasons why consumer behavior is changing, why companies no longer own their own brands, or why attention is the new currency for business, then the first half of this book is perfect for you. If all of that is already understood, and your business is ready to make changes, a guide to change management is also included (Ch. 19).
Solis provides some good examples from notable companies – Walmart, Virgin America, Ben & Jerry’s, Best Buy, Apple and Zappos, to name a few – to showcase how those companies are harnessing the power of their customers’ social networks. Though many of these social programs have not been the sole point of success or failure for these companies, Solis’ message is clear: “If we are not competing for tomorrow today, we lose critical opportunities to capture attention now and in the future. It’s a matter of digital Darwinism, through which if we are out of sight, we are indeed out of mind.”
This is not a book that you want to let sit on your shelf for the next year. The research is continuing to come in, but we already get the gist – start changing now, or get left behind. Use this guide to help inform your own business. Where and how are your customers engaging with you, and how can you collaborate and adapt with them? Without loyal customers, where will your business be in 30, 20, or even just 10 years?
I asked Solis (via Twitter) if he had some insight into how “un-connected” consumers can participate in shareable experiences, and he pointed me to WOMMA – the word of mouth marketing association. They define word of mouth marketing as any business action that earns a customer recommendation. Effective WOM marketing follows five principles: credible, respectful, social, measurable and repeatable. It’s the measurable part that I’m still looking into.
The End of Business as Usual has already made me think differently about many aspects of my own work. It isn’t about giving me the exact solutions to what will work for my organization (though real-life examples do help), but it’s about asking the right questions about the consumers we care about. I also really enjoyed the “Brand Essence” exercise (Ch. 14), a set of questions designed to elicit a better understanding of your brand as a living, breathing experience – not a stale corporate image.
I also really enjoyed reading about Zappos’ approach and investment in company culture, customer service, career advancement, and ultimately, happiness. Makes me want to work there, which certainly makes me feel better about shopping there. I find myself constantly switching back and forth from thinking as a brand to thinking as a consumer, and I think that’s Solis’ point. Brands have to think like consumers.
It might take 2 or 3 readings to really grasp some of the concepts Solis presents, but it’s worth the time.
Bottom line, for me: research, research, and more research. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t be afraid to try something new. And don’t be afraid to be human – it’s about relationships, after all.