This is an excerpt from the book C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today, by Larry Kramer. It is republished here with permission, courtesy of HarperCollins.
Because of the dramatic changes in how we all communicate, it’s my belief that in the future every company will need to behave more like a media company. Consumers will judge products and companies they buy from by the entire experience of engaging with the company, from the actual product or service they buy to the interaction and effort needed to buy it to the act of actually using or consuming the product.
It seems sensible to divide most products into three categories:
1) digital content,
2) traditional content that can be sold online, and
3) traditional content that must be sold in traditional brick-and-mortar ways.
But in the new world, how to understand what we sell is not our choice. It’s the consumer’s choice, and consumers don’t separate out the parts of their experiences. What’s in the box, what’s on the website, what’s said on the phone, how it feels to deal with the company, how confident a purchase makes buyers feel—all the different levels, traditional and digital, blur together.
Not every product is digital, but that’s not the point: it was always a misunderstanding to think that convergence meant that new technology would replace the old. New technology gets layered in with the old, and every experience of a product becomes a convergent experience, whether or not the product “is digital.” I call this new world, the “C-Scape” because in it, Consumers have control.
Navigating this changed world is like a car trip but this trip is going to be longer, more perilous, and more surprising than any quick spin down the highway. What will it be like? It will resemble one of the great ocean voyages of discovery in the age of exploration, when captains and crew didn’t know where they were going or what they would find when they got there. So they had to keep their eyes on the water and the weather and the stars; they had to be ready to defend themselves from pirates and to take help from friendly vessels when there was help to be had. They had to take in everything, all the changing qualities of the ocean spread before them.
In the same way today, it’s necessary to observe and understand the C-Scape as it reshapes and reshapes again the world around you. The scale of change that businesses face is enormous, and the wreckage of companies that have not navigated the C-Scape successfully are all around us. Blockbuster stayed with brick-and-mortar stores for delivering movies even while the consumer was shifting to digital; when it did attempt to match the Netflix approach, it was too late to prevent bankruptcy. General Motors didn’t listen when consumers wanted smaller, more efficient cars. Quote.com was an early leader in financial news, with aggregated stock market news and information on the web. But it thought that pure aggregation, with no curation and no original content, would be enough to keep its unique users coming back. It is not a leader anymore.
EVERY BUSINESS IS A MEDIA BUSINESS
It was 2007, and Jon Raj, then head of digital marketing for Visa, saw an opportunity. The Internet was maturing as a place for commerce, and small businesses were finding new ways to use it. Competition for Visa’s small-business clients was growing. Raj saw the chance to meet the marketing challenges of this increasingly demanding environment not by refining the Visa message, but by doing more for Visa clients than the company had attempted before. Until then, Visa Business had positioned itself as the company that understood its clients’ situations. In addition to print and television advertisements promoting that message, it also offered a website called Your Business, with videos of client success stories. But Raj wanted to go beyond promising to understand clients’ needs and celebrating their successes. He wanted to prove to clients that Visa understood them by providing practical help with their most pressing business concerns.
Small-business clients were increasingly caught up in day-to-day problem solving. As Raj explains, “Small business owners want to focus on what they love to do. A designer doesn’t get into design to do taxes, handle legal issues,” or master Internet marketing and sales. The obligations of the small-business owner could become overwhelming, especially as the speed and technological complexity of business increased.
Visa identified a still-new online platform, created and mainly used by college students, called Facebook. The company took the chance that it might also serve as a place for small businesses to find the partners and advisors they needed to make their companies run more smoothly. On Facebook it created the Visa Business Network or VBN—a “back office” for small-business owners where they could connect with other businesses and customers.
Visa partnered with the Wall Street Journal to create an “Ask the Experts” feature on the page, and arranged for leading small-business experts from Entrepreneur to participate in question-and-answer forums and to write expert advice columns. Other media and business partners provided exclusive small-business news feeds, videos, blogs, and editorial commentary about issues such as cash-flow management, new ways to attract customers, and cost management. In addition, Visa offered the first 20,000 businesses that joined VBN a $100 Facebook Ads credit, to help them learn to use the site to target the precise audiences they needed to reach.
In a sense, the digital marketing department was reinventing the entire business model. Raj sees this as part of a larger transformation. “When marketers create fan pages or communication with prospects and customers,” Raj explains, “they’re no longer just advertisers . . . they are publishers of content. When they create an app or widget, they are software companies. And when they listen to what customers and critics are saying back to them, they are public relations, customer ser vice and even product development.”
What had seemed like a straightforward marketing decision led Visa Business to change not just how it sold its products and service, but what it sold—and even how a part of the company was understood and organised. Across business, we are all discovering that the world in which we work and live is transforming faster and more profoundly than ever. Everyone knows that. What’s not well understood is that every aspect of these changes—from the transformed landscape of business to the specific challenges that Visa and other businesses are facing to the solutions to those problems— all have the same source: changes in media.
Why media? Because every aspect of business is increasingly carried out through media. From advertising and marketing to sales and customer service, from product design and development to recruitment and employee relations, from the factory floor to shareholder meetings, everything that happens in business is ever more likely to happen on a screen or a handheld device. Business is conducted through what we call “media”— but media, at least media as we’ve known it until recently, is in serious trouble.
TECHNOLOGY IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
I advise companies around the world and in a range of industries, and everywhere I go, there is no hotter topic than the future of media itself— and none, I think, more wrongly understood. Traditional media is in a death spiral, yet if you ask anyone to explain the ongoing wreck, you will likely hear the same reply, which is correct, familiar, and largely useless. Why are the great metropolitan newspapers, once the profitable pillars of democracy, hemorrhaging billions and struggling to survive? Why are the business models that made possible generations of blockbusters in music, publishing, and television now collapsing? Why are media businesses of all kinds being forced to reinvent themselves?
The common answer is “new technology.” From personal computers to the Internet to smartphones to the tablet, there’s a familiar list of fairly recent innovations whose widespread adoption has made once-separate forms of media—text, image, audio, and video—available together in one place. This “technological convergence” of multiple forms onto single devices and online platforms sent traditional media into its decline, while it put astonishing new powers in the hands of individuals, changing life for every business that depends on communication—that is, for every business, and for all of us.
Isn’t that explanation correct? Yes. But it’s not much help on a practical level. It doesn’t tell us how to face the challenges of this transitional era in which every means of sharing information is changing. Every kind of storytelling, from news stories to family news, from mass entertainment to literature—including every tool we use to describe a product or a shape a relationship between business and customer—is under pressure to evolve. organisations and individuals alike feel pressed to set up “broadcast operations” to share their news and information. We move through an ever-growing maze of devices, social networks, and hybrid media forms, and our success depends on how we understand and adapt to this new reality of endlessly flowing information and stories.
Whether our goal is a new job or a closer connection to ever-busier family and friends, a rehabilitation of a discredited brand or a successful product launch, we must choose among a growing list of still-evolving media options—too many choices, it often seems, with too few hours in the day. We may not all work in media, but we all live in it.
Even among the new-technology enthusiasts, few know how to think profitably about the deeper factors shaping our future. We must do more than observe the parade of new technologies becoming available and old ones that appear to be dying. A technology’s age is not what makes a media form succeed or fail. Technological newness doesn’t explain why magazines, for example, are better positioned to flourish than are television networks; or why MP3 files, which sound worse than compact discs, are driving CDs to extinction. It doesn’t explain why movies failed to kill off the novel or why bicycles outsell cars.
Technology only offers new possibilities, expanding the range of what we might choose to do, but it tells us nothing about what consumers will want to do after the novelty has worn off. When you finish reading, rather than walking across the room, you could choose to step aboard a Segway Personal Transporter and let its state-of-the-art technology roll you along. But I’d bet you won’t. The technology is new and it’s cool, but it won’t take you where you want to go in the way you want to get there.
What matters is not merely new technologies but how consumers and businesses adapt those technologies to meet their own evolving needs. For that reason, to recognise the new choices that matter, we need a new way of thinking— and this book is your guide to that new perspective. We face not just one changing factor but four, interlinked and influencing one another in an ongoing, self-reflexive process: a shift in one factor influences the other three. Success in the new-media future depends on responding to all four factors simultaneously.
• Consumers are in control. Consumers to circumvent and, in some cases destroy, traditional distribution,
advertising and company marketing messages.
• Content is king. In the C-Scape, everything is content including advertising, publicity, and customer service. And every company is responsible for creating compelling content for their customers.
• Curation is valuable. While old media silos are breaking down, consumers are building their own and have access to unprecedented amounts of information. Businesses need to help consumers curate the information most useful to them.
• Convergence is happening throughout all formats and across all platforms. We read newspapers on a tablet and listen to radio on the internet. There is no segregation of mediums anymore.
These factors are transforming every kind of human communication that can be seen on a screen, heard on a speaker, or read from a page. That communication is key to business success, especially in this new world in which consumers listen more to one another than they do to marketing messages or to reviewers in the traditional media. As I will explain, the need for change showed itself first in traditional media industries and in those departments of non-media companies with obvious media functions— advertising, marketing, and public relations—yet, in time, those changes must spread to every department in every company. Every business is or must become a media business.
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