Thursday 23 February 2012

Don’t let a millennial determine your strategy

Mark Tamis wrote a hype-busting piece this week entitled “go with the customer flow”. He pointed out that currently only 1% of company / customer interactions take place on social media in France (Les Echos). Yet many businesses are getting caught up with “shiny object symptom”, focusing on the 1% channel and “ignoring the rest of the engagement platform”. Spot on.

Building on Mark’s logic, I’m often concerned by companies who try and re-invent themselves by focusing on or piloting an new initiative with Gen Y / Millennials. These are the digital natives, the logic goes… the ones who have created a connected, always-on world. What better place to pilot our shiny new social engagement strategy?

Time for a reality-check. To be clear, I have no problem at all with Millennials, they represent a vibrant, innovative segment and one that can reap huge rewards if you are able to engage with them successfully and on an ongoing basis. But they are also the most over-targeted segment of our time. It seems that suddenly everyone wants to create Millennial super-fans who blog, tweet, answer support questions in a forum and create viral YouTube videos on the company’s behalf. As a category Millennials are swamped with offers and are notoriously fickle in swarming from one offer / device / network to the next (Groupon coupon anyone???). Their loyalty is extremely difficult to attain and on average their disposable incomes are relatively low, compared to other segments of the market.

Graham Hill pointed me to research from David Demery and Nigel W. Duc on Demographic change in the UK. The research is few years old now but it states that by 2025 the largest age groups (at least in the UK) will be aged 45-65 (27%) followed by those aged 65 and over (20%). In addition, the fastest growing age groups will be aged 65 or over followed by those aged 45-65. The smallest and fastest shrinking age group are those aged up to 30 (only 16%). On that basis the 45s and over are where the growth is and where the money is. As Graham Hill says “it's time to move beyond the Millenial hype and focus on demographic and monetary reality of an aging, cash-rich and increasingly time-rich population".

Tom Peters adds another dimension in his book ”The Little Big Things”. He points out that the two most powerful markets that most companies ignore are women and boomers/geezers. “The boomer-geezer market is exploding around the world – and is ridiculously under-served: “What an opportunity for the next 25 years – in fact, market opportunity #1”. The sweetest market, he says, is baby boomer women, quoting the brilliant article in the Economist “The importance of sex” which leads with the provocative opening line “Forget China, India and the internet: economic growth is driven by women”.

Moreover, digital is not exclusively the domain of Millennials. In their 2009 research “The Broad Reach of Social Networks”, Forrester state that seventy per cent of online adults aged 55 and older tap social tools at least once a month. People over 34 have become the largest segment using Facebook and much of te growth in social networking usage is being driven by people over 34.

Before you rush to create target personas who live and breath digital, start with the basics of customer strategy by analyzing your total target market, defining your unique customer value proposition and thinking outside-in about how you can help your customers segments create value. Millennials may seem like an attractive starting point but they are not the only game in town and they certainly aren’t the only segment that has embraced digital.

Friday 3 February 2012


Last night I had the pleasure of presenting at a Keble College alumni event for entrepreneurs. The main focus of the event was for alumni entrepreneurs to showcase their start-ups and it was great to see the success of start-ups like Bulldog (Simon Duffy) and Mobank (Ben Carswell). I really have a huge amount of respect for entrepreneurs who have thrived in such difficult economic times.

Not being an entrepreneur myself, I had to take a different tack in my presentation. I focused instead on describing some of the market themes and opportunity areas that I see for businesses.  Notes from my presentation are as follows.

BB – over the last 10 years we have seen the mass roll-out of broadband connectivity. Slow dial up lines have given way to fiber-optic superfast broadband, which in turn will be replaced by even faster networks.

HW – the last 10 years has also seen an explosion of hardware devices that tap into that broadband connectivity. Product lifecycles have shortened as has the time to mass adoption of blockbuster devices. For the last few years Apple have trailblazed the market inventing entirely new product categories but the Android eco-system are snapping at their heels. The range of connected devices is also extending to include TVs, cars, household appliances etc 

CC – Nicolas Carr brilliantly described the emergence of cloud computing in his book “The Big Switch”. He uses the analogy of switching electricity generation from individual turbines to the grid to describe the ability to leverage cloud computing to rent storage, computing power, applications and development platforms from the cloud.

A&SN – Apps and Social Networks have radically changed the way we interact with information and with other people. They have placed unprecedented knowledge and connectivity into the hands of users .

D&O – the combination of the above has created both disruption and opportunity. Many businesses have struggled to keep up with the rate of change, whilst others have thrived.

I then described three opportunity areas (deliberately ignoring mobile which was already covered during Mobank’s presentation).

Opportunity area 1 – Customer-driven businesses. Many businesses pay lip service to customer-centricity. The words are there but the reality is that they are customer-centric when they want customers to buy from them (the last few days of the quarter) or when they are trying to shift customers to a lower cost service channel. GiffGaff, Threadless, Zappos and others have focused on a customer-driven approach, building customers into their operating model and being driven by their needs. See my write up of GiffGaff. 

Opportunity area 2 – Service aggregators. One of the opportunities presented by cloud computing is that you don’t need to build everything yourself. Some businesses are moving faster and punching above their weight by combining multiple services from the cloud. Take, Zestia, for example, a tiny CRM software company recently profiled by CRM Idol. They have built out a CRM offering with just a handful of developers, focusing instead on integration to existing services, rather then building everything from scratch themselves.

Opportunity area 3 – Data. It’s almost a cliché at the moment to call data “the new oil”. However, unparalleled opportunities exit for businesses to collect vast quantities of tiny pieces of information (think check-ins, likes, Tweets, photos of pot-holes in the street, blood pressure readings from an iphone app). The value of the information lies in its aggregation. To use a simple example, think of the way the property site, Rightmove, combines Google Maps with information from Realtors to mash properties for sale onto a map. Or take the way Google Flu aggregates web searches for flu to try and predict which regions will suffer from flu outbreaks. Vicks recently used insight from Google Flu to drive their marketing spend for a new digital thermometer.

I finished with a short quote from Jack Welch that I have used in this blog a number of times. He said of GE: “we only have two sources of competitive advantage; the ability to learn more about our customers faster than the competition, and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition”. It strikes me that today’s entrepreneurs have more opportunity that Jack Welch ever imagined.

Many thanks to Duncan Macintyre from Keble College for inviting me to present and thanks to all who attended.

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