In any ecosystem, each species fights to secure a position in its niche. Some species strive for position, some strive for sustainability, and some expect to dominate while others are all about being prolific even if it put them at a loss. Each species has to adjust to changes in the climate, environment, predators, or competitors. The downturn in the market has put much of the focus back on survival and for some a chance to position themselves for growth as weaker competitors die off. Let’s take a look at how technology can help a company’s chances for survival in today’s economy.
One business ecosystem that has survived the test of time is the marketplace. Societal based ecosystems, such as marketplaces, are undergoing massive changes today. Each species, in this case a company, has a concept, service, or product that they want to sell. They take steps to position themselves so they can stand out to attract others of its species, in this case a customer or partner, in hopes of a beneficial transaction. Transactions include the exchange of goods, services, commitments, or money. Marketplaces provide the consistency necessary to establish long term relationships and a chance to build a referral base and a reputation. This increases loyalty between the company and customer.
Marketplace dynamics haven’t changed in hundreds of years. It’s still about the exchange of goods. What is different in today’s markets from the markets of old is that world has been flattened. The world has been flattened by technology. For better or for worse, marketing to the global community is no longer beyond comprehension for even the smallest business. Distribution is not a factor because you have UPS or FedEx that go everywhere. Communication is not a factor because of the internet, cellular technology, satellite technology, and a multitude of interaction choices including email, webchat, RSS, and text messaging. Okay, so Political boundaries may be a factor. We can’t exactly go anywhere, but we are close to a global world economy. Commerce can be conducted almost anywhere, with anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a brick and mortar, click and mortar, or totally Web-service oriented. Your commercial reach can go anywhere, anytime, and at a cost that allows even the smallest of businesses to reach out and touch the customer. It is a market on a global, virtual platform.
Until recently, technology has favored the technologically savvy. To be part of the flattened world you need to setup a virtual presence and become available to those accessing the virtual ecosystem through the Internet. Amazon had spent years building the infrastructure necessary to support virtual accessibility. Without this infrastructure, most businesses leverage their IT resources or consultants to help them build up the system. Technology has helped them to keep pace to support level of transactions acceptable to their customer community. Amazon and Ebay support the technologically adept to the technologically challenge. You can buy anything from mass market items run by major distributors to the smallest most obscure products run by the smallest shops. Storefront owners can be successful because it is easy to set up a storefront using Amazon, then set up payment exchange, and even automate shipping and inventory. Most eCommerce vendors have simplified the storefront creation experience enough that anybody can do it.
The virtual marketplace has its challenges. Most of the challenges are introduced through the technology that facilitates its existence. Humans still need the chance to be in a marketplace. They need to be sold. They need to see others compete for their attention and money. They want to see others flocking to a particular vendor. They want a way to share referrals and suggestions. The challenge is creating relationships with others that is difficult to do through virtualization. Technology allows the transaction and exchange of goods, but what about building loyalty? Will they come back? Can they get back? Since anybody can set up a virtual storefront in a virtual marketplace, how do you get them back in line?
How do you get their repeat business or gain their loyalty now that anybody can vie for their attention? Unless they keep a link to your virtual front door of your storefront, you go back to just being another company in the evolving, virtual ecosystem. How do you keep the relationship going? Part of the answer is technology. Part of the answer is continually reinforcing the relationship through human dialog. We have to resort back to managing relationships through human interactions in order to differentiate services over the competition. This is where technology can assist, but fails to automate completely. Technology enables the channel. It enables communication. Technology enables raising up levels of interest. It is up to human involvement to go to the next step. A human must sift through the noise and determine the relevance of the interest and guide the customer back to the storefront. Guidance happens through a community. A customer’s purchase decision process is guided by a complex network of referrals and counterbalancing reviews. Advertisements and marketing material are not enough to stay part of the decision making process. Ads catch the customers attention, but to convince the buyer that one product is better suited for them, or better than the competition they need the community. Ads and click through marketing are not enough in the virtual world. Companies thriving in tomorrow’s marketplace will be the companies differentiating themselves through peer-oriented, virtual community supported, purchase experiences.
In the end, a company’s survival is about the relationship with its customers and their customers’ relationships with other that matters most. No technology can completely automate or remove a consumer’s desire to interact directly with other humans whether it is a recommendation to purchase a product or a referral to a specific vendor. It is about creating a community. Supporting the community or in this case a virtual marketplace. Survival is still about who you know, but now it is about who the customer knows and how a company keeps the customer interested after they walk through their virtual storefront door.