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As Netflix released the complete first season of its home grown series House of Cards in one fell swoop, the industry has been abuzz with a new phrase – binge viewing – where people watch three or four hours or more of a single series, and scorn the linear TV paradigm that has served the industry well for many many years. This is not new , it is something that has been creeping up on us, first with video recording and over the time ,with ad skipping, then Tivo and the PVR, and now with digital control of virtual media, with absolute customer empowerment.
There are two elements to this trend: first, customer engagement with advertising and, second, of customer empowerment! Customer engagement is a problem because ad revenues are more difficult to corral. Customer empowerment is a challenge because, in making content available in such an open ecosystem, we’re not really sure how the customer is going to use it! Of course, both elements are well connected . The customer is empowered through the openness of the internet, and can control the media experience more than ever before. Television is no longer linear, channel based, but that old concept still competes with satellite / cable, internet television services, and personal digital content, of which households have an increasing reservoir. Not only that, but video conferencing and gaming are now integrated with the Television, as if there wasn’t enough competition.
Once the customer becomes empowered, the challenge then becomes that of engagement. How do we – as communications and media service providers – engage them in a way that allows us to communicate effectively? How do we capture their attention such that we can influence their interaction with commerce? On the one hand, the consumer is sitting in front of the most integrated, powerful, commerce platform in the world. With a few clicks on the remote, waves of the hand, or even flutters of the eyelashes(!) a customer can, from their couch, buy anything from a pizza to a new car! The communications and media industry has facilitated this, and owns the commercial relationship with the consumer. So that’s got to be an extraordinarily powerful platform, right?
On the other hand, there’s a barrier in the relationship between the customer and the service provider. Our communications service provider’s attempt to control content consumption – over and above government’s mandatory security and legal control – is akin to the electricity provider providing guidelines on what you can or cannot have in your fridge. Consumers rebel against this. So attempts at control have always been challenging. Limitations on bandwidth consumption are unsustainable, and even the subscription based contract enforcement has low power. IBM surveys and other surveys continue to emphasise on the subject of consumer detachment and disengagement, coupled with a lack of trust. Rebuilding this relationship will be difficult, and expensive.
On the other hand, another kind of engagement is possible, if we begin to think a little laterally. The pizza restaurants and the car dealerships are all customers of communications service provider as well. Today, they buy leased lines, and they buy SIM cards, and occasionally they buy some cloud services, but that’s pretty much where it ends – utility computing and connectivity. But thirty years ago, the telecommunications industry was selling the definitive commerce platform of its generation – the Yellow Pages.
It seemed logical back then – when the primary source of customer contacts was the telephone – the phone company listing would be the best place to advertise. As print became old fashioned in the mid to late 1990’s, telcos all over the world jettisoned their Yellow Pages businesses (hoovered up by private equity houses) in favour of digital diversification and all sorts of other strategies. But that business was never truly replaced.
If the industry has difficulty in engaging with its customers, perhaps it can facilitate customer engagement with other industries, and other businesses as well. Customer insight and analytics can help other businesses to understand the best time to communicate, to advertise. Channel analytics can help derive an understanding of channel behaviour and preferences. Social network analytics can help understand influence models. Bringing all of these together, presents a deep, rich understanding of consumer behaviour, which can help other businesses to be sensitive and empathetic in their marketing and commerce execution. Ultimately, as consumers do business on the digital platform, that platform can adapt to suit their preferences and their behaviours, representing a more personalised customer experience.
This is not just about advertising, but about exposing the capability in the service delivery environment of digital service providers – media and communications – to a developer community that allows them to drive useful, relevant and personalized customer engagements. And perhaps once those customer engagements are more relevant, the service provider can recapture some relevance for itself too!