Serving Customers In An Interconnected World

Brian Morrissey of Adweek is writing about Web 2.0 companies that are built on customer-centric models. He names Zappos, Etsy, Threadless, Craigslist and Yelp as leading examples and gives his piece depth by describing the lengths Zappos goes to engage with customers.
But there’s something else in the article that I’m attracted to.

Google’s home page may have nothing but a search box and links to Google’s services — which means the company is forgoing tens of millions of dollars in advertising — but it’s doing something more important: putting its customers first. Untargeted ads, even simple text links, goes the rationale, would put too steep a cost on its users.
This decision is “revolutionary,” wrote Havas Media Lab director and London economist Umair Haque on Harvard Business Online in February. “By choosing to invest in consumers over advertising, Google is a living example of a deeper truth: The future of communications as advantage lies in talking less and listening more.”
At the heart of these decisions is a simple fact of life with the Internet: Everyone is connected, and hiding behind glossy images won’t work when a Google search can turn up the good, bad and ugly of your company. In the analog world, it was different. Haque believes brands thrived on how difficult it was for people to get information. Logos, spokespersons and slogans combined to give consumers a way to make choices. But now, the Internet has turned that on its head. “The entire economic rationale for brands is gone,” Haque said in an interview. “Interaction is too easy now for brands to have power.”

That last bit is pretty tough talk. And it seems a bit misguided. Brands can’t hide behind their branding is more to the point.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.