Exchange: this, in my opinion, is the “core” of contemporaneity. In the business world, the advantages are almost never presented and explained for their distinctiveness. Either because they hold no distinctiveness, or because the advantage doesn’t exist, or because we don’t know how to communicate their Value. But today, the supply related to the demand is really met in the way that this demand is manifesting itself in its new role? Is there a true exchange of advantages? Are there respect and mutuality between the parts or is there someone that thinks he can impose something on other people?
The system as a whole is more intelligent than us. The consumer is more intelligent than us. Demand is more intelligent than supply. It’s a matter of measure, scale, quantity. Believing otherwise would be arrogant and, in any case, anachronistic. The system contains us, and not the other way around. It is an intelligent system that can do without us and without everything we have to offer; on the other hand, we exist only as part of the system itself. For this reason, we need to respect it and love it, as well as contribute to its evolution.
The need to update the supply has been taken care of mostly in the area of primary needs and today the consumer can enjoy perfectly good answers to his basic needs for products or services, with the widest range of choice. On the contrary, those that have something to supply have not yet taken into account the new dimension that this era is putting forward in the demand-supply ratio: the dimension of belonging, that is the need-desire of the customers to feel assisted and looked after not inasmuch as consumers but as an integral part of a system of values that the companies now need to crystallize in a product or a service.
This new consumer dimension (the need-desire), even if it hasn’t been recognized yet, shouldn’t be dismissed as nonexistent, as it acts as an invisible and relentless woodworm eroding the global value of the demand-supply ratio as it has been interpreted until now. There is an idealistic axis along which the relation between those that have something to offer (supply) and those that want or must consume something (demand) is rapidly moving.
This change of position is going from the dimension of Efficiency to the dimension of Relationship. For a very long time (maybe centuries!…but today still for the majority of the companies that offer their products or services to their target market) the attention has been focused only on the attempt to be perceived by the consumers as the most convenient, practical, simple, reliable, comfortable, efficient. For years, we aimed only at these features, and thus the offer of almost all the competitors of certain fields has been levelled in this sense, substantially becoming adequate and complete in all its forms.
Now, with very little effort, we can obtain the best results; as long as the effort is entirely focused on the customer, on others. So, now, how can the companies make a difference when they risk to be perceived as similar, if not even as identical? What can we offer to the market and how? What characteristics must our supply have to be truly new and, most of all, topical?
Today, the distinctive advantage of the supply could lie in the integration of the supply (response to the need) with the recovery/maintenance of a common asset (called Corporate Social responsibility). The consumer, in order to have faith in us and “consume” our products, asks us to change with the times and with the paradigms that the new era encapsulates.
Assuming that the characteristics of convenience, practicality, simplicity, reliability, ease, efficiency will persist as simple and necessary conditions to continue to exist; the new dimensions on which we will confront ourselves will be the same dimensions that the new era is putting forward in the outside world, in all the contexts where humanity is manifesting itself. And they will be dimensions much more akin to our species (finally!) and a lot less forced and artificial, more sincere and truthful. Necessary today more than ever.
In this relationship, the Other (the consumer, in the case of the market) will substantially ask for simple things. First, he will want to be recognized for what he really is and not for what he represents. Then, as individual and not merely a member/part of a crowd, he will want to enjoy a customized treatment, carved on the basis of his unique characteristics.
He will ask that we no longer push him and guide him, but that we steer him and advise him in the right direction. And, lastly, he will ask to experience (in a sensorial, emotional, intellectual way) what we have to offer (supply). In other words, he won’t limit himself to consuming something, he will want to enjoy it. The new frontier will be the origin of a ‘sense of belonging’, that the Other/the consumer will have to feel towards Us and towards our offer (supply).
In summary, I believe that the demand-supply ratio should evolve as a sense of mutual sharing fueled by a sincere sense of belonging to a model of values that a brand represents rather than to the brand itself. Those who will offer something different than this, will have to surrender and consider themselves as a mere ‘temporary’ offer and will soon be forced to hustle in the market; and, for this reason, they will have to be ready to be replaced by a competitor, capable of offering more enjoyability at lower costs. The demand won’t be loyal at all to this kind of supply.
Having analyzed the flow that will shift the demand-supply ratio from the value of Efficiency to the value of Relationship, the prospect of change could be summarized in four macro-paradigms, that, presumably, will manifest themselves over the next 3-5 years, but that even now are evidently and forcefully present.
- Trust & Sharing
There will be a new merging in the customer-company relationship through a new value chain based on trust and sharing between the customer and the company itself. The leverage mechanism will be determined by all those strategies that will focus on the Customer with a continuous and multi-channel relationship capable of taking advantage of the new connection technologies to reach a true emotional Interconnection.
Ethics, a concept too solemn to be crystallized in a product/service, will be replaced by an extremely high sense of Responsibility, that the market will require from the companies. For a brand to succeed, investing won’t be enough anymore to increase the value of the brand equity; it will still need to continue to do so, but focusing the attention of the customer on elements such as Credibility, because that’s how it will be measured from now on. So, it won’t be a matter of how much popular and renowned we are, it will be a matter of how much we can be trusted on the things we say about ourselves. And the web will give more rapid and truthful answers than any other company will be ever capable of.
From the proximity to the customers we will have to get to the Accessibility, anytime and anywhere, and the golden numbers will be 24-7-365. Customer centricity, recent evolution of the well-known customer satisfaction, will further expand in the concept of Reciprocity, giving back to the customer the same dignity of the company in his relationship with the latter.
The last step will be ‘Customer Advocacy’, so that, finally, the Customer will end up where a company that wants to offer him something should put him: on an actual altar. Nothing will be possible anymore without including the customer and the capacity of Engagement will be an incredible leverage mechanism from the competitors. For this reason, the evolution of the crowdsourcing activities and techniques will have to be constantly monitored and used.
- Quick & Deep
The consumers will ask for products and services capable of meeting their needs in a practical way and in the blink of an eye. The leverage mechanism here will be the ability to offer simplicity, rapidity and added value to the customers, removing all that’s redundant (i.e. worthless services and related excessive costs). The rallying cry in this paradigm is ‘all inclusive’. The web will establish itself as the big brother of this era, stepping forward as the primary source of information.
- Crucial & Sustainable
Priority will be given to truly relevant things (i.e. environment, energy conservation, well-being, health) without giving up the final and sensory gratification of consumerism. The consumers will even be willing to pay more in exchange for a service perceived as truly oriented towards sustainability and considerate of the values that they believe in.
We will begin to give relevance to the ‘core’ activities, by building sets of values and behavioral plans aimed at a real commitment undertaken by the customers themselves.
- Unique & Universal
Most of all, we will give value to truly customized products and services, capable of transmitting unicity and universality at the same time. The leverage mechanism will be the capacity of developing tailor made goods and services, capable of optimizing the customer’s personal gain, the result of a sustainable business model, without trivializing the products.
We’ve lived for centuries in the Era 1.0. We’ve enjoyed for a few decades the era 2.0. And now we’ve been catapulted into the Era 3.0, where only those that recognize that the customers have a soul will be entitled to stay.