Adweek shared their secret find of the Dell RFP for marketing services this past week. Not much revealed there except one surprising nugget. Dell wants to go beyond selling features and benefits
"The RFP further explains that the company would like to be seen as "delivering technology solutions that enable people everywhere to grow and thrive.""
They want to sell solutions to people's problems. Sounds sensible enough. Also surprises me that this is not every brands position. But we all know that so many brands from mobile phone manufacturers to computer companies to auto makers continue to sell as if the benefit of their product or service is self evident or as if they don't have a role to play in terms of solving new, evolving problems for consumers. many want just enough "New" to put on the package to fuel their constant churn of media spend.
A Product/Service Focus Is Not Enough
Lance Bettencourt wrote an interesting article in HBR Blogs on designing innovative services.
"To recall Ted Levitt's famous admonition, the customer doesn't want a mop. What the customer wants is a clean floor. By focusing on the tool it had already invented, a mop maker would neglect to focus on the higher-potential prospect of providing a better way to solve the customer problem.
The same broader perspective is essential to service innovation, because a service, too, is simply a means to an end. As Clay Christensen and his colleagues, writing in MIT Sloan Management Review, said,"When customers find that they need to get a job done, they 'hire' products or services to do the job." We hire a mortgage to finance a home. We hire a personal tutor to improve particular skill areas. We hire a search engine to find information on the web."
He maps out 4 questions to help companies come up with great innovative services (services designed as solutions):
- "Out of the many different jobs that our customers are trying to get done, which offer the ripest opportunities for service innovation?
- If we mapped out the job the customer is trying to get done, where would we see the biggest points of inconvenience, frustration, and poor results?
- What is our customer's experience of doing business with us, and what aspects of it could be better?
- As a seller of products, what services could we also provide to help customers get their jobs done well?"
Social Media Can Change Us to a Solution Culture
How does any brand start to answer these questions? Research. Nothing radical in that realization. I would argue that the type of insights we can discover from listening to customers and interacting with them directly via social media is an invaluable addition to our research mix and key to the "services-to-solutions" transformation. When brands have a commitment to listening to their customers and then engaging with them - something we do for many of the brands we work with (but surprisingly not all) - not only does it tell us some of the answers to these questions like what vexes them about customer service or how that darn ball on the Dyson vacuum keeps me from getting under the couch, the act of listening helps keep us humble and willing to adapt.
Interacting with customers via social media provides research you would be hard-pressed to get by other means. Quick, near-immediate input and feedback. Most people are fascinated with the formation of the Gatorade Mission Control center because of the way they did it - glass room, accessible to brand managers and senior brand leaders, high-profile and impossible to ignore within the hallways of Gatorade. FMCGs are usually very good at thinking about solutions. It comes across in their positioning like Axe's role as your wingman to score with the ladies. they even expand product lines to try and provide more of that "solution."
Why don't more brands in more categories embrace becoming a solution provider? 4 reasons:
A solution focus requires additional skill sets within the organization including sympathetic researchers who know how to extract meaning and insight from many sources including social media. Embracing this requires an investment that upsets the immediate margin applecart.
Early interest in listening via social media has resided in corporate communications departments most responsible for reputation management. It has take a while for marketing, media and now product development departments to really see the opportunity in applying listening to solve customer problems
Department silos inside many big companies make it hard to implement holistic customer solutions. It takes more collaboartion across funsitons to keep the focus on the customer and her needs as she moves from consideration to purchase to using a product to successfully solve a problem.
Apple is a bad role model. They provide a misleading view of innovation. Probably inaccurately, Apple has a reputation not for listening or innovating to provide a solution but more as a creator of markets. They are like the Stanley Kubrick of product/service providers - the independent auteur who makes the film they want to make not what the marketplace craves...yet. And their judgment is largely sound and certainly profitable. Many brands aspire to be Apple but just cannot follow that path. Not because they are not as good but more importantly because this is not where most solutions come from.
To serve today's B2C and B2B customer, brands can win bigger with a solution focus. Social media can be a key to adapting a new "command center" - one that is quickly responsive to customer needs, problems and hunger to "rent" products and services to provide solutions.