From Naked Conversations to Lethal Generosity –The Future of Technology, Business and Customers

In “Naked Conversations” Shel Israel and Robert Scoble outlined how social media (then blogs) would change the way business “talked with customers.” In “Age of Context”, Israel and Scoble wrote about mobil, sensors and data and how they were changing business and our lives.  This time, in Lethal Generosity, Shel Israel, as always, breaks further ground drawing on “Age of Context” technologies to look more closely at how these technologies challenge and change the customer-business relationship.

It’s all about Customers First: As he notes – it is not about whether the new upstarts or traditional companies win, it is about the competition that will put the customer first and the speed at which that is happening. In Lethal Generosity, Israel outlines how technology can now be used to better understand customers and how it can be put to work “to give people what they want as they shop, dine, or enjoy entertainment” – or even as they just go about living their lives.

Lethal generosityBut why “Lethal Generosity” versus, say, customer-focused or centric?  The quick explanation is that if your business uses technology generously for your customers and your relationship with them, that can be lethal to your competition (OR VICE VERSA). In a nutshell, Shel explains that best in the intro before he proves it throughout the book.

“Lethal Generosity explains why the interplay of technology and social changes is causing companies to lose control of their brands just as their customers gain control of them. It argues that this power shift will be good for the businesses that adapt to it faster than their competitors.  The results of this customer-centric approach will be lower costs, higher profits, faster customer acquisition, and greater customer loyalty. Best of all, your customers will become fierce brand advocates, who use social networks to persuade others to try your products and services, thus reducing your marketing costs and your competitors’ opportunity to even be considered by your customers.”

A Book full of Examples of Technology and Technology at Work: Examples abound in this new book as well as an understanding the technology that underpins the possible today and the probable tomorrow.

Examples include: cyber money and virtual currencies; the various beacon technologies, the coming of LTE-D, what underpins the growing contactless payments industry and more.  These technologies are removing time taken to order and pay in restaurants, stand in line at a checkout or the time it takes to pay for transportation or a coffee. He outlines how the use of beacons can  simplify shopping experiences; automatically deliver outfits a shopper sees on the store mannequin or find your favorite colors. But combining those technologies (and others) with the Web, Israel also tells us about companies listening to customers’ online conversations to deliver a better in-store experiences; companies that are delivering new and effective omnichannel experiences; and companies who are using the Web and software platforms to upset traditional business models.  From location aware to contactless payments to Web e-commerce and more to come, Israel’s insight and storytelling make for a great read about today and what the foreseeable future can be like.

But for Business Leaders there is More: this book goes beyond examples, the technologies and wonderful storytelling.  This is a book about how in this  contextual age, the customer experience is/has eclipsed brand trust. It is a story about businesses that recognize by using technology and social networks they can harness peer influence over brand message – and that saves money by minimizing marketing while maximizing efforts to build loyal customers and effective online communities.

Millennials:  Israel brings new insights and underscores the importance of millennials, not just because of the number of them as they enter the workforce with buying power.  He gets beyond the stereotypes of selfish etc.  He brings perspective, indeed optimism and practical understanding to millennials rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon about Millennials as “challenging” age cohort. He notes some fundamental changes they bring to the marketplace, including characteristics such as their tendency in business and in personal choices to make decisions incorporating peer influence rather than brand messages; and how they are highly connected and use technology to collaborate to bring about change for the better.  They are changing the workforce, he notes:

“Millennials operate differently. Where older employees may enter the workplace feeling competitive and hoping to outperform coworkers to get ahead, Millennials enter with a more collaborative attitude. And more than any generation that preceded them, they are inextricably attached to technology.”

Business Leaders and Business Models:  Israel also puts the technology and customer relationships in the context of traditional business models and what the challenges may look like as business works to adopt and evolve because of  new competitors and empowered customers.  Traditional businesses, in all sectors, for example will want to read about the need to use technology and new kinds of partnerships to keep current, as they are also forced to become more agile when faced with current and future platform plays. Some considerations Shel outlines include:

  • Peer networks require unprecedented levels of transparency, generosity, organizational flattening, and cultures dedicated to a cause as much as to profit
  • Rather than bricks and mortar new businesses are built on software platforms that scale and are low cost
  • Software and web based platforms not just effective, they are agile, and that agility enables tiny companies to quickly scale to remarkable proportions, leaving venerable brands in the dust
  • Customers are no longer the target of the marketing program, they are the marketing program
  • For some lethally generous social entrepreneurs their businesses are based on doing good while also making profits. These companies use generosity and causes to reach everyday people with everyday products as opposed to technology-based mobile apps or contextual devices. The contributions are marketing programs, not what traditional companies have treated as “goodwill sidebars”.  Generosity and cause marketing is a strategy that he believes all sorts of enterprises will need to embrace over the short-term future.
  • Corporate culture is one of those elements that too many business observers underrate or ignore. Many business cultures put profits before customers.
  • Putting customers first means being obsessed with human-centered design
  • Customer support is a way to build relationships and loyalty rather than an expense or opportunity for a cheap up-sell transaction

Marketing and Communicators Take Note: As the book nears the conclusion, Lethal Generosity goes a step beyond what is lethal and generous in terms of products or services and business in general.  Israel takes us on a bit more of a deep dive on marketing and communications.  He zeros in on the opportunity of technology to scale personalization and nurture relationships rather than simply push outbound messages.  In this regard, he points to how the mining and integration of data across and within the communications and marketing functions becomes key.

And then Shel notes,

“At the end of the day, tools are just tools. You can use IoT and location technologies to bombard shoppers with unwanted noise if you wish. Conventional wisdom may hold that you can still profit by selling to the 2 percent of the people who respond while simultaneously pissing off the other 98 percent who consider your efforts intrusive.Those who follow the conventional route can and will use the new tools to accomplish the same old things in the same old way, and that will work for a while, but I believe it will be for a relatively short while. I believe that in the case of this fork, in this particular path, conventional wisdom can guide you down a road that grows narrower and curvier before bringing you to a dead end. The less obvious choice is the one I believe will bring far greater success for a much longer period of time: You can treat customers as relationships to open rather than as targets and sales to close”

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