The Internet has undergone some major shifts throughout the past few years. At first, people were clamoring about wanting to set up a website for their company. It seemed simple at first with purely static sites, but then grew in scale so that more brands wanted to have database-powered content management systems and also additional interactivity (enter the Adobe Flash player). Soon we’re moving past the website into more online communications and media like email marketing, banner advertising, search marketing and more. These days we’re looking at social media to engage with companies and communities, but with all this technology, how are we trying to separate ourselves and stand out?
This isn’t Star Wars, so end the attack of the clones
What I’ve noticed from looking at all the different startups and emerging web technology companies is that many are basically building “a better mousetrap”. While the features may be slightly different, they’re essentially clones of the pioneer technology. Just look at what happened with Groupon. From that one startup came multiple clones focused on different niches – thus the phrase “Groupon clone” comes to mind. From things like LivingSocial to Plum District to other daily deal sites, they all seem to essentially be the same thing. And this doesn’t just stay with daily deals, but also with other technology trends like photo sharing, social media monitoring, email marketing, blogging, social gaming, and countless others.
They all start to look alike. Just how are consumers and businesses supposed to tell the difference between the tools to decide which ones to use? For a little while, there was a bit of a battle between location-based services Foursquare and Gowalla. They all performed the same service, but somehow Foursquare wound up being on the winning end and has become the industry leader in location-based gamification. But how did this happen? What makes specific technologies really successful and produces a hit that becomes mainstream? Why did Facebook trump MySpace and Friendster to become the industry leader and last so long? Is it because it had more funding? Or had specific talent on hand? These might have contributed to it, but the main principle here is that it’s disruptive.
Shaking up the industry is what gets you noticed
I suppose this idea first got me thinking a couple of years ago when tech blog TechCrunch (@techcrunch) first held its conference aptly called TechCrunch Disrupt. Then, following up with that, Mahalo.com’s founder Jason Calacanis (@jason) sought to expand on this with his own Launch conference. A big selling point with both of these shows was showcasing startups that were helping to innovate within the industry. There were a lot of events and startups that often presented themselves as the next best thing and most of the companies showcased were very good, but the one question that soon came to mind was: how are you going to be disruptive in the industry?
It should make sense, right? Let’s take a look at what Uber (@uber) is doing to the transportation industry. According to the status quo, when people wanted to get around, they usually gravitated towards one of thousands of taxi cabs or perhaps went with public transportation. Soon there was mobile apps to help people find cabs, but it only contributed to the status quo, not change it. Then Uber launched last year and has hit the ground running. Many tech pundits have exclaimed that it has definitely disrupted the industry and has done a phenomenal job at it. Instead of just finding your cab, the platform has a town car come to you and greets you personally. It relies on a rating system instead of focusing on whether you have money – because with their mobile app, you’re already paying by credit card. Suffice it to say, instead of viewing a cab ride as a transportation mechanism, Uber is putting customer service back into the system that helps get you around. It’s disrupting how things are.
And what about Square (@square), the small device that has helped revolutionize the way small businesses can process payments that has made it simple for companies to do business without relying on antiquated equipment? No longer will you need to purchase credit card processing equipment in order to get paid. Just get a Square card reader and you’ll now be able to process payments on the fly simple by using one of the most common things people have right now – your mobile device. According to the startup’s founder, Jack Dorsey (@jack), he believes that “I don’t think people necessarily want discounts. They just want great experiences.” and he believes that this can be applied to the mobile payment industry, which is exactly what Square is throwing into chaos, because they’re making it that much easier for the consumers, NOT the payment providers. That is exactly why Square is doing really well.
I don’t think a lot of financial institutions have spent a lot of time thinking about design. Design is not visual. It’s about simplifying and getting something down to its essence.
— Jack Dorsey
YouTube is probably another disruptive force in the industry. Before it got purchased by Google, it slowly wound up being a powerful media entity that changed how existing media like television, movie studios and broadcast companies engaged with their audience. Hulu also came out of that disruptive phenomenon in a way that highlighted how the Internet would change the way people consumed media.
The list of case studies could go on and on, but the status quo no longer exists with some companies. Why? There are a brave number of startups that decided to break down the barriers and proclaim that they don’t like how business is being done.
The revolution is here
Earlier this month, at Saleforce.com’s annual developer conference, Dreamforce, their founder and CEO, Marc Benioff proclaimed at his keynote that it’s the time of the social revolution. That makes quite a bit of sense, especially for the enterprise model. As one of the main providers of customer relationship management (CRM) systems, Salesforce has definitely innovated its way into exploring new avenues. It’s highly doubtful that there are some CRM platforms that are going to such lengths that Salesforce has done. In essence, they are disrupting the entire industry by fully integrating their CRM platform with social media to help enterprise companies fully explore what their communities are doing.
But don’t take my word for it that the revolution is here. Just look at any of the videos that Brian Solis (@briansolis), principal at the Altimeter Group and author of the bestselling book Engage and the upcoming End of Business has posted on YouTube. They’re all on the aptly named moniker Revolution and focuses on key people in various industries who have helped shape the way that we view media and technology. Take, for example, the below interview that Mr. Solis did with Revision3 CEO, Jim Louderback (@jlouderb):
In case you didn’t know, Revision3 has produced some really great web content with viewership that might rival some of the more traditional channels. In the Revolution episodes, Mr. Louderback offers some insightful views on how what they’re doing has truly become disruptive to the more traditional avenues and what that has done for the industry. Other interviews have been done with personalities like Technorati’s CEO Richard Jalichandra, reality show producer Mark Burnett, Ford’s head of social media Scott Monty (@scottmonty), and television news sensation Katie Couric, among others. All of these talks revolve around this revolution on how to engage with communities and do business differently. We cannot continue to do business and work with customers and brands the same way anymore. Emerging technology is great but we must also find a way to disrupt the industry to truly stand out. Sure, I’ve been mentioning a lot about technologies, but this also goes with marketers and products that your company is producing. Whether it’s travel, pharmaceuticals, consumer-packaged goods, automotives, enterprise, etc., the point is that in order for you to be different from your competitor, you need to find a way to be disruptive. It’s all well and good to be social, but we must also find a way to standout and do something that people will be talking about and want to be involved with.
A revolution has started. Look at what Ford is doing with their efforts to get involved with their community. Understand how Virgin America (@virginamerica) has changed the way customers are treated in the airline industry. Note how Zappos has modified their internal culture so that they have empowered their people to help everyone. And don’t overlook what software/hardware giant Apple has done to chart the course of technology usage that millions of people have adapted to over the past few years. These are the innovators and the disruptors that are helping this revolution change the way we view things and how we operate.
So let’s revolt against the business status quo. In the end, the revolution will not be televised. It will be livestreamed, tweeted, blogged about, shared on Facebook and Google+, and most undoubtedly spread virally on mobile devices.
Photo Credit: Richard Cleaver