Vive le Disruptive Consumer!

BlackBerry 8800 (Cingular Version)

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How better to illustrate the point of the power of the customer as part of the Culture of Disruption than the news that an activist investor group has approached the board of directors of Research In Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry (and masters of the “see no iPhone, hear no iPhone, speak no iPhone” school of management) to propose innovations to keep the company competitive?
This is fantastic. This means that the consumers are realizing our power. After all, we are the ones who deliver the verdict on every new product with our wallets, so why shouldn’t we demand that our companies pull their heads out of the sand and act to give us more of what we want? Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and more, we have voices that can no longer be ignored.

Thanks to technology, consumers can speak louder than corporations ever expected us to. If a mom doesn’t think a certain cereal is healthy, bam! Out go dozens and then thousands of voices into the online social universe, rendering a potentially crippling judgment. If techies think a game is weak, a few thousand retweets can turn it into a flop. If RIM customers find themselves doing what I did and walking into an AT&T store after ten years as a loyal BlackBerry user, standing in the long iPhone line (while the RIM section of the store is sits vacant) and tweeting about how badly RIM is screwing up, our collective voices are mighty.

The social enterprise (the corporation with a high-profile social media brand identity) has changed everything. The collective voice of millions of consumers can make or sink a phone, game, or movie. The enterprise has no control over this. Ads don’t matter. Focus groups are for suckers. The more you try to control the discussion the worse your image gets. The voice of the social enterprise is genuine, real-time and uncensored.  That scares the hell out of companies, which is good for consumers. It’s forced enterprises to listen to the collective voice of the consumer than to proceed with blinders on.

What did the board’s agenda at RIM looked like before the activists stepped in? Probably something like this:

Step One: Ignore competition.

Step Two: Do not discuss innovation beyond mundane changes to the BlackBerry.

Step Three: Look at market share and pat ourselves on the back, saying ‘Wow, we’re awesome’.

Step Four: Agree with the CEO that our customers will never, ever leave us.

Step Five: Charge an arm and a leg if someone wants to upgrade change their device.

No longer. RIM has been called on the carpet.  The only regret is that it should have happened a long time ago.  Let this be a warning to other terribly mismanaged, denial-ridden companies.  The revolution is coming. The people are speaking. You’d best listen.

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