The Me! Economy™: Digital Transformation: From B-to-C to B-to-ME!™

The Me! Economy

With the advent of Internet commerce and Internet marketing over the last few decades, goods and services became available via B-to-C (business-to-consumer) and at times Bto-B-to-C. Historically, the goal has been to reach the right consumers and offer the desired products to grow revenues. However, we are on the cusp of a new era of digital transformation: not just B-to-C, rather B-to-ME! What I am naming The ME! Economy.

In this case, ME! represents the personalization of goods and services to uniquely meet the desires of each individual consumer, delight the consumer, and most importantly, begin to predict desired goods and services before the individual is even aware of such preferences. Me! represents each one of us globally. This transformation is complex, as it includes artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, cognitive computing, extremely large-scale data integration, direct mobile access to consumers, real-time analytics, and much more. That is what makes B-to-ME! such an exciting transformation! In trademarking B-to-ME! and the ME! Economy, I have deliberately added the ‘!’. Why? Because once this happens, it will bring delight and joy as represented by the ‘!’ and create a vast new and effective economy.

Social media began exposing extremely large, multi-level, and unsolicited (free to companies to access) personal information – enabling businesses to become highly focused on reaching their target audiences. Simply by scrubbing LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, one can collect large amounts of information, which can be used for digitally targeted marketing. Tons of companies – and I mean thousands – are doing this today. Facebook’s current marketing revenue is about $20B, a fourfold increase in just a few years. If this revenue is just from general marketing (i.e., based on offering things to generalized categories), consider what the marketing revenue and sales revenue would be if we truly personalized B-to-Me! through the ME! Economy.

However, even with all the tools available to us today, we are still in what I call the ‘general purpose’ selling mode. For example: if I buy a particular book, I am reminded of what other readers who purchased the same book liked. Often this is done at a very high and generalized level, searching for books in similar categories or similar titles. This is simply inadequate. Or I keep getting pop-up ads based on a website search I did, or bombarded on social media with offerings in which I have no interest. (Note: Facebook and other social media companies make marketing revenue in the billions whether it is targeted or not, because they have the user base.)

In other words, the typical B-to-C model is not ‘aware’ of the individual consumer, which I call ‘Me!’. Rather, it deals with clusters of consumers. So if 100 unique consumers buy a particular book, they will most likely receive the same recommendation that a totally different group liked. In this model, we are dealing with clusters of consumers and generalizations geared toward high-level targeted marketing. I have been passionate about the arena of Effective Personalization and understanding the consumer for the last decade. I believe that all elements of cloud computing, mobile, the application economy, big data, IoT, cognitive, predictive analytics, machine learning, and more are setting the stage for the mindful and effective real-time understanding of data. Empowered with this understanding, we can meet and exceed consumer needs and desires. We can improve effective commerce.

New Customers - Personalization

For the few years prior joining IBM as Chief Innovation Officer for IoT and Cloud, I ran my technology-consulting firm, StraTerra Partners. Our goal was to meaningfully help disrupt Fortune 100 companies in order to enable them to innovate at a much higher rate. At the same time, I authored my book ProVoke about this topic. This work took me on a journey of meeting and working closely with many companies that wanted to rapidly increase their rate of innovation. I also worked closely with these companies on the topic of personalization. I named this disruption to IT, Personalized IT. This, in turn, led to intense and passionate conversations about what I called B-to-Me! with the world’s largest hotels, insurance companies, airlines, consumer products, credit card companies, financial institutions, and more. The basic premise was quite simple: meet and exceed my ‘personal’ expectation and I will buy more of whatever you have to sell me.

A few examples to demonstrate this concept:

1) If a hotel began to understand my personal needs and wants, rather than send me irrelevant info via my mobile device, I would be by far happier. Odds are, we’ve all been subjected to failed attempts at personalization. Maybe this train of thought echoed yours at the time: “I don’t want to go to Las Vegas; why are you selling me airline tickets and hotels for Vegas?” (Side note: it was exactly then that AirBnB got started. I remember discussions with the largest hotel chains about how AirBnB would grow dramatically as it hugely enhanced the consumer’s personal experience. The answer they gave me was: “Well, AirBnB cannot really compete with us! After all, we have thousands of hotel rooms around the world; we’ve been around for decades and have loyal members.” AirBnB proved them wrong, and the power of personalization right. Clearly, travelers opted for AirBnB’s services and offerings.

2) Trying to buy cosmetics is a sheer nightmare. At last count, there were over 30 brands of mascara, with 100 varieties. But the volume of options does not help me address my particular problems. Which one works for me based on my complexion, for example? Chances are very high that if I can find the ‘best’ mascara , I will love the particular cosmetics company AND will buy a ton more. Right?

3) Macy’s: marketing as if it were 1999. Bulk mailers, constant coupons, random offers on the Internet. Yet as a Macy’s account holder, Macy’s could actually offer me things I love. So, why not delight me rather than piss me off (at worst) or irritate and alienate me (at best)?

4) If my airline knows I fly to New York a lot, wouldn’t you expect that they might show me offerings related to NY? Instead, I get destinations that the airline knows from my history I don’t go to.

5) I am so tired of being an unknown entity with my bank, despite having been a loyal customer for 20 years. Why not begin to offer me banking services that would delight me? And why does my credit company deal with me as though we just met? I wonder, “Hey credit card company, you have all my information; why not delight me with offers that I would love, instead of sending me invitations to events I have neither gone to nor will go to?” I love my vendors, but I want much more. Seriously, have I ever fly-fished before? No. So why am I getting fly-fishing gear offers? Groupon is perhaps the most disconnected social media bridge between consumers and businesses. Were it not for the discounts it offers, I doubt it would still be in business.

There are many more such examples I could share with you. Often, data security and privacy are raised as obstacles to effective personalization. Well, this problem would be easily solved if permissions were granted by consumers. Also, in today’s let’s-share-everything-via-our-social-media economy, I think people are very open to being delighted. And frankly, the new generation is super cool and adaptive, whereas the older generation is still resisting. In my work with companies on this, my favorite response was the one I received from the world’s largest beauty and cosmetics company. They told me truthfully, “Linda, we would love to have what you are talking about. Personalized IT is in fact the future. We don’t know how to build this and we try to hunt for info on social media sites, but it is not working. If you build it, we will buy it. No doubt!” Imagine my delight in hearing this response!

B-to-Me! is complicated, but extremely effective at not only increasing the level of satisfaction of consumers, but also massively increasing revenues and building an extremely tight B-to-YOU! relationship. It is about you, so you will continue to be delighted.

Yes, it is more complex than doing aggregate and cluster analyses or trend analysis to predict general behavior. But once we crack this nut, the outcome will be off the charts! More on this in the months to come, but I do want to stress that one of the key elements of B-to-Me! personalization is that it is a constantly evolving and learning system. It continually evolves to meet and exceed the wants and needs of consumers and the market. Think of Uber and AirBnB: they are agile and evolve continuously. Services are launched and instantly evolve based on inputs coming in. Large enterprises are far more rigid, dealing with legacy systems. Some of the major reasons for the resistance I continue to see for B-to-Me! from large companies include:

1. Fear of revenue loss (i.e., “What if I fail?”)

2. Not having the in-house expertise to carry out this transformation effectively (unlike companies which were born operating in the new model)

3. The large amount of legacy systems and data they have to deal with (necessitating a huge integration process)

4. And perhaps the one that annoys me the most: “We are so big and established that we don’t need to worry about this.” Seriously, AirBnB grew to be several times larger in valuation and revenue than major hotel chains in a matter of years while not owning any properties or staff… AirBnB owes its success to effective personalization, and companies that want to emulate their skyrocketing success (and not get left behind) need to learn to adapt to this new thinking, not resist it for legacy systems. Uber another such player and others emerging.

“Disrupt or die” is the reality. B-to-Me! is an exciting transformation that we need to embrace together!

[ALERT to my readers: The ME! Economy does not mean that companies can use our IP and information in order to increase online pricing for goods and services-based on tracking us. Lately I am seeing an interesting pattern (and would love your thoughts) that hotels and airlines may be altering prices based on knowledge of the IP location and the nature of the consumer. I am very interested to get comments from you to see if something strange is going on? That would be super uncool. So, fellow rebels: What do you think? Maybe mere coincidences or anomalies or some crazy algorithm?

Please note that there is a big difference between the ME! Economy to delight us, vs, using knowledge about us algorithmically to increase prices for things we may want to obtain. For example (and this is simply at hypothesis stage at this time): If an airlines has my spend history, has my details and IP address, interesting if I start seeing higher prices than normal right when ‘I’ search?]

Never stop being a rebel. Never conform. Be proud of being a thought disruptor my friends.

Disrupt | Innovate | Lead

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Picked up a copy of Provoke yet? You can find it on Amazon. All my best,

ProVoke – The Book!