Beating big-tech at its own game

FAANG-tastic achievement

From Facebook to Amazon, Apple to Google, Incite works with many clients who are native to the digital world. These kinds of businesses are unique, distinctive and have well-known back stories. All are renowned for understanding their customers and delivering against their needs. But beyond their own data, they still require objective insights to get under the skin of the humans they seek to serve.

Many legacy brands and businesses aspire to these companies’ reach, growth and disruptive powers. Working closely with big-tech gives us a fascinating perspective on the relationship between their customers and the brands they choose to use, and insight into how they continue to dominate their markets.

Ordinary customers, ordinary relationships

The ubiquity and penetration of these brands comes with an unarguable implication: their customers are distinctly ordinary. They are representative of the broader population. They aren’t early adopters, tech savvy influencers or millennial any more than an average citizen is.

And the relationship between brand and customer is no less ordinary. Counterintuitively, emotional bonds are often weak, despite behavioural loyalty being very high.

So, if these brands are not attracting particular types of people, nor building strong emotional bonds, what makes them special?

Making seamlessness table stakes

Typically, customers have bought into a simple service, delivering against a real need, that’s delivered with minimal fuss. Whether it’s searching the net, staying connected with friends and families or finding a well-priced ride home from a restaurant, these brands serve up seamless services that just work.

That seamlessness comes with an interesting downside: physical and emotional effort is minimal, cognitive load is low, but that also means that engagement is limited too. The businesses that serve them are often faceless, and sometimes morally questionable. Low engagement means there’s no need to confront some of the compromises and conflicts that coexist with behavioural choices.

Legacy players, disrupted by the innovators, often believe their physical presence (stores, branches, human interactions) can be exploited to fight back. And they can, but these benefits will never offset the friction in a customer service offer that is sub-optimal. Get your customers’ digital experiences perfect, then build bricks and mortar benefits on a solid foundation.

Getting it done with different ways of working

No agency partner of Amazon or a Google fails to notice how differently these businesses run themselves. Whether it’s agile teams, meeting rules, documentation practices: embedded, universal and ritualistic behaviour abound. And of course, these behaviours are not new ideas: they’re often part of a founding myth about how the very first employees got stuff done.

As well as driving culture, these practices deliver consistency and scalability in ways that are self-reinforcing. Too often legacy businesses deploy, for example, agile working in silos that bump up against very different ways of working in the broader business, and particularly at the higher echelons of the organisation.

And it’s not just working practices that sets big-tech apart: their business paradigms are different too. Often we see how a better product, broader reach or disruption are ends in themselves, without having to work within the constraints of commercial ROI models. This often feels beyond the reach of legacy players looking to deliver shareholder return through profits within ever shorter business cycles.

Beating big-tech at its own game

None of this makes it easy for the legacy players to fight back. But to stand a chance, a few elements are critical:

1 / Relentlessly match and improve on the seamless experiences of your digital-first competitors

2 / Only then can you reap the benefits of physical assets and human interactions

3 / Demonstrate your commitment to cultural change through new ways of working that transcend the whole organisation

4 / Be prepared for the long haul: investments will be significant, and return takes time. And often the most significant return is having a future at all

If you’d like to know how we apply our experiences of working with some of the world’s most disruptive companies to transform customer experiences for all our clients, get in touch.