It’s a paradox. The technology that was meant to unite us, is actually separating us. The events during the last years – Brexit, Trump’s victory, the advancement of populism and polarisation across the world – are examples of phenomena that have at least partially been accelerated by technological developments, social platforms, and the exponential increase in individuals’ communication capacity. These social platforms create so-called echo-chambers, where people strengthen their opinions by collaborating with others who think alike.
Image: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash
The echo-chambers represent bubbles with internally strong relationships, while interaction with people with divergent opinions becomes difficult. Luckily there is hope. While these issues can be true in many societies, reality is often quite different when considering relationships between firms and their customers and other stakeholders. Organizations know today much more about their customers than ever before, and they are much better equipped to meet their demands and requirements. Creating relationships between brands and customers has never been easier or more cost-efficient. Technology enables organizations to provide service to customers even before they realize they need it, it creates exceptional experiences and it equips us with resources that can save lives in situations when least expected.
The opportunities of disruptive innovation are endless – at least in principle. Organizations and brands face more demands every day. It is not enough to create extraordinary experiences. Organizations are also to a larger extent expected to take responsibility in society, solve problems that they have not created and meet increasingly high ethical and moral standards. Customers reward – or punish – to a higher extent organizations for their stance on value-based issues. Marketing becomes more about action than communication; action that does not benefit only the organization and its customers, but also society on a broader scale. This kind of contribution towards global good provides organizations the platform to create stronger ties with critical stakeholders, especially their customers. An increasing amount of organizations across private, public, and social sectors such as Unilever, Kesko and OP have already realized their dual role as business actors with expectations of contributing to global good.
The traditional role division between organizations, brands and their customers is blurred, to say the least. The everyday reality of brands and organizations is formed more and more in the heads and actions of customers. For example, a growing number of individuals think that they can influence more through their consumption choices and activities, than by voting in elections. More and more consumers ask themselves: why would I interact with this organization, why would I spend my time, energy and money on this brand or product?
Organizations in turn need to be more involved in the everyday lives of the customers. When customers and other central stakeholders demand more, it is the organization that needs to deliver. Otherwise, someone else will do so. And, regrettably, only delivering is not enough. The brand needs to communicate a clear purpose and vision to a broad spectrum of key stakeholders who either enable – or hinder – the success of the organization. The idea that a customer is a sheer consumer – someone who consumes something – is less and less relevant each day. Real and sustainable value is created through the collaboration of two equal actors – co-creators – and not between a producer and a consumer.
It is uncommon that something valuable is created in silos or vacuum. Value is more often created in an open and constructive environment that considers many interests and stakeholders. Energy emerges in the space where ideas, inspiration, information and engagement meet. Constructive energy transforms and improves the world. Modern and disruptive organizations in today’s business landscape cannot alone solve global challenges, but they can be strong forces of change in an increasingly polarized and demanding world.
Professor, Director of CERS
Read more about the transformation of the business landscape in these recent articles:
- Heinonen, K. and Strandvik, T. (2018), Reflections on customers’ primary role in markets, European Management Journal 36 (1), 1-11
- Kunz, W., Aksoy, L., Bart, Y., Heinonen, K., Kabadayi, S., Villaroel Ordenes, F., Sigala, M., Diaz, D., Theodoulidis, B., (2017) Customer Engagement in a Big Data World, Journal of Services Marketing, 31 (2), 161-171