It all used to be so simple.
You had sellers and you had buyers. The seller brought a product or service
to the table. And the buyer brought money. The transaction was straightforward.
The price was the price.
But now an increasing number of business dealings are as fuzzy as Donald Trump's
eyebrows. You can't tell who's the buyer and who's the seller.
Heck, a lot of times, each are both. And even when the roles seem clear, the
form of payment is more convoluted than the plot line of a Quentin Tarantino
If you look closely, you'll see that people are being
compensated not just in money and products, but also in things like information
and emotional well-being.
Intangibles are in
Thanks to the rise of these intangibles as a source of value
and the spread of connectivity; business-to-business transactions are anything
but straightforward any more. In fact, about the only thing you can be sure
of is that the price is no longer the price. And the product is no longer just
the product, or the service just the service.
Things other than monetary payment—specifically information
and emotional engagement—make up a growing proportion of the value being
exchanged in both directions.
Simple buying and selling is out
So much so that the terms "buyer" and "seller" aren't
accurate anymore. In fact, in this new paradigm they're about as relevant
as Bob Dylan's tuning fork.
They imply that the only exchange going on out there is the traditional, two-way
affair where money is swapped for goods and services. The truth is, there's
more kinds of value being tossed around and flying back and forth in this new
connected marketplace than cream pies at a Soupy Sales reunion in the Sara Lee
And if you don't want to get one in the face, you need to stop thinking
about price-for-product transactions and start thinking about the mutual, reciprocal
exchange of many things of value.
This is no time for conventional
The problem, again, is conventional wisdom based on an old paradigm. It says
that buyers come from one direction bearing money, while sellers come from the
opposite direction with a product or service.
In reality, value is shifting to look more like a multi-level, intertangled
freeway interchange. The right lanes convey economic traffic. The middle lanes
zip along on informational exchanges. And the passing lanes speed past carrying
exchanges of emotional value.
Driving in all lanes at once
The economic lanes are still made up of goods and the money to pay for them.
But now it's a more complicated flow because it includes variations that
didn't exist before.
In other words, you've got people changing lanes and moving across the
flow quicker than Mario Andretti after drinking a pot of espresso and realizing
he's out of smokes. The interactions that all this movement between lanes
initiates are new forms of economic value created by connectivity, speed and
And where the exchanges of value are getting really wacky is in the information
Companies who used to simply provide goods and services are finding that the
information content of their offerings is the highest source of value added
and the driver of higher profit margins. Not to mention a main source of competitive
Shove it into reverse
So now these wackos are driving in reverse. They're discovering
the value of information that comes back from buyers and goes directly back
into the front lines of their company. And as a result, they are more eager
to listen than to inform. They actually ask for customer input on an ongoing
basis. They evaluate it and implement it to add
value and reap additional premiums for their brand.
The key to leveraging this value is to construct communication
mechanisms that actively hear and respond to the voice of the market. (If you'd
like to see such a mechanism, check
out our case studies.)
Wanted: Drivers with heart
Like information, emotional value has always been around but
generally subjugated to economic transactions. In fact, at most business-to-business
companies it was paid about as much attention to as Moneypenny at a Bond girl
But now that customers and prospects control communications,
some business marketers are beginning to realize that their audiences place
real value on emotional intangibles such as loyalty, esteem, professionalism,
learning and engagement. Even highly technical, spec-oriented business-to-business
marketers are starting to get the message. (Check out a few examples by clicking
on some case studies.)
As one CEO of a stat-obsessed mutual fund company has reported,
"The most successful communications are relationship oriented and not hard-driving
product ads." On days when such communications runs, the company receives
hundreds of additional calls from investors.
There's sap all over the
Emotional value doesn't just come from conventional media.
Good vibes all around a brand lead to loyal repeat purchases. So new-paradigm
communicators are learning to engage customers on other levels in a true give-and-take
of emotional value.
In fact, if you want to see emotional value come into its
own as a currency of exchange, check out a business-related discussion forum
on the Internet. These conversations can get pretty ebullient and by turns pretty vitriolic.
And companies with these kinds of listen/respond mechanisms
imbedded in their brand communications in all media will have a greater capacity
to tap into the power and value of all that emotion. And turn
this market shift into a competitive advantage.
In this new world, customers and prospects are co-creators of the value offering
and of defining the value being offered. And without these kinds of reciprocal
relationships revolving around communications, your brand equity is going to
drop faster than a pair of tube socks on Kate Moss.
In the old industrial model, the economic benefits of mass production created
a one-way relationship in which business marketers defined the product, set
the price, established the time and place of purchase and filtered the product-positive
information to prospects down a simple channel through monologue communications.
Well, things have changed, Bucky.
Your buyers now exist in a connected world of perfect information and speed.
They're easily able to get all the specifics they need and want about competitive
products instantly. Even better, they can talk directly to users and makers
of these offerings.
They don't have to wait until you're ready to communicate
to them anymore. That's one of the reasons the game has changed so dramatically.
And it's the main reason that the things that constitute value are being
Start changing lanes and your
point of view
As a result, markets are becoming true markets again. Filled
with conversations between what used to be called buyers and sellers around
These new markets will belong to companies that change their
points of view and enter the market conversations. Companies who engage prospects
and endear customers to them with human emotion. Companies who learn to respond
rather than send one-way messages down channels. Companies who provide value
through information that will help people do their jobs better, faster, and
And most important, these new markets will belong to companies
who are able to integrate all these values with what used to be called products
and services into value offerings that they strongly brand.
Shift in brand communications
There are things you can do right now to take advantage of
these shifts in value. If you'd like to see them, visit the "Five
And if you'd like some ideas on how to incorporate a customer/prospect perspective on what is of value into your brand, check out "Increase