Wednesday 30 January 2013

Blockbuster should have traded time before it ran out of it

In time postcard 3There was an interesting film I saw recently called In Time that was based on the premise that the currency of the future wasn't money but instead was time.

In the future, having solved the problem of people dying naturally, there was a new solution needed to help "balance" the population and so people had been genetically engineered with a built in timer that kicked in when you were 25 and from then on you had to work to get more time added and if your time ran out - well, your time had run out, literally.

As with money today, there were those that were born a little more privileged - and had literally thousands of years to live - and those that didn't and would perish quite quickly.  In this fictional world, time was traded as a currency for goods and services and so wasn't something to be wasted.

What's interesting about this is that essentially, it's already happening today.

We don't have the timer genetically linked into us and people still pursue money in preference to time.  However, in an attention economy where people are being bombarded with a multitude of activities which will take up time, getting them to waste time with your brand or product rather than someone else's or something else in increasingly hard.

I was reading a short book by Dr Wu from Lithium entitled "The Science of Social" that discussed the topic "Cultivating Superfans & Influence" and highlighted this issue facing brands saying:-
One of the biggest challenges of attracting attention from fans willing to spend time interacting in brand communities, time thinking and talking about their products, and time taking action that's helpful to the brand is the fact that time... is scarce.
The answer apparently is about fostering and strengthening relationships between individuals so that you're more likely to be of relevance and more likely to get a share of that attention and the trust that it brings.

This is probably right to some degree, but I actually think it's simpler than that - it's about being useful.

I don't ask my friends for product recommendations in conversation because i trust them - it's because I don't have the time to do the research myself.  It's not even because I have "strong ties" with them as frankly, I don't care if I've just met the person in the pub - if they own a product and are speaking positively about it then I'm going to be much more likely to put it to the top of the list.

Researching products takes time.  It takes time to find the products that are available.  It takes time to understand and decipher all of their features.  It takes time to compare and evaluate them.  My time then is probably better spent asking someone who has already solved the problem what they have and if they're happy with it.

This is where I think the difference is.  Yes, trust is important.  I need to trust a brand will have the product I want.  I need to trust a brand will deliver the product I want in a timely manner.  I need to trust that they will take it back, no questions asked if it doesn't work.  I need to trust that the brand will look after my details.

But I expect that of all brands I deal with.

Brands that get my attention; brands that I will spend time with are those that recognise my time is precious and help me get the best from it.

Blockbuster failed not because it didn't stock products customers wanted - people still want to watch films.  They didn't fail because people didn't trust them - ironically their brand is still strong.  They failed because they didn't recognise my time is precious.  I don't want to go back to the store and I don't want to be on their timeline for returns.  More recently, I don't want to have to wait (and make a journey) to get my film.  Customers found alternative ways of getting the same thing in less time.

The high street is failing in some sectors because of time.  The brands on the high-street aren't trusted any less, they are simply not as convenient.  I can shop online at a time that suits me.  It's also quicker, saving me time.  Better still though, winning brands like Amazon also save time through relevant search and product recommendations, giving the whole purchase process less friction and with that, less time required.

Brands doing well on the high-street though like Costa Coffee in the UK are also about time.  They are creating opportunities to spend time in a more pleasurable, relaxed way.  Given time is a precious resource, we'd rather spend it with friends and family than doing chores like weekly shopping.

Time is a currency today and it is something that's traded.  Customers will give you their time if you treat it like the precious commodity it is and give them value for it.

If you waste a customers time with complex in-store procedures, difficult to find products, slow purchase processes, difficult returns processes, long-winded loyalty enrolment forms, overly engineered rewards processes - then customers will spend their time elsewhere; and in the process, your time may simply run out too.


Barry Kirk said...

Really appreciate your take on this, Mark. I think too much is made of referrals coming from trusted sources (friends, family) when, in fact, what's likely most important is that its coming from a fellow *human being* and not from some brand communication. And so agree that we seek out recommendations from other people because its to time consuming to do the research ourselves. If anything, online research often ends up producing too much information, resulting in paralysis by analysis.

Mark Sage said...

Thanks Barry. I agree, it's the human element that matters... And knowing they have no corporate agenda. I've also burnt so much time researching stuff and I'm still none the wiser ;)

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