07/09/2012 05:08 EDT | Updated 09/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Is Your Business All About the Product? Or the People?

There is a major shift in business focus that is under way. Digital media has forced businesses to change. Dramatically. This is nothing new. What's interesting is that we're seeing two, distinct, breeds of business being born: product-focused businesses, and customer-focused businesses. Which one do you work for?


There is a major shift in business focus that is under way.

Digital media has forced businesses to change. Dramatically. This is nothing new. What's interesting is that we're seeing two, distinct, breeds of business being born:

  1. Product-Focused. The product-focused business is head down and sleeves rolled up in a constant state of evolving the product. From daily tinkers and iterations to massive updates and overhauls. All they're trying to do is put out the most interesting and relevant products into the marketplace.
  2. Customer-Focused. Or, as I like to call this type of organization: "train kept a rollin'." These are the organizations that started off with an entrepreneurial spirit, but are now simply in market: selling and marketing the same product. They shift and adjust their advertising but their core products have, fundamentally, stayed the same with slight updates to ensure market relevancy.

The Internet exposes all.

It used to be difficult to see and understand the differences between the two. While there are a handful of organizations today that may be blurring the lines, you can think of some of the most common brands and ask yourself: Are they product-focused or customer-focused? It's obvious that the majority of online darlings are -- for the most part -- product focused, while your favorite soda is probably a more customer focused endeavour. The reason this is becoming an increasingly relevant issue is because the more brands that embrace social media, build better websites and try to figure out a substantive mobile strategy to integrate with their business model, show that most major brands simply don't understand the power and importance of digital media in relation to telling a credible brand narrative.

What we're really seeing.

What we're really seeing is a world where most brands are trying to design and market their way out of a flawed business model. To be kinder: They're trying to use social media to put lipstick on the proverbial pig. But because digital media is open to all, this strategy backfires. Great design and a cohesive marketing message is, clearly, not enough. Brands can try as they wish to get better at creating content or trying to engage with consumers on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, but at the end of the day, it's just marketing blather and not truly relevant, and all is lost... including the marketing investment, time and resources. See, if you want to be a brand that is both product-focused and customer-focused (and yes, in this day and age, that is the ultimate goal), it can't be by leveraging marketing as thin veneer to the business.

Facing yourself in the mirror.

If you haven't had a chance to read Jeffrey Hayzlett's first business book, The Mirror Test, now would be the perfect time. Brands need to wake up, roll out of bed, rub their eyes, lean over the sink and take a long, cold, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves those same questions that keep the rest of us up at night:

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we here?
  • Who do we serve?
  • Are we doing this right? 
  • Would anybody care if we disappeared today?
  • How can we get closer to the people that matter most to us?

A focused world.

There is no doubt: You can't have one without the other moving forward. As important as product focused organizations are, so too are customer-focused organizations as well, and this is where our business world could, potentially, get very exciting: when the best of brands become the perfect balance of both. We've already started to see some nascent signs of this (companies like Fab and Kickstarter), where a hybrid of constantly iterative and head-down product focused organizations have an equally compelling customer focused drive as well (be it driven top-down by the corporation or enhanced via peer to peer engagement). It seems to make perfect sense, but we have to remember that social media isn't just about brands being able to talk to consumers and provide platitudes that serve customer service as the prime driver. The digital platform and channels have enhanced how we feel about brands and how brands can express (or react) to that in much more powerful and profound ways. It has switched from a traditional, linear approach to a much more circular and organic one.

Your exercise of the day: Is your business more product-focused or customer-focused? What are you going to do to bridge the gap?