A couple of weeks ago, on October 15th there was a VRM meeting at our Chelsea HQ. The group was diverse, a CRM expert turned VRM , a marketing/branding strategist , a media analyst from the City, security gurus and uber-geeks from Google and Sun respectively, public sector & government IT expert . And me, although god knows how I would describe myself these days. Our objective was to discuss practical applications of VRM and what each of us can do. Both in business and technical terms, so the diversity of people at the meeting was deliberate.
You can read more general things about VRM here and over the next few weeks and months I will be writing more about it here. Here is William’s account of the meeting and his impressions of first encounter with VRM. The money quote:
VRM opens up all sorts of new markets as people articulate their requirements. The long tail finds its voice and states its needs. It’s counter-intuitive model, and a fundamental shift in how they do business.
I want to note one issue that emerged from the discussion. When people hear about VRM, the idea that they are in control of the data is very easy to grasp and accept. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes to get that across. I note with some wonder that it is easier to explain VRM to a cab driver than to a marketing director.
Once people mentally flip the ownership of data on its head i.e. your data (purchase history, notes on products, recommendations) is owned by you, not captured and locked in inside a vendor’s silo, they see the power flowing from the control, management and sharing of information about themselves. But looking ahead and building on that ability, it is interesting that most people assume their market power will come from aggregation. Along the lines of.. if enough people want something they can get together and exert some influence over vendors. Similar to this perhaps.
I don’t think this is about aggregation. It will be a result of people’s behaviour as facilitated by VRM tools – the demand side as the sum of informed and networked individuals will have continuous impact on the supply. But I do not believe that is where we start when building VRM applications.
I am rather fond of saying ‘the network is always stronger than a node’ – so much so it appears in my email signature. But the context is that the stronger the node, the more robust and better the network. It starts from the understanding the human need for identity, ownership and a degree of autonomy or sovereignty. VRM needs to help create a framework where many tools and applications, modular or integrated, will help people to achieve just that and let the Web again work its magic.
Where this is not about pure power play is in accepting that businesses also need to be nodes in the network. We need to work with businesses that understand having customers on their side is much better than herding them into their silos for the all important, money-making Lock-In.
VRM for business then is flipping the mass customisation on its head, where it belongs. Businesses know individualisation is expensive now. And yet expected by their customers more and more as they are learning to behave and treat each other as individuals. The pressure on the industrial age mindset that sees standardisation as cost reduction is increasing. All existing processes are forcing one route, the best way to achieve efficiency is to streamline that one way. Scaling is god. Processes are the priesthood. In this context, focusing on the individual is about providing above and beyond that standard. And that can cost a lot. What we need to do is demonstrate it is not necessarily the case, when customers are genuinely part of the ‘process’. We will need both tools and change of mindset for that.