Winning businesses will deliver meaning online in 2010

January 27, 2010

— Thomas Bonney is founder and managing director of CMF Associates, a financial consulting, staffing and recruiting firm based in Philadelphia, PA, that serves private equity, middle-market and small-cap public companies nationally. The views expressed are his own. —

Back in January 2000, we talked extensively about the “New Economy” that was expected to accompany the commercialization of the Internet. Then what I characterize as the “Decade of Speed and Connectedness” was upon us, in which 24/7 information transparency and accessibility imparted an overlay of urgency to every potential communication, task, or issue.

This all-encompassing connectedness drove the corporate decision-making of the past 10 years to be ruled by speed. The ability to focus on priority issues at hand was lost in the rush to be first to market, in the race to rack up website hits, blog comments, and online “friends.”

Such widespread informational momentum created pressure for businesses to stay in the online conversation 24/7, and expend valuable time and energy on both high and low return-on-attention “connections.” As a result, many firms adopted a mentality that simply “getting connected” with prospects and customers through multiple online touchpoints would be enough to meet customer wishes and objectives. What is now apparent is that such an approach actually created the risk of completely disconnecting from the real needs of customers, as evidenced by the fates of CD Now and AOL in the early part of the 2000s. Additionally there were the social media missteps that cropped up in 2009, such as Facebook’s “terms and conditions” controversy and Mars/Skittles’ one-sided Twitter feed that left negative comments unanswered.

January 2010 marks the dawn of what I believe to be the “Decade of Meaning and Consequence,” in which progressive businesses are realizing their challenges don’t solely revolve around getting the customer to visit a store or a website, but in getting them to stay and engage in a transaction. The previous “Decade of Speed and Connectedness” has rendered investments in rapid response and accessibility tools a given, but these initiatives only provide a competitive advantage if they lead customers to meaningful products and services that offer solutions to real issues. Without this healthy dose of meaning and consequence, we may bring customers through our physical and virtual front doors, but leave the back door wide open for them to walk right through to a competitor.

To ensure “meaning and consequence” is strategically embedded in connections with customers, businesses should pursue selective participation in online environments in accordance with their target audience’s preferences, which in turn should facilitate the ability to more actively listen, respond, and deliver meaningful value.

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