I'm starting a new business called Kynetx. As I go through some of the things I do, I'm planning to blog them. The whole series will be here. This is the twelfth installment. You may find my efforts instructive. Or you may know a better way--if so, please let me know!
Every business makes a choice, often implicitly or by default, about what kind of relationship they want to have with their customers: will their customers be active participants or passively resentful? We all know business in the latter category. Cell phone companies spring to mind with almost no effort. You never hear someone say "Wow! I just love how my cell provider treats me!" Most of us are resentful of them.
On there other hand, there are businesses that have made their mark through the participation of their customers and users. Amazon and Google are both great examples. Neither would exist in their current form without the active participation of people--often without their even being aware--in providing the business with better information. Google relies on links. We don't link for Google's benefit, but whenever you do, you're helping Google make sense of the world. Amazon also relies on implicit participation, but also uses explicit requests of the customers to help make their service better: reviews, list, and wish lists are all examples.
With a nod to Doc Searls who taught me this, some of this has to do with language. At Kynetx, for example, we don't "target consumers." Rather we "serve customers." Even if the action you take is largely the same in either case, the words make it different. The former is impersonal, intrusive, and demeaning. The latter is uplifting and makes us think about our customers as people.
The word "consumer" brings to mind a stupid cow, carelessly ingesting whatever happens to be put in front of it. And who wants to be "targeted?" Not me. People are happy to be served, they want to be understood, they crave relationships.
This focus on nomenclature may seem silly and soft headed, but I think it's vital to developing the right culture in our business. Ultimately, I believe that culture can be a bigger differentiator than anything else you do.
I'm putting a jar at the office. Anyone who uses the word "consumer" or "target" when talking about our clients or their customers is putting a quarter in it. Maybe a buck. Along with a share of stock. Just kidding about the stock--but only because it's too hard to implement.