The once clear boundaries between the roles of consumer, employee, supplier, retailer, distributor, media and other stakeholders are increasingly blurry. Users are also designers at Mozilla; fans are product managers at LEGO; consumers are charity contributors at Warby Parker; customers are suppliers at Etsy; and so on. Firms and their brands mediate these swaps, but don’t always control them. In cases such as the hijack of Cognac brands by rap artists(1), brand ambassadors were not hired by Courvoisier or Hennessy… they simply went up on stage and grabbed the microphone. Stakeholders gladly usurp the media by taking to social networks where they comment on their experience working for, buying from, or selling to a firm or its brands. In other words, markets can become a free-for-all in which almost anyone gets a chance to take on whatever role suits them best as long as others will recognize it in some way. In this context, customer centricity begins to feel dated and tired: who is the customer anyway? Is she the young engineer being courted for recruitment by a tech start-up, or the foodies trading recipes on epicurious.com, or the student who hitches a ride from Barcelona to Bordeaux through Blablacar? The point here is not to suggest a move away from customer centricity, but rather that customer centricity as it is currently conceived, is simply an instance of much broader ecosystem dynamics in which opportunities to create value can be seized by whoever thinks they can do so while creating value. What I mean by value can be anything from making money to enjoying company on a long car trip, to being proud of sharing family recipes with others.
In this perspective, firms benefit from a privileged role in the ecosystem as long as they can recognize the roles of ecosystem stakeholders by crafting compelling value propositions. How do they do this? Well, this is where the practices of customer centricity come in handy: customer-centric companies know that good value propositions are derived from a thorough understanding of what jobs customers are trying to get done, what problems they need to solve and what pain points they experience in the process. Applying the same logic to the entire ecosystem requires similar insights and intelligence. The idea is then to develop a 3600 perspective of the ecosystem that surrounds the firm and to apply the familiar customer centric logic to all stakeholders: gaining thorough insights in order to develop attractive value propositions. The analysis is not simply an externally directed one, but also an introspective one – where does the firm add value and how, what jobs does it seek to get done, what resources can it claim and what parts of the value chain can it grab for itself? Among the resources that are necessary here is the ability to foster “shared purpose” (2), a collective mindset in which all stakeholders recognize and respect their interdependence and are willing to abide by certain values and rules of the game that ensure balanced and smooth dynamics. Mozilla for instance formalizes its shared purpose in a manifesto that spells out the core values of the ecosystem (3).
As we continue to explore the implications and opportunities of connected economies, the relevance of ecosystems is becoming more obvious and presents more and more opportunities for firms to innovate by tapping into quasi unlimited reservoirs of rich and diverse resources, and expert value creation opportunities. The creative marketers we are educating will undoubtedly benefit from understanding the ecosystem logic and being able to activate it. This is what we are now teaching them.
(1) Carreyrou, J. and Lawton, C. (2003), Napoleon's Nightcap Gets Good Rap From Hip-Hop Set. Wall Street Journal, 14/07/2003. Accessed online 20/09/15: www.wsj.com/articles/SB105813367577083100
(2) Moore, James F. (2013), Shared Purpose. Accessed online 20/09/15: www.arm.com/files/pdf/Shared_Purpose.pdf
(3) Mozilla Manifesto. Accessed online 20/09/15: www.mozilla.org/en-US/about/manifesto/