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The quest for a reliable Internet business model 06/07/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Social Identity, Social Media, Uncategorized.
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roundsquarehammerIn March of 1998 I joined online advertising leader DoubleClick, and spent my very first week of employment at our company sales conference in Scottsdale Arizona. The company had just gone public and the first dot com gold rush was well underway. On that first morning I got my introduction to the company CEO and VP of Sales, Kevin O’Connor and Wenda Harris Milliard. The room was filled with bright, attentive DoubleClick employees, mostly from the media sales division, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. I’d worked with many smart people over the years, but I’d never seen an organization exude this mix of passion, intelligence, ambition and confidence.

That morning I heard what the future would hold for me and my new colleagues. The future of business and personal communication would be written online. This we all knew.  DoubleClick would power this future by facilitating the one reliable  business model that had fueled the success of every other mass media channel… advertising. The Internet’s capacity for 2-way communication would deliver a Holy Grail for advertisers. DoubleClick’s technology platform would serve the right ads to the right users at the right time. Our mission: to make advertising work online. Our goal:  world domination. We would all play a role in changing the world forever.  So began a ride that would take me through the web’s first wave… ending years later with mass layoffs, an end to DoubleClick’s role in the sale of Internet media, and the company’s eventual acquisition by Google.

Today, eleven years later, the the future that Kevin and Wenda described that morning has yet to arrive. Why DoubleClick failed in its mission is a long, complex saga, filled with faulty assumptions, miscalculations, PR missteps, consumer misconceptions, and an eventual Industry wide loss of confidence in Web1.0.  The journey from irrational exuberance to irrational despair that characterized 1997-2002 is in many ways still being felt, and in some ways relived, in the Internet of 2009. The web still feels like a place of unfulfilled promises and unrealized potential.  A business model that can reliably fuel this now essential, mass communication platform has yet to arrive.

This reality has fueled many new ideas about the future of business, marketing and communication.  Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Charlene Li’s Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and Thomas H. Davenport  & John C. Beck’s The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business each stab at the beast from different angles and with different swords.  A common thread within all three perspectives is the realization that consumers are now in the driver’s seat. Value, relevance, customization and two-way relationships are how tomorrow’s companies will win.  Funny, as it was consumer fears and pressure around privacy that destroyed DoubleClick’s ability to execute on its ambitious plan to bring true consumer targeting to online advertising. Winning now requires that we win the hearts and minds of consumers. The DoubleClick story shows how even B2B companies can find it difficult to survive if they fail to bring consumers along for the ride. The game is no longer about just selling products or services.  Instead, the game is about cultivating deep relationships and building strong brand reputations through the creation of unique value, customized experiences and a culture of openness.

The Internet has become a 24/7 gauge for social reputation. Keeping consumers close and engaged and acting both responsibly and responsively is how brands are successfully  managing their reputations and relationships, especially during difficult times. Twitter, a company that has succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of  users, was able to navigate months of scaling issues and hundreds of disruptions in service without harm to it’s reputation. The iconic Fail Whale is an example of the amazing things a company can accomplish when they take consumers along for the ride.

Where are the business models capable of fueling the web’s future likely to be found?  What tools will become essential for managing social reputation and consumer loyalty? I believe the best hope for serving customers and maximizing revenues may lie with OpenID. Open social technology will help companies  build brands, services, media and experiences that both reflect and custom-serve the consumer. OpenID can help brands strengthen their relationships by maximizing user experiences, relevance, functionality and value… the keys to winning in a consumer driven world.

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