2020 has placed our interconnectedness and interdependency under the microscope. What we see under this magnified view is how even the most seemingly minuscule individual actions form part of larger experiences, which in turn creates collective circumstances and, in some cases, global impact – a notion we are all well acquainted with by now. There is an acute awareness of the systems and structures we are a part of, whether by choice or by organisational, societal or political design.
If the words “systems” and “structures” evoke images of singing a school anthem, in a hall surrounded by a thousand other children in similar garb, allow yourself to remember how these same structures might have also stimulated collective wisdom, creativity, and provided reliability. The education system has been particularly interesting to track, as an example of one that has had to restructure globally. The rearrangement of this system is presenting new opportunities for new participants within that structure, as well as new opportunities for teachers, facilitators, students and parents; it also presents inventive new ways to recreate methods and methodologies.
Each one of us would be able to think of other examples of changing systems within our own lives, whether it’s how we shop, exercise or even attend social celebrations and gatherings. Our customers are part of these changing systems, and the brands that are doing well are becoming part of a variety of their customers’ systems, and they contribute to improving these networks. Have you considered what eco-systems your customer is a part of and how these might have changed or will change over the next year?
Understanding that your brand is part of different eco-systems can help you consider each action, piece of content and communication, both internal and customer-facing, as a part of something bigger and more complex. Divides between consumer eco-systems have increasingly become smaller as the parts of our lives spill fluidly into one another and become part of our digital worlds on multiple devices simultaneously.
Being part of as many of your customers’ environments as possible means that your brand has the opportunity to connect in different spaces, as a voice in various conversations. Recognising that your community is part of a multitude of discussions, activities and causes can give you the holistic view, which you need to be able to make sure that all your touchpoints add value to your community’s lives.
Some great examples of brands that have become part of their consumers’ environments are Nike and Alibaba. Consider how much of the value that Nike offers its consumer exists far beyond their products. The multi-national is part of conversations, activities and causes, all entirely relevant to their community and ever-changing with their community. Launched in 1999 as an online marketplace, Chinese company Alibaba has become a “giant eco-system of businesses”, viewed by consumers as a “lifestyle app”, according to Alibaba president Michael Evans.
Doreen Wang, Kantar China CEO and global head of BrandZ, describes how being part of consumer eco-systems translates to being “occasion-based” brands. This refers to brands that play a role in the customer’s life wherever they are, being part of every experience. The more experiences your brand can be a part of, the more it will become part of consumers’ lives as opposed to being just a purchase or service. Wang also highlights how the right mindset is imperative for brands to become eco-system brands. “It is not a transactional relationship, but a lifelong relationship, building with the consumer”.
Building a lifelong relationship requires an understanding of dynamic eco-systems, changing beliefs and shifting priorities. In the Fjord Accenture Trends 2020 report, the trend “Liquid People” demonstrates how consumers are also asking themselves what it means to be a consumer in 2020. According to the report, this does not mean that consumption is dead, but that it is changing, and it will likely continue to do so. Symbols that we used to define our place in the world are becoming more fluid, as are our online and offline lives. In similar ways, in which we are seeing divides between customer and employee experience disappear, physical and digital are all just part of life without any significant separation between the two.
Another key insight from Wang encourages brands to consider collaboration and partnerships that support providing value to the customer at every intersection. The most important partners to provide this value, sit right at the centre of your brand – your employees. Exploring your employees’ eco-systems can be as valuable as understanding your consumers’ eco-systems. If the purpose of utilising a systems mindset is to help your fellow human beings live their best life, this must also be true for your employees.
In his book Smart Swarm, author Peter Miller explains what we can learn from swarm behaviour. He writes early on in the book how the Harvard Business Review revealed that the motion of the group is the aggregate result of the actions of each individual animal acting on the basis of its local perception, and how there is no leader. In swarms of birds, “the bird at the front of the V has to work the hardest because of wind resistance, but when it gets tired, another bird takes the leadership position. The birds have a collaborative leadership of sorts.”
Fostering systems thinking within your organisation encourages everybody to act as a leader that works alongside the customer, to continuously drive the entire group forward. It promotes framing your brand as a fulfilment centre that is continually exploring ways to connect and add value.
Your brand possesses the potential to contribute to and participate in the ‘swarm’ or tribe. Sometimes, you will be the leader and other times, on some platforms, your customers or your employees will lead. It is this interconnectedness that builds lifelong relationships and makes you an integral part of the system.
Accenture Fjord Trends 2020 Report (2020). Retrieved from https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/Thought-Leadership-Assets/PDF-2/Accenture-Fjord-Trends-2020-Report.pdf
Chou, C. (2019). For Brands, Alibaba Ecosystem Is Gateway To Digital Future. Retrieved from https://www.alizila.com/alibaba-business-operating-system-gateway-to-future-for-brands/
Wang, D. (2020). #BrandZ100: It’s not just about “digital lipstick”. Retrieved from https://retailingafrica.com/branding/brandz100-its-not-just-about-digital-lipstick/