One platform to rule them all

- April 22, 2016 4 MIN READ

Forgive The Lord of The Rings reference, but after Facebook’s announcements at F8 last week, their strategy for world domination – facilitated by messenger bots – is a fairly hot topic.

One could infer that Facebook wants messenger to become the de-facto user interface for brand-to-customer engagement. Through such a model, brands wouldn’t really be required to define, design, build, and deploy their own siloed applications; rather they would leverage the massive scale of Facebook Messenger and its developer tools to help create ‘concierge services’ that facilitate everything from discovery through to individual and group transactions, feedback, and support.

This is effectively a ‘one platform to rule them all’ strategy.

For brands, the potential allure of 900m active monthly Facebook Messenger users might be a fairly attractive prospect. But, through such a model, does any brand-to-customer intimacy and trust that has, or could be earned, get sucked into the vortex of Facebook and its matching algorithms?

When thinking about the customer job to be done, it’s tempting to see the value in a centralised interface through which day-to-day tasks, as well as key life events, could be supported and facilitated. However, what this model misses, and what Facebook misses in general, is the agency of the individual – the right to choice and the right to control.

What’s becoming increasingly interesting through both market and behavioural observation of individuals and enterprises globally, which is also strongly supported by various quantitative measures, is the move towards a model where the individual, supported by the control of their personal data, is the platform.

Does the citizen want Facebook to decide how they will complete day-to-day tasks and fulfill life events, or does the citizen want control and support from those they trust to navigate the complexity of life? Personally, the latter is a far more compelling.

It’s well documented that the current model through which inferred customer intent is matched with brand offers (i.e. advertising) is broken. To put a number to it, $7 billion USD was wasted on advertising only seen by non-human bots in the U.S. in 2015 alone. Neither brands nor individuals are getting value here.

For Facebook to shift away from similar models driven by large, aggregated data sets where inferred user intent is matched with brand offers, it would need to build trust and cross the barrier from ‘creepy to cool’. Given that its entire business model is built on ‘user as the product’, this shift might be a tough one.

Facebook and Google have built companies with a combined market capitalisation of almost USD$850 billion off the back of their ability to monetise personal data. This is an impressive feat. But is it sustainable? By that I mean specifically, as the value of personal data flows back to individuals through the likes of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will Facebook’s users trust them with their data? Without trust, personal data will become harder and harder to come by. The commercial impacts of such a shift could be significant. And with 200 million people having already installed adblockers, this impact may be felt sooner than we think.

Back in late 2012, the Boston Consulting Group attempted to quantify the value of the personal data and digital identity in Europe, and some fairly compelling numbers were highlighted. They forecast that by 2020 the value created in Europe alone would be 1 trillion euros. A staggering statistic in of itself. However, 670 billion euros of value out of the total 1 trillion euros is forecast to flow straight back to individuals.

It’s hard to say exactly what this means for the likes of Facebook and Google who rely on the ‘implicit consent’ of their users to build highly profitable B2B businesses. A more appropriate question is; as citizens gain control of their personal data, what impact will that have on a brand’s ability to earn trust, and therefore access the right to use personal data for a specific purpose?

Now we’re back to Facebook’s one platform to rule them all model. From the outset it seems as though brands would become less and less connected with their customers and prospects. This is not what brands want. Brands want a Single Customer View. And as many of us know well, no brand has this. Brands have but a small picture of a customer’s life. This is because they operate in a vertical silo. The relationship they have is not pertinent to the customer’s life, but rather the specific use case the brand and industry vertical is effectively positioned to fulfill.

The only person with a single customer view is the customer. Therefore the one platform to rule them all has to be the customer. In order to gain access to that platform, brands need to earn trust. By earning trust over time, the customer, through their platform, might choose to give that brand access to other parts of their life in an attempt to help that brand deliver them value.

This is the model we are headed towards. In Europe, this model will be legislated from 2018. Countries like France and Germany are already committing to try and push this forward.

So as we move from an internet governed by big data to an internet where small data and my data is valued most highly, the citizen, the patient, the customer, the student, will be the one platform to rule them all. For brands, building meaningful one-to-one relationships with those customers, relationships based on trust that is earned over time and through consistent delivery of value, is going to be key to long-term commercial success.