Recently, I met a friend for lunch in San Francisco’s Union Square. In deciding where to eat, I reached for my iPhone, while she grabbed her latest Android device, each of us surfing the Web and consulting our preferred review apps. In just five minutes, we processed the available information and decided to try a new Vietnamese restaurant that had been reviewed a hundred times in the month since it opened. We even knew what items we wanted to order.
My friend and I had unwittingly utilized data produced by strangers, some possibly walking around us at that very time, in a few milliseconds. We spent the rest of the five minutes processing the information, applying our personal judgment, and making pricing decisions.
We do this every day, almost unthinkingly. We dismiss TV programs based on Facebook friends’ reviews and look for movies on IMDb. We use Google’s location features to find show times near us and purchase tickets online. We can even track mass transit vehicles in real time via GPS to ensure that we’ll get to our destinations on time.
These seemingly obvious everyday actions that we take in online world are mirrored in the business world.
Business information today is similar to a social network, with seemingly endless amounts of data pouring in, begging to be categorized into useful information and analyzed. Not just a hundred restaurant star ratings, but millions of data points to be manipulated, hundreds of preferences and trends to be simultaneously observed and predicted. Analytic applications increase in importance as managers need to make decisions amidst this flood of data, seeking every day to predict the next crest and trough and eke out a tiny competitive advantage.
Just as restaurant owners learn to value each mobile phone-toting teenager that saunters through their doors, business managers must recognize points of information creation and predict the trends that rule the competitive landscape.
Successful companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, Starbucks, and BMW focus on the same themes of information, people, and networks. They recognize that personalized and new products from trusted sources keep buyers coming back.
As the world shrinks further and borders disappear, it’s imperative that businesses ask themselves:
- Which of my product’s touted features do customers actually use?
- When do I plan to ask customers what they actually want?
- How can I give it to them faster and better than my competitors?