The concept of owning the customer is not a new one – from General Motors to Google, businesses have always tried to foster deeply connected relationships with individuals.
In the past, this saw some of the largest brands investing in local knowledge, building strong, face-to-face links with customers that were based on trust and understanding.
These days the net is cast a lot wider, the information is gathered by a machine and trust is presumed. The concept of customer ownership is not necessarily because they are loyal to the brand, it’s because a company has acquired data that can be used to better understand their buying habits.
No longer is the end product the be-all-and-end-all for businesses – shifting boxes helps in the short term and is crucial for the financial stability of any business. But now more than ever it’s the conversation in and around the purchase that matters just as much. This has been mirrored by a change in emphasis in businesses’ finances – moving away from one-off big ticket buys to more regular service payments.
The need to acquire detailed customer information has meant that almost every company is fearful of becoming detached from the customer. The need to understand them through data or risk having to look to an intermediary now dictates the policy of companies that never considered it important to collect names and addresses, likes and dislikes.
But the exponential growth of companies such as Facebook and Google, whose primary assets are the information they hold on consumers, has pushed other companies to act in a similar way. Huge sums are being spent on encouraging the ongoing engagement between businesses and their customers in an effort to maintain a strong direct link.
Whether or not such efforts truly bring businesses closer to their customers is unclear. They can certainly see more information about them, but whether that means they own them is yet to be proven.