In his book Net Worth, John Hagel effectively broke open the concept of buyer-centricity. Fascinated by the emerging power of information and its potential to reduce the costs of matching and connecting, he explored the concept of what he called an ‘infomediary’.
Infomediaries, he said, will become ‘the consumer’s advocate, or agent’. It was this idea that first set me on the road of buyer-centricity, the book Right Side Up, and so on.
But recently, John has begun to muddy the waters, talking about a new fangled concept called ‘the customer-centric brand’. If you enjoy the feeling of dizzying confusion seeping into your brain, have a read of his article on ‘Restoring the Power of Brands’ on his web site (http://www.johnhagel.com/view20050612.shtml).
John is not alone with the core problem. He continues to see the emerging opportunity in terms of ‘marketing’. The thing about ‘marketing’ is that, as soon as you adopt a marketing perspective you are adopting the perspective, priorities and interests of the seller, not the buyer. Marketers are always employed by particular companies to help them sell their particular wares; to be the seller’s advocate. They are never employed by consumers to help the consumer go to market; to be ‘the consumer’s advocate, or agent’.
There is nothing wrong with this. They’re just different jobs for different people. But what it does mean is that John’s number one test for a so-called customer centric brand – that it be ‘product agnostic’, offering ‘the products and services of other companies, even competitors’ – can never be credibly undertaken by marketers working for particular sellers. That is not what their company employs them to do.
Understanding the difference between ‘customer-centricity’ – which is something sellers worry about – and buyer-centricity is key to seeing the buyer centric business opportunity.
For those interested, I have expanded on this as a comment to John’s blog (http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2005/07/restoring_the_p.html#comment-19976591).