Beyond a ‘Winner-Takes-All’ Strategy for Platforms

MIT Sloan Management Review

Recent battles for platform market share have shown that some technology platforms are better than others. More specifically, some platforms seem both more durable and more lucrative than others due to important characteristics of the platform and its users. Social media and online auction platforms demonstrate the “winner-takes-all” narrative, with one dominant platform — and its sponsoring company — capturing the majority of users from the competition. However, in other platform-mediated markets, many competing platforms seem to persist.

In other cases, platforms like Amazon have risen to dominance in their markets because of conventional scale and scope advantages, not because they relied on direct user interactions. These cases suggest that successful platform strategy is not just about the size or structure of the platform, but also the specific nature of interactions among users.

Traditionally, when we think of “network effects,” we’re focusing on the value we get from other users on a given platform. For instance, I get more value from Facebook or Skype when others use the same platform, because I want to be able to interact with family members, friends, and colleagues. These dynamics form the basis of a winner-takes-all narrative.

Yet while network effects exist across a wide spectrum of markets, they play out differently across different contexts and use cases. For example, for users of online auction sites, a consumer will almost certainly be drawn to the platform with the largest current user base, as the brunt of value comes from the ability to sell to or buy from a large network of users. Similarly, in deciding which video game console platform to join, a person may evaluate which platform currently seems most popular in the marketplace, as part of the fun is the opportunity to interact with other users. However, the same person might also give equal weight to criteria outside of the user base, such as the availability of a particular game title or the quality of graphics on the console.

These seemingly subtle differences in the strength or intensity of network effects have important implications for optimal platform strategies. At a basic level, the fundamental distinction in platform-based markets is no longer whether there are network effects or not, but rather the extent and type of network value that can be created and leveraged by platform companies.

In moving beyond the “more is better” conceptualization of network effects, three basic questions can inform the relative value of network interaction for a given platform:

Are there cross-side network effects? The basic premise of network effects is that products and services become more valuable with a larger user network. These dynamics can often be seen with communication-based platforms — take the earlier example of Skype, or the rise of WhatsApp, where more users mean more interactions and more value. Yet many platforms involve multiple user “sides,” whereby the platform acts as an intermediary between distinct user groups or organizations that couldn’t easily interact otherwise. For example, the rise of the Keurig single-serving coffee maker was partially driven by the availability of coffee brands from a variety of producers, which consumers could enjoy using their Keurig. Similarly, job seekers care more about the ability to reach hiring companies on a career search site than about the sheer number of other job seekers. In many cases, the ability to interact with another side of the platform — another group of participants or a specific provider of a complementary good — is a stronger rationale for joining the platform than the total number of users per se.

Are there local network effects? For many platforms, users care less about the total size of the user network than the presence of a few key participants nearby. For example, in ride-hailing platforms, users derive greater value from the availability of potential drivers in their immediate geographic area than from the total size of the driver network nationwide. Similarly, users of matchmaking sites or short-term accommodation platforms place a premium on a stronger network of local participants rather than the total number of users globally; eHarmony’s early strategy of rejecting less serious applicants relied on the assumption that users would appreciate a smaller yet higher-quality local network of potential partners. Recent startups such as Lime are balancing these dynamics in the dockless bike-sharing market, as users derive value primarily from the local availability of a reliable bicycle, but likely care little about bicycles’ availability outside their metropolitan area.

Are there informational or “meta” network effects? Many companies have been able to leverage their user networks beyond the conventional approach of enabling direct user-to-user interaction. For example, most Amazon users don’t benefit from direct network effects in the conventional sense, in that transactions by individual users rarely add direct value to other users’ consumption. However, the ability to review products (and each other) has created an informational or “meta” network effect for consumers. In this case, the value of a network doesn’t manifest through direct transactions, but rather via greater availability of information about previous transactions in the network, or about the user network itself. Travel review sites such as TripAdvisor offer similar value propositions, as users receive value from an aggregate of information from a network of providers, rather than direct transactions with other network users.

Network Size Is Only One Dimension of Platform Value

For certain platforms — particularly those focused on direct communication or interaction — companies with the largest user networks will offer significant value for consumers. Yet for a vast array of other platform-mediated markets, from crowdfunding to health care exchanges, characteristics other than total network size may hold the key to competitive advantage; platform users may place equal or greater weight on the ability to access specific participants on the other side of the platform, a local or higher-quality subset of platform users, or information about the network or its participants. As the authors of Platform Revolution note, the ability to build and leverage these drivers of network value may create opportunities for platform business models even outside of digital settings, such as McCormick’s FlavorPrint platform, which incorporated user-generated flavor profiles and recipes to augment its core food seasoning business.

As platform business models continue to gain traction across a wide array of settings, understanding the unique characteristics of platform-mediated markets is a vital prerequisite for setting effective strategies. While “winner-takes-all” stories offer an attractive option for companies competing for platform dominance, the reality is that building a successful platform strategy is more nuanced than building the largest network of users.

The competitive advantage that comes with a large user base may cause a company to miss out on more complex patterns of network interaction and value. Conversely, there may be opportunities for companies to create or enhance network value for their users via localized transactions among a smaller but stronger user network, or through the creation of meta network effects through information exchange. Seemingly small differences in the ways that consumers derive value from a cohort of other users can have significant impacts on platform competition. This offers forward-looking companies opportunities to bring platform business models to new markets.

Business.com
How to Automate Boring Work So You Can Focus on What Matters

Sometimes, tiny tasks end up wasting way more time than you think they will. Throughout the workday, there's often so much that needs to get done by a certain time and forces you to make decision after decision. This is stressful and potentially overwhelming, and it has a name: decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when there are too many decisions to make; the more you have to make, the less quality they are. If we truly are making 35,000 decisions in one day, it makes sense that our ability to make calculated decisions depletes over time. You start to feel swamped by never-ending tasks when you could be focusing on more important things.

That's why it's smart to set up an automation strategy. According to a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, increasing automation means good things for your business, including creating new jobs, redefining existing roles and opening up career opportunities. And it's not just for business owners: Anyone trying to organize and save time can automate their tasks.

If you're looking for ways to automate that tedious workload you have, here are a few things you can do to get started.

1. Use the right automation tools.

When it comes to marketing automation, there are many tools to choose from. If you're new to automation, however, choosing the right tools can be tricky. With the endless options, that decision itself can be overwhelming. 

First of all, you want to go with automation software with no-code solutions. This means you don't need coding or technical knowledge to set up your automation system. These are business-ready applications that work quickly and form their own work processes so that you don't have to.

It's also important to consider what tools would benefit your goals, your audience and your business the most. Not every automation tool will do exactly what you want, so do your research and figure out what works best for what you want to accomplish. [Editor's note: Check out our sister site, Business News Daily, for a guide to choosing marketing automation software.]

2. Set up an email system.

It's not uncommon to have an inbox flooded with emails that are unattended to or forgotten about. In these cases, you could end up missing out on something important or forget to send a major email.

Carleton University conducted a survey that found that workers spend roughly one-third of their workday going through emails. Those are precious hours that could be spent more productively and wisely.

First, sort your emails with smart labels, which Gmail lets you do in a few short steps. It's likely that your work email uses a lot of recurring keywords in titles, headers and body copy. Use these keywords to organize your emails so that you can simply type one in and only emails with that keyword will show up. Any incoming emails with this keyword in the future will automatically go under this label. 

Set up canned responses for efficient outgoing messages. These are sentences or short paragraphs saved to your email account that you can send with the click of a button. This isn't exactly automated, as you will have to do a couple of clicks to perform this action, but it's a huge timesaver. The next time you receive an email that only needs a quick response, you can just click the dropdown menu and select your prewritten option.

3. Automate social media content.

Social media is the best way to stay connected to clients, entrepreneurs, business owners, developers, project managers and others in your circle. If you follow a plan for your business's social media content, it's time to automate it for efficiency and peace of mind. Doing so could save you more than six hours per week.

To automate your social media content, you need to figure out how frequently you want your accounts to post and at what times. With automation software like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can automate your social media posts for several channels from one interface. Use these tools to update your channels with brand-new posts, evergreen content from the past and popular posts that resonate with your audience.

Marketing automation software also has social analytics that keep you up to date on conversations about you or your brand. This allows you to stay connected on a personal level by tracking what people are saying about you, who's saying it and who they're sharing it with.

Over to you

If you're feeling overwhelmed with the number of small tasks you dread completing every day, it's time to put your work in the hands of an automation strategy. This gives you more time to be productive, focus on growing your business and build personal connections with consumers. Automating simple tasks like email and social media is guaranteed to take a load off your mind so that you're happier at work.

How to Recognize and Support Employees With Impostor Syndrome

Self-doubt is incredibly common in the workplace. Studies suggest 70 percent of people experience impostor syndrome, a psychological pattern in which they doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud at some time in their career.

No one – regardless of their age, industry or gender – is immune to these feelings. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Maya Angelou and Academy Award winner Tom Hanks have all spoken about feeling like frauds. Impostor syndrome can strike at all levels of an organization, from employees who are new on the job to those who are up for a promotion or taking on a new project. If these feelings linger, they can lead to destructive working habits.

HR has an important role to play in recognizing and addressing impostor syndrome in the workplace. Read on to learn more about impostor syndrome and how you can work to reduce this feeling among your employees so your entire organization can thrive.

Identifying impostor syndrome

Imposter syndrome has often been discussed as a phenomenon that mostly affects women. On the contrary, research suggests men are more likely to suffer from these feelings of self-doubt – they're just too ashamed to talk about it.

Forget about gender when considering who may have impostor syndrome at your organization. Instead, be on the lookout for the following ways impostor syndrome can manifest among your employees.

Reluctance to seize opportunities

Being reluctant to take initiative can be a strong indicator of low confidence or low self-esteem. Employees may demonstrate a lack of self-confidence by turning down promotions, new assignments or other tasks because they're "not ready yet," or being slow to highlight their accomplishments and contributions.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a giant red flag. While you may hear people lightheartedly call themselves perfectionists now and then, look out for those who actually suffer from perfectionism. True perfectionists set unhealthy and unrealistically high goals for themselves and then heavily criticize themselves when they don't meet those goals. The fear of failure can cause severe anxiety or compulsive behavior. They are constantly afraid they won't measure up to an unachievable concept of "perfect" and will be exposed as frauds.

These are some signs of perfectionism in employees:

Trouble delegating because they need to do tasks themselves to ensure they're done perfectly

Unrealistic standards for themselves and others

Procrastination (this may seem counterintuitive, but perfectionists fear failure so much that they can become immobilized and struggle to start anything at all)

Workaholism

At first glance, an employee who often arrives early or stays late can seem like a great asset to the company, but be wary of the potential motivations behind excessive work. An employee who works all the time may be motivated by the belief that they are not skilled enough and need to work harder to measure up to their colleagues.

An employee whose impostor syndrome manifests as workaholism may ...

Consistently be the first in and/or the last to leave the office, working hours beyond what the job requires.

Have trouble relaxing when they are not working.

Skip workplace social events to keep working.

Individualism

Employees who don't accept help from others may feel they need to go it alone to prove their worth. They may believe asking for help will reveal them as impostors who are not up to the task.

These are some signs of impostor syndrome-motivated individualism:

Consistently completing tasks without the help of others, even if help was offered or the project warranted extra hands

Trouble delegating or working on teams

Framing requests for help as requirements of the projects, rather than as support that would benefit them as a person

It's important for HR professionals or business owners to understand the various signs of impostor syndrome. Recognizing it is the first step toward creating a workplace that helps employees overcome their self-doubts. Once you've identified any employees suffering from this syndrome or have any concern that this phenomenon could develop among your workforce, it's time to take action on a companywide scale.

HR's role in helping employees overcome impostor syndrome

Defeating impostor syndrome in the workplace is not a one-person or one-department job. Here's how you can involve everyone at your company to ensure more effective results.

1. Provide managers with relevant training.

Managers should play a large role in supporting and encouraging employees, yet few are well equipped to tackle impostor syndrome among their team members – especially when these team members reveal their inner critic.

As Tara Mohr describes in the Harvard Business Review, when confronted by an employee's self-doubt, most managers will try to encourage them by saying things like, "I know you can do it. I wouldn't have given you this task if I didn't think you could."

This approach is called arguing with the inner critic. People with impostor syndrome have an inner critic telling them they are not good enough, that they're frauds, that they're going to be revealed as fakes. It doesn't work to argue with this inner critic – in fact, it can even backfire. Employees suffering from impostor syndrome might feel more stressed if they think their fraudulence is being overlooked by their managers.

Managers need to engage with the self-doubt instead. Educate managers at your organization on the various signs of impostor syndrome, and coach them to let their employees know that fears and self-doubt are a natural part of work life. An employee's goal should not be to strive for supreme self-confidence, but rather better management of self-doubt. This can help them differentiate between what is realistic and what is the all-or-nothing thinking of an inner critic.

2. Build open relationships from the beginning.

Your employees need to have trusted relationships so they can discuss topics like self-doubt. Mentoring and social activities can help employees feel more comfortable with opening up to other team members about how they're coping with their work.

As a representative of the HR department, you should go beyond interviews. Consider adding mentoring to your onboarding process to help develop relationships between employees from day one. Let them know that HR's door is always open if they need to talk about anything, including impostor syndrome. 

3. Create a supportive workplace culture.

A workplace culture with severe repercussions for failure is likely to encourage perfectionism, workaholism and impostor syndrome among its employees. Take a step back and ask yourself if your company sees failure as a dead end or a learning opportunity. It's vital to send out a clear message to your employees that mistakes happen and they don't have to be a source of shame.

Encourage your executives, when appropriate, to share their experiences with failure and with self-doubt. Set the tone straight from the top that it's OK to make mistakes and that being a leader is about managing self-doubt rather than feeling confident all the time.

By coaching your managers, building relationships that make employees feel safe to open up, and creating a workplace culture that learns from failure, you'll involve everyone at your company in stopping impostor syndrome in its tracks. This will help your employees do their best and ensure that your organization is a positive and productive place to work.  

4 Short and Long-Term Financial Goals for the New Year

A new year is a great time to re-center your focus on goals for both the short and long term. Here are a few goals (or resolutions, if you like) you should add to your list.

Short-term financial goals for your business

What do you want to accomplish in the next three months? Six? 12? It's just as important to think about what's coming up soon that you can work on to improve your business's financial health as it is to also aspire to longer-term scenarios.

1. Improve your business credit

Did you realize that, just like your personal credit, you also have a business credit score? Having a high score ensures that you qualify for low interest rates should you ever want to take out a loan or a business line of credit

You can increase your score by keeping your debt-to-credit ratio low (meaning you have much more credit available than you're using), paying your bills on time and opening credit accounts with your vendors. Monitor your business credit report to ensure there are no discrepancies, and if there are, report them to the agency immediately. Have a separate business bank account for your transactions rather than using your personal account.

2. Increase revenue in the coming months

Naturally, every business wants to boost revenues, both in the short and long term. To increase them relatively soon, try a few different strategies. 

If it's been a while since you raised prices, consider increasing rates for new customers or notifying existing ones of a small bump up in price. With existing clients, you risk them going elsewhere for better pricing, so consider how strong your reputation is and whether they'll stay, even if they have to pay more. 

You can also amp up your marketing efforts to make more sales. Hire a salesperson to work new territories, invest in social media ads or create incentives for existing customers to buy more from you.

Editor's note: Looking for help with social media for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 
Long-term financial goals for your business

Now that you've taken care of the upcoming months, consider what you want your business to look like in the next three, five and 10 years. It may seem silly to start planning for so far ahead, but every action you take now will impact the future.

3. Plan your business's expansion

Maybe you've dreamed of opening a second location, hiring your first full-time employee or stepping back from the day-to-day operations. All of these are great goals because they indicate that your business is thriving. But they will take work to achieve. 

Plan out what you'll need financially to achieve your goal. If you want to open another location, you may need to take out financing, so do some rough projections to determine how long it will take for you to recoup the initial expenses. If you want to step back from the day to day, you need to hire and train someone to take over your responsibilities.

4. Prep for your exit strategy

If you plan on selling your business, handing it down to a family member or simply closing up shop to retire, now is the time to map out your strategy. 

If you want to sell it, you need to ensure that not only is your business financially appealing to potential buyers but also that your financial records are in order. If you aren't using account management software, start using it so you have a record of all expenses and financial reports. 

If you want to pass your business on, bring family members into the business now so they can acclimate themselves to how it is run. It may take a while before they are ready to take the helm, so the more time they have to prepare, the better. 

And if you simply want to close your business, focus on increasing revenues now so you have a nice nest egg to take with you into retirement. 

Financial goals can be large and small, near and far, but whatever the goal, make sure you take steps toward ensuring your success. Break down each goal into steps, such as "hire a sales manager" or "put 20 percent of revenue in savings for the new office."

While you should keep your financial goals in mind, be flexible, because those goals may change over time. Be willing to adapt as your business needs change. Just keep forging ahead toward making them come true!

6 Steps to Improving Your Mobile Coupon Redemption Rates

Retailers and marketers alike are moving toward mobile coupons for some very good reasons. Digital couponing is much less expensive than traditional print coupons. Mobile coupon campaigns can be better targeted to audiences based on demographics, consumer preferences and location.

There is also the fact that traditional printed coupons have long had a dismal return rate and ROI. Perhaps most important is that mobile coupons are reaching the tipping point in consumer preference. Recent research shows consumers are split 50/50 on their preference for mobile as opposed to printed coupons. That ratio is expected to continue to improve in favor of mobile.

Digital coupons delivered via email and accessed through a mobile device are typically redeemed within a range of 0.5 to 2 percent. But by delivering those coupons via a text-marketing promotion, marketers can increase redemption rates to as much as 10 percent or more. In fact, according to research, 85 percent of consumers will redeem a coupon delivered via text within one week.

With the move to mobile coupons a foregone conclusion, what are other ways retailers can improve their redemption rates? Below are six proven methods that not only bump up your rates but that also generate actionable data in the process.

1. Employ higher-value coupons that can only be used once

Consumers overwhelmingly prefer higher-value coupons that they can use only once versus a lower- value coupon that can be used more than once (by a 77 percent to 23 percent margin, according to CodeBroker). To deliver single-use coupons, retailers must have the ability to generate a "smart," single-use mobile coupon with a security model that ensures:

The customer always receives the same mobile coupon regardless of the number. of times the coupon is requested and the number of channels chosen to receive the coupon. Once the mobile coupon is used, it expires and is marked as redeemed across all distribution channels to prevent reuse. That it is difficult for a consumer to obtain a second copy of the coupon unless specifically allowed by the retailer. 2. Leverage on-demand coupons

While redemption rates for mobile coupons are high compared with those for print coupons, redemption rates for on-demand coupons (which consumers specifically request in response to ads) are even higher.

Research firm Aberdeen Essentials found that redemption rates for coupons where customers perform an action to request a coupon can approach 50 percent. CodeBroker coupon research indicates that 60 percent of consumers would plan to redeem such a coupon within one week, which is slightly above observed redemption rates of 30 to 50 percent.

3. Conduct brief promotions

Create promotions with a short redemption period, preferably 10 days or less. Creating a short window of opportunity inspires urgency among consumers to use their coupon offers quickly, which will drive higher redemption rates.

4. Don't forget the reminder message

For longer promotions (two to three weeks), send reminder messages to people who have not yet redeemed a coupon. Inform the consumer they have only a few days left to take advantage of the offer.

The best time to deliver the reminder message is two to three days before the promotion expires. Reminders have proven to increase redemption rates by as much as 70 percent.

5. Make content exclusive

When subscribers receive exclusive, "members-only" offers, it makes them feel special, causing them to be more inclined to redeem them. Text is an ideal vehicle to spur urgency and a sense of exclusivity; for example, you could send a heads-up note informing customers of upcoming sales or events and delivering content that is only available to those on the subscriber list. Produce content and offers that consumers can only access by becoming a member of your program.

6. Keep content timely

Another way to improve mobile coupon redemption rates is by making your messages timely and newsworthy. Grand openings, new product or service offerings, even seasonal specials can be an effective means for capturing the interest of recipients; another way is holding occasional text-only sales. Using text messaging as a vehicle can keep customers checking back frequently and has proven to be a great way to drive urgency, getting consumers to respond quickly.

Learn more

Of course, as in all of your mobile marketing efforts, you'll want to test ways you can specifically improve your results to fine-tune them. To learn more about increasing your redemption rates with mobile coupons, download the white paper "Best Practices for Increasing Text Message Opt-Ins and Mobile Coupon Redemption."

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