Pluses: A timely (in more ways than one) treatise on how companies – whether large corporations or small startups – can remain competitive in a global, constantly “connected” economy where the wheels of commerce never stop turning, and time is an increasingly precious commodity for everyone. Well-researched and thoughtful information on leveraging this finite resource to gain a clear advantage not only over one’s competitors, but also over other elements that compete for customers’ time and attention.
Minuses: The writing is somewhat dry and sometimes technical. Of necessity it is replete with jargon (mostly referring to the concepts from the author’s proprietary research), which may be slightly annoying to the jargon-sensitive.
Details: Benjamin Franklin is widely credited with the adage that “time is money.” With no disrespect intended to old Ben, it’s past time to acknowledge that this concept is outdated. Time is far more valuable than money. For emperors and executives, presidents and paupers, house-spouses and hoteliers, there are only 24 hours in a day – and each block of 24 hours is a non-renewable resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. At least until we master the art of time travel (which would probably necessitate revised editions of countless business books), time is much like real estate in that “they ain’t making any more.” The idea that time is more precious than money has been explored in recent years by more than one best-selling business book author, but leave it to Silicon Valley strategist Adrian C. Ott, CEO and founder of Exponential Edge ®, Inc., to both qualify and quantify this revolutionary notion. And qualify and quantify she does, with great precision, in the pages of her book, The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy.
Ms. Ott, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, apparently knows what she’s talking about. Consulting Magazine has called her “one of Silicon Valley’s most respected (if not the most respected) strategists.” No smart aleck, overnight-sensation “social media marketing expert,” she has years of serious business experience. For fifteen years she was a Hewlett-Packard executive who was recognized in an annual report for infusing HP with “new revenue streams, new technologies, and new business models.” In her present role as CEO and founder of the consulting firm Exponential Edge® Inc., she advises senior executives on applying cutting-edge technology and business approaches to help them adapt to today’s rapidly changing markets. Among the numerous companies she has advised are HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Seagate, Symantec, Clorox, and numerous venture-funded startups. She’s also a top expert blogger on the Fast Company site, and is Chair of the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California Strategy and Growth Roundtable.
So what does Ms. Ott mean when she refers to the 24-hour customer? In part this is a reference to the fact that with the advent of the Internet and online “stores” that never close, as well as more and more types of electronic devices that keep consumers constantly connected in various ways, commerce is an ongoing, 24/7 process. And that’s really the crux of the problem: even though consumers are in theory more accessible because of all of this marvelous technology, there’s also much more competition for each person’s valuable time – those 24 hours, those 1,440 minutes. Hence the necessity for companies to learn about, and to strategically channel, the cycles of customer time and attention. Today’s constant distractions call for new rules in marketing and advertising, and Ms. Ott summarizes the “old rules” versus the “new rules” in Chapter 1.
Determining the ebb and flow of customer time and attention isn’t all that easy, mainly because humans are not inherently rational creatures. All too often, the same consumer who complains about not having enough time in the day to read a book, complete a household chore, or experiment with a new recipe nonetheless somehow finds several hours each day to update his or her status and converse with “friends” on Facebook. Go figure. (Well, the late Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, did write about how people love to talk about themselves, so there’s that.) The point is that companies need to factor in time – their customers’ time, that is – when planning their marketing strategies and ad campaigns, and for that matter, when creating their products and services. They need to learn how to understand and work with the forces of time, rather than against them, to find new ways to capture their customers’ valuable attention. Ms. Ott’s book offers numerous tools to do help them do just that.
One important concept explained in The 24-Hour Customer is what Ms. Ott calls the Time-Value Tradeoff. This, she explains, is the time-and-attention calculation that each of us tallies in our heads before buying a product or signing up for a service. It’s our way of deciding whether or not the purchase will be worth our time, and this determination goes beyond the product’s price and features. The author even offers a formula to illustrate the concept: Value > Price + Customer Time Investment. In other words, the perceived value of the good or service must be more than the price plus the customer’s time investment to use it. Ms. Ott has also devised a clever tool called the Time-ographics Framework ®, which illustrates how customers allocate their time and attention among different products and services. This framework is divided into four quadrants: Convenience, Motivation, Habit, and Value, which are illustrated graphically and summarized in Chapter 1, followed by individual chapters that explain them in far more detail, along with real-world examples.
Another key point covered in The 24-Hour Customer is that companies need to be cognizant of more than just the competition they face in their particular industry. They must also view the larger picture of “alternative time” usage – the other ways consumers spend their time and attention when they might be availing themselves of a company’s product or service. This means, for example, that a restaurant owner isn’t merely competing with other restaurants in his or her neighborhood, or with other local restaurants that serve the same kind of food. The restaurateur is also conceivably competing with customers’ motivation to cook at home.
Throughout The 24-Hour Customer, Ms. Ott very convincingly states her case that companies adopting the Customer Time-Value mindset will thrive in today’s connected, distracted world. Those that don’t will lose out. That said, Ms. Ott is careful never to overstate her case or to claim that she has a magical formula that will easily propel any business to the top. To her credit, she also discusses the potential ethical problems and privacy issues surrounding the new technologies for gathering customer information. Perhaps she is a little idealistic in her belief that most businesses will do the right thing, but at least she raises the salient points. We can all hope that the businesses who treat customer trust as a commodity even more precious than time are the ones that will prevail in the marketplace.
The 24-Hour Customer is very well researched, with sources listed in the extensive endnotes, and Ms. Ott includes plenty of interesting case studies – both failures and successes – to elucidate her points. Her book is also filled with fascinating tidbits of research on everything from the latest in brain studies to time perception to branding research. She concludes the book with an overview of the future of the 24-hour customer concept, with a checklist of steps companies can take to adopt a Customer Time-Value approach of their own.
If there are any downsides to The 24-Hour Customer, they’re relatively minor. The writing is somewhat dry and no doubt sometimes borders on being a bit too technical for those who are more accustomed to easy, breezy prose styles. Moreover, the text is liberally sprinkled with jargon – most of which refers to concepts from the author’s proprietary research – as well as the expected pie charts and tables. The former may be somewhat annoying to those who have built up a sensitivity to jargon or who groan at the prospect of yet more stuff to memorize. And while the tables and pie charts are of course helpful because they illustrate the author’s points, the type on some of the illustrations could have been a bit larger to accommodate readers of a certain age. The small type is probably not the author’s doing; more than likely it is a result of the publisher’s attempt to save printing costs. It’s still worth a mention in a comprehensive review.
As for the jargon and the technicality, that’s a small price to pay for the wealth of useful information one receives in return. This book is definitely worth any extra attention required to assimilate the information. For those who have hopelessly short attention spans or find their eyes glazing over at the dry spots in the text (or those who simply don’t have the mental space to absorb too many new concepts), there are handy “two-minute takeaways” at the end of each chapter. This is a clear demonstration of the author’s respect for her readers’ time.
Adrian Ott speaks with authority in this book, and the message she conveys goes far beyond social media marketing, although social media certainly play a part. Perhaps her most important point is that any business owner or manager who wants to remain competitive in today’s head-spinning, distraction-filled milieu had better learn the new rules of the marketplace, and learn how to use those rules to their advantage. The 24-Hour Customer will help them get started.
* The 24-Hour Customer is currently available in hardcover and digital formats.
Amazon link for hardcover print edition: http://www.amazon.com/24-Hour-Customer-Winning-Time-Starved-Always-Connected/dp/0061798614
For more information about “The 24-Hour Customer” and Adrian C. Ott, visit www.24HourCustomer.com.
Based on this review, would you read this book?
The author of this review was provided the book by Capital Access Network, Inc. The views expressed represent those of the author and do not reflect those of Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries. Any opinions and/or advice expressed by the author do not imply endorsement by Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries.