Have you ever seen The Music Man by Meredith Willson? The story takes place in 1912 Gary, Indiana. It’s about a traveling Band Instrument Salesman who’s job it is to sell band instruments to the the locals for cash and then move on before the instruments arrive. Why? Because eventually the buyers will find out that without any music teacher, the new owners will never learn how to play their instruments. The seller, Mr. Harold Hill, knows the buyers will be angry with him and want their money back. The first piece of music in the musical is a conversation among assorted sales people on a train and carries the line “but you gotta know the territory”.
So what has changed in the “territory” 100 years since? The internet. You could call it the Consumer Declaration of Independence, because the fact that consumers can now see dozens, scores or even hundreds of “reviews” of the experiences of other consumers, the buyer no longer has the ability to present a picture that can not turn out to be real (like Mr. Hill could).
That makes the consumer (buyer) king in ways never before imagined. If you watch Kitchen Nightmares or Hotel Impossible or Restaurant Impossible (where the show ends with a call to action for restaurateurs: if you own a failing restaurant……), then you can see just how many people that own consumer businesses, are clueless about the customer experience in their own establishment. Or worse, are aware of the overall displeasure and choose to consider it the fault of the consumer and not their business. The consumer then votes with their money and their reviews and, et voila, it’s a TV show about your failing business or you lose your house. That’s a wake up call.
The consumer now has insights through all these new channels; Yelp, Travelocity, Amazon, AirBnB, etc. that we all read and pay attention to. If you’re going to buy it anyway, you take the positive reviews. If you were on the fence, you’re open to input. If you didn’t want to buy it in the first place, you accept all the negative reviews.
Try to imagine 20 years ago and staying in a stranger’s home via AirBnB without the reviews of the previous guests?
We, the Consumers control whether we want to know, like or trust everyone. The corporations and stores no longer do. No fooling around. No slight of hand. We can back test every claim via the internet. We can look it up. Whatever experience you seek, you can find it. Mr. Hill can no longer do what he did in the last town, selling instruments no one will learn how to play. We, the Consumer have won an unexpected Revolutionary War thanks to the internet. And not a single shot was fired, although the business carnage is everywhere over the last 20 years.