There’s a phrase I like to use to describe an overused statement that sounds better than the content it contains. I call such statements “wise words of wisdom.”
I ran across something making the rounds in the social sphere which might qualify, though it sounds like profound advice for what to do next in these digital times. I’d like your opinion: Are we getting excellent advice for the future, or a profound explication of a perfectly precarious present?
Here are wise words of wisdom …
Starting a week ago or so, the following observation came to me on LinkedIn, on Twitter and in marketing emails:
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”
There was no reference to an original source. I didn’t get the point, so I went looking for the source.
It appears to have originated in a post on TechCrunch by Tom Godwin, Entitled “The Battle Is For The Customer Interface.” Godwin’s argument is that real profit comes not from a product or service, but from the customer interface. For example:
“Withings scales can cost five times than other weighing solutions because the addition of an app makes it smart health management, not just weight measurement. ….Phillips Hue lighting can make 1,000 times more profit than a colored light bulb because it’s a home emotion system. … The value is in the software interface, not the products.”
What I interpret from this is, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” — a good strategy today. It was also a good strategy in the 1930s, when Elmer Wheeler coined it.
More on Mr. Wheeler in a moment.
What makes Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, and Airbnb successful?
According to Godwin, these companies are flying high because they have become untethered from physical limitations. “The value is in the software interface, not the products,” Godwin writes, adding, “The Internet age means building things is nothing other than code.”
My spidey senses started tingling. Wise Words of Wisdom?
If code = value, why are we all not writing java and spending our spare time counting Bitcoin? Well, it seems that without someone’s cars, Uber would be a cute game on the smart phone, and without sofas, Airbnb would be looking for a cheap hotel for its next (last?) partners’ meeting.
Assume one saw …
Godwin resolves this by saying that the real winners are at the interface, sitting as thin layers “on top of vast supply systems (where the costs are).” The latter will, presumably, do all the work, oblivious to being underpaid.
This reminds me of the old joke where two people are thrown into a foreign jail cell. The first is a builder who notices how weak the bars are saying, “We’d be out of here in a minute if we just had a saw.”
The second prisoner, a philosopher, says, “Well, I can take care of that.” The first is amazed, and asks how. The philosopher puts on his best Cheshire grin, and says “Assume one saw.”
Technology is wonderful. So are virtual experiences. But neither are substitutes for real exchange of value for money. Smart marketers know this. eMarketer noted that a recent survey found that while 9 in 10 US marketers were using social media, 52% said it was difficult to prove ROI.
eMarketer concluded: “That is a dangerous position to be in as social platforms proliferate and the avenues for reaching consumers grow exponentially.”
The really wise words of wisdom …
And this takes us back to Mr.Wheeler, who was keen to note the importance of tangible content being paired with marketing. With all of the praise for his insight on the importance of the sizzle, he brought things back to balance, saying:
The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important.
What do you think?
Am I stuck in the 20th century, without benefit of making the leap into the present? Or are some folks taking Wise-Words-of-Wisdom too far out on thin ice?