Times are changing and there is no alternative but to evolve

The growth of online ‘trusted-advisor’ services reflects how markets are becoming reorganised around consumer processes and events

Next time you move home there’s a good chance you’ll end up using a planning service such as MoveMe.com, whether in branded form or white-labelled for property portals and other information providers.

MoveMe remembers all the things you have to do when you move home – it alerts everyone about your new address, gets utilities turned off and on, arranges the removal process and so on – so you don’t have to. Its planning service gives you weekly (or daily) e-mail alerts so you get the right things done at the right time. Most of us haven’t got a clue about how to organise a move because we do it so rarely, notes MoveMe co-founder and joint chief executive Keith McNeilly. “But we’re moving ten thousand people a month, so we know exactly what to do. It’s not as complicated as it seems”.

MoveMe started out offline as The Moving Service, an upmarket concierge service for the well-heeled. Its staff would do all the chores for you, including writing all those irritating “I’ve moved” letters. But it sets you back anything between £300 and £500.

By moving online, MoveMe has done a number of things. First, it’s been able to automate many of the chores. If you want to tell your bank or loyalty card about your new address, simply find it on a drop-down menu and print out the pro-forma letter. Job done.

Second, it has turned a high-cost personal service into a mostly self-service operation. MoveMe’s knowledge about the moving process is embedded into a planner which you can customise for your own purposes. If you don’t have kids, for example, you can delete the bits about child benefit.

Third, it has changed the business model. The service is now free to users, because it earns money from lead generation – leads which arise naturally at every step of the journey, from finding a solicitor to arranging temporary storage to finding a removal firm. MoveMe even earns “retention lead-generation” fees. Moving home is the obvious time to change your gas, electricity or phone provider, but changing is also a hassle. Simply click the box saying you want to stay with your current provider and they are only too happy to make sure your service is up and running the day you move in. They are also happy to pay MoveMe a small sum for helping them keep a valued customer.

Environmental Change

MoveMe’s astronomic growth rate – it’s grown tenfold over the past year and looks like tripling its volumes over the next three to four months – tells us a lot about how the general marketing environment is changing.

First, it’s a good illustration of how our very definitions of markets are changing. Historically, markets have been defined by supply side economics – the economies of scale generated by the re-use of a supply asset such as a factory or other piece of infrastructure. This created markets defined by what producers are good at making: soap powders, cars, mortgages, shops and so on.

Today, markets are morphing into something fundamentally different. They are being reorganised around consumer processes and events, such as “moving home”, “keeping fit and healthy” or “managing my finances”. These markets add value to users by integrating inputs from many different supplier silos and they are driven by the economics of demand: save me time, save me hassle, get me a richer or more finely-tuned outcome.

The second shift – of equally seismic proportions – lies in how buyers and sellers go to market. Historically, marketing has been driven by the supplier’s purposes and processes. Suppliers pushed messages out through media channels, and products and services out through distribution channels, such as branches, dealerships and retailers, striving to influence consumer preferences in their favour every step of the way.

But a service like MoveMe is successful precisely because it doesn’t work like this. As McNeilly keeps on stressing, MoveMe succeeds so long as it keeps on giving its users useful, trustworthy advice. This, in turn, generates an entirely different set of go-to-market processes for both buyers and sellers.

The traditional process starts with the seller, his product and his need to sell that product. The seller then goes in search of customers. The emerging process starts with the consumer’s problem and his need to solve that problem. In other words, it starts not with supply of a product, but with demand for information: a need for useful, trustworthy information. This initial information then creates demand for even more information – information about the tools I need to solve my problem (products and services) and about the sources of supply for these tools.

In this go-to-market environment, sources of trustworthy advice become consumers’ natural first port of call when going to market – a first port of call with a strong tendency to bypass, pre-empt and marginalise traditional push channels, such as media advertising and traditional retailing.

In fact, in many situations the trusted first port of call becomes the only channel that matters – buyers’ choices are both made and implemented within the trusted advisor service. MoveMe is a good example. It provides a list of removal firms appropriate to your particular post code and your particular move (for example, one bedroom flat versus country mansion stuffed full of fine art). Only vetted removal firms with consistently positive customer reviews get to stay on the list. As MoveMe grows, it has the potential to become a very important, if not the most important go-to-market channel for removal firms.

The pre-emptive role of the trusted advisor is true both in complex processes such as home moving and much simpler ones such as buying a TV. Here, the trustworthy advice might boil down to a price comparison service coupled with some peer and expert reviews.

Speed of lightening

Ten years ago, the infrastructure for economically viable, trusted-advisor services did not exist. We did not have lightening speed access to searchable information on the internet. We did not have highly efficient, automated online lead referral systems. We did not have the ability to download information at will. Now all of these underlying enablers are maturing.

The more consumers get used to the idea of pulling information, products and services through first-port-of-call, trustworthy advice services, the faster the marketing environment will change. Traditional go-to-market channels, processes, skills, information content, cost structures and definitions of value are beginning to morph rapidly across most (though not all) markets.

The strategic implications for product and service providers, media owners and retailers are vast. Are your brand and marketing strategies (and agencies) morphing fast enough to keep pace?

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