The CMO of an Indian coffee chain described his organization as being the business of “time-pass” not coffee. Because spending time in the shop had a direct correlation to consumption. Hence their focus on introducing games, snack food, and creating an ambience where people can conduct business meetings. Many years before this the peanut sellers on Marina Beach, Chennai, sold their product as “time-pass”.
This is a universal truth – if the customer or prospect spends more time with you loyalty and preference are likely to increase. This is why I believe that organizations should follow the path of Mindshare, Marketshare, Profitshare. If you crack the mindshare bit, you will be able to gain marketshare and once you’ve got a big share of the market, it is easier to work on the margins. This is the route followed by many firms ranging from Salesforce to Makemytrip to Flipkart. And that’s the key to understanding Facebook’s desire for Whatsapp.
Whatsapp was taking up people’s time. Time that Facebook felt entitled to. So Facebook went out and bought that time and brought it back into their fold. The same reason they bought Instagram – it was eating up people’s mobile time. I get the logic. But then, does Facebook see Skype, Vine, Viber as competition? Or WeChat? How about gaming? Or physical sports? Trying to buy every competitor for ‘your’ time is not feasible – as attention spans decrease, leisure time increases, more and more ‘amusements’ are inevitable. Facebook’s model of putting everything fun inside its own walled garden is not feasible reminds me of the Selfish Giant. (Though, of course, this is a very generous giant.)
Make something attractive enough and people will give up their food and sleep for it (yes, really, in India some families sacrifice food to pay the cable bill, and worldwide we sleep less than ever before because we like to watch TV, and now screens.)
Buying cannot be the only solution to its problem of declining time spent on site. It will have to invest in old-fashioned marketing and product design to make the property more desirable. Facebook has to think of itself like a retailer or cinema theater faced with declining footfalls and share of wallet. Just because it sells an ephemeral product called ‘time’ it cannot ignore historical business models.