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.

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. I totally agree with you. Looks like Facebook is slacking off on real innovation. Most of their products have fizzled out and its only turned in to an advertisers paradise with all the targeting options they provide. Though they are charitable, one must note that they have made billions by just monetizing their users data. Privacy is the price we are paying for using the free app/website. Buying whatsapp & instagram may have been their short term fixes to buy time as you have said. But what will they do in the long run? That’s what a lot of us are waiting to see.

    • Neha – It comes back to customer experience, no? Today most of us are captive customers for Facebook – we have our photos stored there and all our friends are there. The experience is deteriorating but the exit barriers are too high at the moment. Until a very enticing option comes along we won’t make the effort to port. (e.g. how FB replaced Orkut)

  2. It’s clear that Facebook wants to become a mobile-centric platform, and to us, the WhatsApp acquisition seems like a very smart move.
    Although Facebook’s Messenger app has been around for some time, it hasn’t gained the same level of traction of other, standalone chat apps like WhatsApp, WeChat or LINE.
    This partnership gives Facebook access to one of the world’s most active, real-time conversation platforms out there – something they’ll be able to tap into from a variety of angles.
    From an audience perspective, Facebook’s sheer scale and financial base should be good news, allowing WhatsApp to roll out new features more quickly and easily than before.
    From a marketer’s perspective, WhatsApp is a great addition to the Facebook portfolio.
    On the one hand, Facebook will now be able to tap into a huge wealth of data about real-time social interactions – especially on the go – and understand more about the fluid dynamics between people in a way that its existing platform doesn’t do.
    From a services perspective, it’s not clear how Facebook will monetise this new channel, but hoping that it won’t be through advertising.
    Interrupting content feed is one thing, but interrupting private, one-to-one conversations is likely to be much less welcome – or effective.
    My take on this is that monetizing real-time customer service offerings for brands – i.e. WhatsApp as an always-on, large-scale mobile support channel – would be a great place to start.
    I imagine there will be a foray into a replacement for SMS marketing too; with WhatsApp already delivering more than twice as many messages as SMS does around the world, it is clearly a huge opportunity.
    However, Facebook will need to be careful that the platform doesn’t descend quickly into spam and unwanted intrusions; there are plenty of other mobile chat options out there, and they’re just a few clicks away.

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