One week and two conferences on the future of stuff. The first on Wednesday run by eConsultancy and opened with the normally upbeat and insightful Ashley Friedlein with words along the lines of “when I thought about the future of digital and this years conference I realised there wasn’t much to talk about, we haven’t moved on that much and this year is more about execution”. Clearly by this point the audience was beside themselves with excitement and thankful that we had paid the full fee to be there. But as it happened, unusually Ashley was wrong. There was lots going on and whilst an awful lot was about execution the main thrust was about organisations doing things others had not already done.
Thomas Cook in particular, whose presenter Russell Gould delivered his presentation by video due to the imminent birth of his second child, demonstrated just what was possible if you have big ideas and in particular a big budget. Travel of the future is truly a multi-channel world with interactive store fronts, video catalogues and, thank the lord, no more welcome meetings – well video welcome meetings but presumably they come with a fast forward facility.
The panel that followed however seemed to miss the point entirely about the competitive threat the Web2.0 future presents. Prior to this session on travel we had heard, at length (the panel barely had time to go up on stage) about the pressures on the increasingly commoditised insurance business. The pressure is coming from aggregators who add value by offering the consumer choice. The products which are ultimately commodities are price differentiated and it is only the total confusion that consumers have that keeps them loyal. (That isn’t true I just made it up). It may as well be though with the amount of inventive thought flying around the room.
We were told that insurance policies are priced for a 3 to 4 year lifetime value and at the same time that consumers are bored with organising insurance and treat it as an annual chore which they detest. This makes it open season for aggregators as they can at least price check. It surely won’t be long before we sign up with an aggregator for 5 years and they simply provide an annual report of their market sweep and tell us which provider we will be insured with next year? This must be an opportunity for insurance providers also if they can convince their underwriters.
Surely the travel industry is going to suffer from the same problem, as technological differentiation dissapears faster than our holiday money on fuel supplements? All the travel companies tried to make out they differentiate because they sell “an experience”. What they sell is convenience – from a consumer perspective they simply will not care if an aggregator provides that convenience rather than the agent. The game was somewhat given away when one travel agent admitted they sell anothers product because “they can make money out of it”.
As Seth Godin reminds us in his blog this week “there is no such thing as price pressure”. The price you charge is based on the value you offer – as perceived by the user/customer.