Buddha in Business: The science of customer-centricity

In the third part of the series on Buddha in Business, we will discover how to woo and engage your customer and make him a committed partner in selling your product.

Last week we started our series with the first building block of the business model - what is my product?

This week let’s understand the second - for whom have I made this product? Who is this person whose pain point my product addresses? How will I make him come to me to buy it? Having bought it once, how will I make him by biggest fan? How can I design the most compelling experience for him?

Remember the fundamental principle of branding. It is not you, the entrepreneur who creates the brand.  It is your customer who makes your product a brand. He will walk ten miles, if need be, to buy your product - but will not settle for your competitor’s product even if it is available at his doorstep. He makes it a brand with his unswerving loyalty.

Most entrepreneurs naively assume that if they put out a kickass product in the marketplace customers will queue up on their doorstep. So why bother to figure out what my customer wants? As an entrepreneur, my job is to develop the product as I see fit, customer need and experience be damned!

Teens are attention-deficit and want to stay socially connected without the rigour of a physical space

You may have heard of the statistic that 90% startups die in the first year of operation. Have you asked why? This is the reason. Startup mortality is high because entrepreneurs focus on developing the product, but ignore their customer. As long as you don’t even know what your customer wants, how one earth will you woo him, seduce him, engage him and make him a committed partner and ambassador in selling your product?

So let’s figure out how to use the Buddhist doctrine in developing your customer-centricity, with the use case of a hugely popular online battle game for kids called Fortnite.

Fortnite, an online video game developed by Epic Games, was first released in 2017. Did I say it is hugely popular among kids? Here are some numbers to stagger the imagination. In less than a year, Fortnite had 125 million players. And it hosts more than 3 million players playing concurrently. It is a free-to-play game that has grossed over $ 1 billion in revenues in its very first year.

How did Fortnite profile its customer, and what did it do to keep him hooked? Let’s understand this in terms of the Buddhist truths:

What is the customer pain point that Fortnite tried to address?

This is a no-brainer. The game was designed for the 13+ year teens who were used to playing games, for 4-6 hours a week - on various platforms such as PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. However, most of the games had to be purchased, and both the platform and the game came at a serious price.

So Fortnite was designed as a free-to-play game, available not just on game devices, but that could be downloaded free on the mobile from Playstore or Appstore.

Fortnite was not a prime mover in the battle royale genre of games. There were plenty of others before it. The central theme of the genre is that there is a multiplayer shooter, every player gets only one chance and the last standing man wins. In the case of other games, while the concepts were excellent, the execution lacked technology muscle and therefore soured customer experience.

Epic Games had technical chops. Their claim to fame was a middleware that they had developed called Unreal Engine Software. This basically enabled other game developers to go to market in the shortest possible time. In the business of games, go-to-market speed is everything. How quickly you grab the eyeballs of your customer, determines whether you survive, or not.

Epic had released Fortnite, a zombie survival game. It wasn’t doing great, but Epic quickly saw an opportunity to modify it to a battle royale genre - without wasting time on building a game, ground up. In fact, they built it in under two months. Because they had deeper pockets than their competitors, they offered the game free. And the customers queued up on their doorstep like how!

What was the origin or source of pain?

Teens are notorious for two things - attention deficit and staying socially connected without the rigour of a physical space. Being attention deficit manifests in two forms. The first is that they constantly need something new, something unknown, something challenging and exciting. The second is - in the absence of this, there would be mind-numbing boredom.

Fortnite was all of this and more. The players never knew whom they were playing with, what their level of expertise was, and what their strategies were likely to be. So every single time, the ‘unknown’ made it hugely exciting. But if you wanted to stay connected you could invite your friends to play. Or you could simply stand aside and watch them play, chat with them, and cheer them on.

So Fortnite gave its teen customers, the luxury of choice. You could play with strangers or your friends, depending on your mood. You could personalize not just your characters but also those of your friends’ too by designing outfits, gear, even crazy dance moves!

How did they put an end to pain?

With its Unreal engine, Epic made it possible for more game developers to enter the market. More game developers meant more competition and more games. The teens obviously were the biggest beneficiaries of this largesse, because the principle of any business is that competition drives excellence. And because Epic had developed Unreal, nobody knew better than them how to use it to develop cutting edge games!

How did Epic embrace a path where pain could be avoided?

This was Epic’s biggest clincher, its most winning move. They got their teen customers to invest in the product by putting something in it after each game so the game could improve with use. They engaged them in a conversation on what they liked, what they did not, how they felt, what made them comment or cringe, what made them stay away. They encouraged the teens to constantly and actively upload feedback, personalize their experiences, and customize their thrill quotient.

How did Fortnite do all of this? Let us understand within the eight guiding posts of the Buddhist doctrine.

Epic Games could not have aced the right view better. Looking for the best of Minecraft and Call of Duty? Seeking a brighter and more cartoon-like display? And that too for free on your mobile? Fortnite away!

Fortnite’s right thinking penetrates the finer nuances of the game in a highly competitive market. Creative little loot boxes that do not disrupt the game’s engaging experience. Small touches such as ‘skins’ or cosmetic alterations to characters - it allows each player to impress his friends with personalized characters.

Talk about a product whose customers do the talking – or emoting shall we say? Fortnite’s right speech moves into an elevated stratosphere, as millions of its avid users dance to the game’s ‘emotes’. Even the football World Cup goal scorers (England’s Deli Alli and France’s Antoine Griezmann) boogied in celebration with Fortnite emotes after their goals! It is social experience with rare abandon, as it encourages friends to play together.

Xbox. Nintendo Switch. PlayStation. PCs, Macs. iOS. And, very soon, Android too. That’s right action at its best, without a doubt. Easy to join – yet hard enough for its last competitors standing to celebrate with snazzy towers and gripping techniques. Its stretch factor to attain mastery is just that tantalizingly exclusive – be they small but exciting additions to content every week, or the bigger changes in progressive seasons.

Can you believe that it is marketed as a ‘family-friendly’ shooting game? That talks a lot about its values regarding the right livelihood. Created in a totally virtual context, its free model unlocks sustaining monetization solely by building self-expression. Rewards do not create power imbalances or uneven battlegrounds – they only boost the players’ identities.

Easy come, not so easy go – Fortnite seems to have picked up a lesson or two from its predecessor Pokemon Go’s swift vanishing act from the top of the charts. No sir, losing gamer engagement is not an option for them. Release of regular content updates, streaming of platforms, seasons and special events – these are a few strategies that demonstrate Epic Games’ right diligence. What’s more, they have cracked the monetization code as well!

Epic’s foray into e-sports shows its vision of garnering benefits from sponsorship and media rights in the future. According to Ovum, a leading market research consultancy organization, the global e-sports market will grow to $1.9 billion in 2022. Undoubtedly, the right mindfulness with respect to future-proofing their business.

Vaulting the highest bars in teenage gaming to become a global cultural phenomenon – we rest our case for right concentration.

Fortnite has run amok in the teenagers’ imagination, to fan an engagement frenzy. They have not just hit the bull’s-eye in customer discovery, but built a massive community of players and viewers. In fact, they have brought in hordes of new players into a gaming genre that once had a limited catchment area. As the game’s founder describes it, “It’s a game for everybody.”

Pick a leaf out of Fortnite’s very cash-rich book. Go for broke!

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