Six Things Your Business Can Learn from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google

By Phil Simon

Author of “The Age of
the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined
Business”

In
case you haven’t noticed, four platform-based companies have fundamentally
altered the business landscape, and the rest of us would be wise to adapt.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, aka the Gang of Four, thrive in a state of
constant motion. They invite third parties to participate in their business in
unconventional and collaborative ways. They harness the potential of emerging
technologies. They change the way people behave and think. They welcome risk,
experimentation, and change.

No
matter what your business does and how big it is, you can learn to be more like
these four companies. Based on their business models, here are six lessons you
can learn and apply.

Keep
reinventing yourself.

In
the Age of the Platform, companies that constantly reinvent themselves lead the
pack. Keep adding planks to your platform. Start a newsletter. Become an expert
at an online industry forum. Add new services or features to your suite of
offerings. Find an underserved market niche and modify your product/services to
fill their need. Write a white paper. Team up with a complementary business and
share customers. Revamp your website. Whatever you do, don’t stand still. The
moving target survives.

Curate
your customers.

Apple
curates many passionate users and turns them into partners (app developers for
their iPhone and iPad) who pay back profits. Win-Win. How might your customers
generate profit for you? Maybe you offer a reward for referring a new customer.
Or create a wiki that enables customers to suggest new product lines. Think of
new ways to get your customers expanding your brand for you. In the Age of the
Platform, the fundamental relationship between a business and its customers is
changing.

Let
others’ platforms do the work.

The
Gang of Four shares each other’s platforms; iTunes has its own Facebook page,
for example. There are so many free and low-cost tech tools designed to build
or expand your platform that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Content
management systems like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and others enable you to add
planks such as blogs, plugins, widgets, integrated social networks, podcasts,
videos, and the like. Groupon can bring customers to your business.
Salesforce.com enables a small company to act and operate like a big one. Sites
like eLance allow you to connect with low-cost specialists of almost any
vocation. All of the popular social media sites offer great free branding
tools. Sites like Kickstarter enable entrepreneurs to test new product ideas in
advance.

Expand
in all directions.

What
if Google had been satisfied with just being a search engine, or Apple had only
made computers? Great platform companies understand that the more high-quality
services and products you offer, the more customers and growth opportunities
you’ll attract. Diversifying invites serendipity and makes your company more
resilient to unexpected changes in a market. Find something your company does
really well and then use that as a starting place for a brand new endeavor. Perhaps
you translate all of your marketing materials into Russian to serve the local
Ukrainian community. You never know which new path will lead to unforeseen
success.

Be
sticky.

Attracting
customers with your great products and services is step one. But getting them
to stay with you–and only you–is the ultimate goal. With the launch of its
Kindle Fire, Amazon just got stickier by making it easier for users to shop at
Amazon and consume media and entertainment at Amazon than anywhere else. How
can your business lure in customers and keep them there? With amazing customer
service, follow-up, regular email specials, or contests? With interactive
features at your website, birthday coupons, or preferred customer perks? Make
it hard for your customers to want to go anywhere else.

Move
quickly, and make small bets.

If
you see an emerging need or trend in your industry, be the first one on your
block to blog about it, ask your customers about it, and turn it into a new
offering. You don’t have to sink a lot of money into this new endeavor, but you
do need to act decisively to beat your competitors. The worst that can happen
is you’ll fail. But you’ll know how to improve it before any of your
competitors do. Being first fearlessly is a characteristic of successful platform
companies.

* *
* * *

Phil
Simon is a recognized technology expert who advises companies on how to
optimize their use of technology. A sought-after speaker and media personality,
he has written a critically acclaimed new book called The Age of the Platform:
How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business.
Check
him out at: http://www.theageoftheplatform.com/