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Big Trends: Bundling, Unbundling, and Customer Acquisition (Thinks Out Loud Episode 411)

Dall-E generated image of team working around a table on a puzzle to illustrate the idea of bundling and unbundling in customer acquisition

Peter Drucker said it years ago: Your job is to create a customer. But creating a customer can be hard, especially as media and creators and influencers get bought out or burned out. Essentially, media is continually in a process of being bundled or unbundled, of integrating and dis-integrating. So, how are you supposed to acquire customers — to create customers — in that world?

The simple fact is that the world we all live in changes constantly. It’s true for your customers. It’s true for your business. But, there is a path by which you can connect with customers, acquire customers, and keep your customers no matter how much bundling or unbundling happens around you. And that’s what this episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast is all about.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Big Trends: Bundling, Unbundling, and Customer Acquisition (Thinks Out Loud Episode 411) Headlines and Show Notes

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You might also enjoy this webinar I recently participated in with Miles Partnership that looked at "The Power of Generative AI and ChatGPT: What It Means for Tourism & Hospitality" here:

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Running time: 24m 42s

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Transcript: Big Trends: Bundling, Unbundling, and Customer Acquisition

 Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 410 of the Big Show, and I think we’ve got a really cool episode for you today.

You know, one of the things that I think about a lot — what we do here, what my firm does, what I try to do, what my team tries to do — is we try to help our clients lower the cost of acquiring customers.

Fundamentally, that’s what we do. It’s so important to me that I’m writing a book about it. But we try to help clients get more customers for less money. That could be by helping with marketing. It could be by helping with customer experience. It could be by helping with their tech stack. And we do this for companies in hospitality, or travel, or SaaS, or technology, or financial services, what have you.

You know, lots of different things. When I talk about e commerce, or AI, which we’ve done in lots of recent shows, or email, like last week’s show, or what have you, it’s always coming from a place of lowering that cost of finding and connecting with customers. Fundamentally, you’ve heard me say this Drucker quote, that the first job of business is to create a customer.

And if we’re not doing that, if we’re not helping our clients do that, if we’re not helping you do that on this show, then we’re not doing our jobs. Now, of course, one of my favorite ways to do that is by keeping an eye on various trends that matter, that are either going to raise the cost of acquiring customers for you, or are going to lower your costs if you put them to work the right way.

I mean, that’s why I’m so hot on AI lately. And there is a big trend that’s going on right at the moment that gets overlooked a lot by me as much as anyone, I should add. And my epiphany on this, my realization on this, came from a conversation I was having with my friend Mark Schaefer last week. Mark is a great guy, big thinker, super, super smart dude, has written, I don’t know, 787 books or something like that.

He’s just the best guy and a really, really smart dude. And he is It’s rightly a big proponent of community, of user generated content, and of creators and influencers, in terms of their ability to help you reach your customers. And, in the case of community, of having customers help you reach more customers, help customers help themselves, and create greater experience.

His new book called Belonging to the Brand, his most recent book, is well worth a read on that very topic. And as much as he loves creators and influencers, and I do too, I think they’re tremendous, tremendous resources for you, he mentioned a limitation that exists among them, which is burnout. I’ve seen a bunch of folks I follow on YouTube in just the last few weeks dedicate entire episodes to the topic.

He’s talked, he was talking about in our conversation about people who just get fed up and can’t do it anymore. And if you think about it, how many television shows had amazing runs for their entire history? How many film sequels were as good as the original? Not many, right? It’s tough to sustain creativity.

And what you’re starting to see more of, and I think somebody like Mr. Beast would be a good example of this, though there are countless others, are creators who are becoming production companies. These aren’t solo operators or solopreneurs. They have an entire crew and company where they’re consolidating efforts.

They’re bringing people together. To, you know, make the work easier. And that really is the larger trend that I want to talk about. This idea of bringing things together. And the weird part is, I’m not going to just talk about bringing them together. I’m going to talk about bringing them together and splitting them apart.

Jim Barksdale, who was one of the founders of Netscape back in the day with Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark. Famously said, there are only two business models, bundling the unbundled and unbundling the bundles, right? If you think about the number of businesses out there that have been successful, they’re always either splitting off some feature or function from another business, or they’re taking a bunch of features and functions and putting them together.

You know Craigslist unbundled classified ads from newspapers. And, in fact, if you think about lots of services, they’re just like little things that used to be in newspapers, right? Instagram, unbundled the photo sharing functionality from Facebook, originally. On the bundling side to YouTube, bundled videos from everywhere.

They became the place where you could get everything Amazon bundled purchasing. Instead of going to 12 different stores, you can just go to Amazon and get everything. LinkedIn sort of unbundled your business contacts from, you know, wherever else you might have had them. Right? They’re just different ideas of this idea of bundling or unbundling, or if you prefer.

Integration and disintegration. We’re talking about ways you split apart, you know, the place that you go or you, you bring different places you go into one. And the reason I bring this up is because this has a lot of effect on what’s gonna happen with your marketing and what’s going to happen on the way you use digital to reach your customers.

See, bringing this back around to where I started today. I believe, I have long believed, and I think most people would agree, the best form of marketing is, was, and always shall be word of mouth. It’s why I always say that customer experience is queen. Your customers are your secret sales force. Every single person who you interact with has roughly 200 friends and family and fans and followers.

on various social networks, on various social connections. They, they tell your, those friends and family and fans and followers all about your products and services. They sometimes do this when they have a good experience. And they always do this, or pretty much always do this, when they have a bad experience.

That’s kind of how people are wired. They talk to what’s going on in their lives with their social network. And one of the things you have to remember is that social networks are not a technology platform. Social networks are people. Social is people. We call Meta and Facebook and Threads and Instagram and TikTok and LinkedIn and Discord and Snap social networks.

But they’re not. They’re platforms that connect people with their actual social network, with the people they care about. They’re still incredibly important as platforms because they’re where word of mouth happens a ton of the time. Not as much, maybe, as when you’re talking to people at dinner, or you’re talking to people at a nightclub, or you’re talking to people at a company meeting, but they talk to all their friends, and family, and fans, and followers on those platforms.

And, of course, influencers and creators are a form of word of mouth, at least to a point. Obviously, most of what they’re talking about is not your business, or not the companies they partner with, but some of the time they do, so they’re providing word of mouth opportunities for you. community is a form of word of mouth.

You know, my friend Mark Schafer’s thing that he’s beating the drum about, so, so rightly lately, it’s also, if you think about it, a form of unbundling, and this gets really important when we talk about, you know, burnout among creators and the like, because what community is doing is it’s moving the creation from a bundled point, the creator or the influencer or the brand.

To an unbundled group, the community. It’s user generated content at scale, where the content may just be the conversation that’s happening among the people in that community. The point is that we see this continual pendulum of bundling and unbundling, of integration and disintegration, and we’re kind of going through a period right now where that’s occurring, we’re moving forward.

From what seemed to be more of a centralized activity where the brand or the influencer or the creator was the centralized point. It’s starting to unbundle, it’s starting to disintegrate a little bit. I think we are in the early days of an unbundling period. People want to engage with their social networks.

Privately more than they did. They don’t want one place where people can go and see everything about them. They’re trying to, they’re trying to keep different groups of people separate from one another. Jeff Jarvis once referred to the difference between “the public” and “a public.” They’re okay with sharing information with a select group of people, but maybe they don’t want it shared with the world.

And if you look at things like Substack or Discord, those are more private communities or more private ways of sharing that, again, are sort of an unbundling, sort of. Substack’s a weird one because it’s bundling all these unbundled creators and bringing them into one place. So, you know, the pendulum doesn’t have to just move in one direction at any given time.

I suppose it’s sort of like Schrodinger’s pendulum. It depends on how you look at it at any given point. But a Substack, a subscription, or Discord, or things like that, those are more private. And your audiences are getting more discreet, more fragmented, and maybe a little more private. So we’re having a little more disintegration going on, a little more unbundling going on.

The point is that the way you get your message out Changes. It changes constantly and it is in this constant state of flux between a bundled situation and an unbundled situation. And what you need to be thinking about is how do you work in an environment, in a fragmented environment, in an unbundled environment, or in a bundled one that may later become unbundled and be prepared for it.

You know, work well in that environment. And there’s a handful of things you need to do, and the great thing is that these are things we’ve talked about before. The strategies don’t change that much. The tactics might change a lot, but the strategies don’t change tons. The first is you need to connect with your customers directly.

You need to build relationships with your customers wherever you build them. Whether you build them in your email list, whether you build them in a community, whether you build them through partnerships, whether you build them from getting people to use your app. It’s about connecting with customers directly.

And you need to have quality content to do that. You need to be a trusted resource that your customers can go to for at least some of their questions, right? So think in terms of quality content that addresses their needs. There’s a reason why I say content is king. You also don’t need to be the only people who create that content.

Real partnerships with creators that matter to your customers can be super effective as a form of content. And when I say real partnerships, I mean partner with people whose audience are your customers. Build relationships with those creators communities. This shouldn’t just be about paid placement. A.

It raises your costs, so let’s not do that, shall we? B. You’ll look like an outsider. You’ll look inauthentic. And C. You don’t really become Of the community, it makes it less likely that the people you’re interacting with are people who actually want to interact with you. This should be a mutually beneficial relationship.

At the same time, we should realize that some of these folks you’re working with might burn out. They might find things that are more interesting than what they’re talking about. They may evolve over time, so you don’t want to put all your eggs in that one basket. You should make sure you’re working with an array of creators, not necessarily 50 or 100 or 200.

But a set that makes sense to the scale of your business that you can work with effectively and manage. If you’re working with one creator, that’s probably not enough. If you’re working with 100, 000, you’ve got a bigger budget than most people. Congratulations, that’s fantastic. Right, but it’s, it’s finding the scale that fits your needs without relying solely on a single creator.

You also want to think about the hub and spoke model that we’ve talked about lots of times. You need a hub where all your content can be found, can be addressed. That’s your website, that’s your email, that’s your app. It could be a community that you create and that you run on behalf of your customers.

With the caveat that of course the minute you have a community, it belongs to the community as much as it belongs to you. So that one’s You know, a hub, but it may not be the most central part of your hub because you don’t have as much control there as you would like to, or you may want to in certain cases.

But you want to have those hubs available to you. And then the spokes are using channels like YouTube, using channels like Substack, using creators who you partner with, using channels like Instagram or, or LinkedIn, if you’re a B2B company to connect with customers where they are. The point, once again, is not to be disintegrated if one of those goes away, but to have an array of these spokes that you’re using that enable you to connect with customers where they are and not be dependent on anyone should two smart kids in a garage come along and blow one of them up one of these days.

You know, make it go away. And then the last core strategy that matters here is this idea of core and explore that we’ve talked about plenty of times here. You know, as I talk about this, it can be easy to get a little overwhelmed and say, well, that’s too many things. How do I do all of that? And the answer is you don’t.

And I mean, you start by putting 80 percent of your efforts or 90 percent of your efforts on the things that you know work and that continue to work well for you and you put most of your effort, most of your time, most of your money, most of your resources into the core, into the items that have proven successful for you again and again and again.

And then with the 10 or 20 percent that you have left over, you test. So you test with a creator. You test with a new channel. You test with a community that you join. Maybe don’t start your own, maybe join someone else’s as a genuine member of that community. But these are tests to see if they work, to see if you gain any traction.

If you find you’re not getting any traction, you either change what you’re doing or you change where you’re doing it. Just change the one thing and then see what happens there. But that’s the explore part, because you’re going to find some of those tests don’t work. And some of those tests are going to work really well for you and may eventually become part of your core because they outperform something that is in the core.

That’s okay. That’s normal. That’s why you do it this way. The point to remember there is that the way you reach customers continually changes. The way customers want you to reach them. Continually changes, and if you continue to always do what you’ve always done, you may be, you know, you may be sadly surprised to learn that it doesn’t work as well over time, which is why you have to continually be testing for new opportunities.

So, integration and disintegration, bundling and unbundling. Is a reality in the digital world. Is a reality in the business world. It’s been a reality forever and it’s unlikely to change. What we know is true is that customers still want to connect with trusted individuals and trusted brands on the topics that A.

matter to them and B. you’re a relevant resource for. So work to connect directly with customers. Work to create quality content that addresses their needs. Remember that content is king and customer experience is queen. So create great experiences that turn your secret sales force into influencers and creators on behalf of your brand in their social networks and in their communities, regardless of whether those happen online or offline.

Think in terms of real partnerships with creators that matter to your customers, whether they’re your customers themselves or whether they’re people who create content. Keep hub and spoke top of mind for how you do what you do. Make sure you’ve got a hub that you people can always find the content and community and customer experience that matter to them.

And also, using different spokes to reach customers in all of the various places that they are. And then lastly, Core and Explore. Focus most of your energies on the areas that work today and test 10 to 20 percent of the time on new things that will help your business in the longer term as we live through this pendulum swing between bundling and unbundling or integration and disintegration over time.

Because the one thing I will tell you is that’s a huge trend that we’ve seen again and again and again. It’s not going away anytime soon. It’s going to come back again and again and again. And you want to make sure that whether it’s in a bundle or whether it’s unbundled, people know where to find you.

Your customers know where to find you. And if you do that consistently, then you’re going to continue to be able to acquire customers without raising your costs over the long run. And that’s really the first job, as we said at the beginning. Your job is to create a customer and do it in a way that’s profitable to you.

The only thing I want you to do is do it in a way that it works, whether it’s bundled or unbundled. Put those pieces together properly for your business, and I guarantee you’ll be just fine, whether it’s an integrated solution or a disintegrated solution. Whether the creators you like burn out, or whether you find new ones altogether.

In any case, you’ll be creating customers who’ll be happy to work with you for years to come. Let me know how you’re making out. I can’t wait to hear what you do.

Show Wrap-Up and Credits

Of course, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week.

And I want to remind you again that you can find the show notes for this episode. As well as an archive of all past episodes by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 409.

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Show Outro

Finally, and I know I say this a lot, I want you to know how thrilled I am that you keep listening to what we do every single week. It means so much to me. You’re the reason we do this.

You’re the reason we make Thinks Out Loud happen. So please keep your messages coming on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on email. I love getting a chance to talk with you, to hear what’s going on in your world, and to learn how we can do a better job building the types of content and community and insights and information that work for you and work for your business.

So with all that said, I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day, I hope you have a wonderful week ahead, and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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