In the old days, there were certain things that just went together. Salt and pepper, TV and commercials, browsing and buying. Now, however, the Internet is making it easier to separate activities that consumers traditionally experience together. That’s an opportunity for new companies to offer more convenient services that slip through the cracks of the bigger competition.
Consumers can access activities that they want without having to bother with ones they don’t. This is called decoupling. Decoupling is related to a previous Internet business model, called "unbundling," which saw Google turning newspapers into individual articles and iTunes turning albums into song lists from which people could pick and choose.
Five examples of successful decoupling:
Netflix not only unbundles its content, in that it allows consumers to choose what they watch instead of flipping through channels and being subject to scheduled programming, it also decouples TV and movie watching from advertisements. The company makes money through subscriptions and we all get to watch Orange is the New Black commerical-free.
Gone are the days when phone calls had to be made through telephone service providers - services like Skype take advantage of existing WiFi to connect you to others for voice and video calls. Bye bye phone fees, hello unobstructed communication.
This service separates sampling products from buying them. When customers subscribe to Birchbox, they receive a monthly sample box of makeup. The customers no longer have to go to brick and mortar retail space to sample products they might not want to purchase - and they then can look up brands individually and buy online, eliminating the store entirely.
Normally, driving a car comes coupled with activities that don’t create value for the consumer, such as maintenance. Rental agencies that own their cars also have to deal with maintenance responsibilities - but not RelayRides. This “carsharing marketplace” allows individual car owners to rent out their cars to others so people can drive cars without owning them.
Pandora’s allure is simple: listening to the radio, without having to sift through all that pesky music you don’t like. Using an algorithm, Pandora learns individual listeners’ preferences and provides them with only the kind of music they enjoy listening to. Bam! Decoupled.
We think the fundamental principles of decoupling can be applied to any company looking for a fresh approach to communicating brand purpose and promise.
In order to decouple, you have to take a hard look at your business, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses, understanding customer wants and needs, and then cut away the fat, transforming your company from T-bone to tenderloin. That’s an exercise worth tackling no matter what your end game might be.
While some things can be unbundled and decoupled nicely, salt and pepper are still a match made in dining heaven.