The WHAT principle and the WHO effect

By Tony Fish

Tony fish, co-author of Mobile Web 2.0

Source: Tony Fish on etribes

This Viewpoint focuses on where value is being created. As professionals and industry leaders we understand that market development through the integration of mobile, TV and web creates possibilities and complexity. Whilst it is evident that new interactive and customer engaging services can be created, without the enormous development costs of pre-Internet days; where our limited resources should be focused is still a significant concern. Balancing risk and reward is as much an executive skill today as at any time in corporate history.

With the attention of the world press, Apple has launched the iPhone, however, the iphone doesn’t create additional value for the device and telecoms market. Apple sells devices at the expense of Nokia and Motorola, AT&T acquires additional subscribers from competitors by forced churn, but these activities don’t grow the market. Apple and its global telecom partners hope that through personalization, the newly acquired customers will not churn again, therefore retaining value for themselves through the introduction of a new device (and its children); but no new incremental market value has been created.

The WHAT principle

The focus of today’s services is personalization – the making of your user experience, creating value from the reduction in churn and incremental service revenue, assuming that any incremental margin is not eroded by competitive pressures. The focus on personalization is, to AMF Ventures understanding, a focus on WHAT:– what you as a user want to do; what service you want; what is needed now. The sole benefactor is the individual, but does this create any value? The assumption is that personalization provides focus, and that this focus leads to the ability to deliver engaging and personalized services including advertising. This advertising being derived from the same advertising budgets, which is now redirected from other display channels. Therefore does personalization actually create any new value and will it actually grow the overall spend of the entire market?

Commentators, consultants and media sellers will provide convincing evidence to back their own propositions and the purpose of this Viewpoint is not to debate the personalization opportunity but to introduce the WHO effect. Whilst personalization will increase value for the provider; assuming that there is value for the user, it does not itself create new value for the entire converged industries. However mobile personalization could create value, if the focus is on WHO and not WHAT!

The WHO effect

Personalization has been about the WHAT principle. This has focused on a single customer: ‘you’. The WHO effect is the multiplier. The focus shifts from WHAT, to orientate on WHO you are doing something with. In simple terms when you go for dinner, who are you with? When you are in a business meeting or seminar, who are you with? When you are at a concert, in school, or on holiday – who are you with? The opportunity is that these ‘WHO’s’ are gravitating toward and enjoying the same experiences as ‘you’. The additional profiles of those who you are with, can combine to create a new and incremental market value!

Consider the advertising issue created through personalization, it reaches you – one person in two billion. The world is divided into two billion personalized worlds, only relevant to one person at any given time, and each person with an unequal bite of the advertising spend! The WHO effect would suggest that as you are enjoying something with others, even though it is outside of their personalized preference, it is possible that it would be worth providing information on products and services to the group. The WHO effect is the electronic ‘word of mouth’. It assumes and depends on the fact that we adopt at different rates and some not at all. These issues provide the limitation to personalization and the WHAT principle, but opportunity to the WHO effect.

This WHO effect is not open to the traditional broadcast, TV and entertainment companies, although they are the traditional home of the display advertising budgets. This service could be offered by Web companies, however as your profile and personalization has a dependency on your web access time, it could be difficult. The major benefactor of the WHO effect will be mobile companies as the mobile device becomes the platform to collect data, interrupt the connection and deliver the value.

The opportunity to exploit the WHO effect is not open to companies who want to ‘control’ the user experience and developer environment such as Apple, they can only enjoy the WHAT principle. Open mobile platforms, open access services and developers who services work across all devices will be able to exploit the WHO effect. The multiplier value of mobile is not in knowing WHAT you are doing (location and attention), but WHO you are doing it with; surely the outcome is WHO Google buys and not WHAT!

Development of ‘Mobile Web 2.0’ thinking and debate by Tony Fish.

Tony Fish can be reached at at