Side hustle. DIY. Personal brand. Reach. Bulk purchasing. Storage units. Creators. Etsy. Consulting. Passive income. Collecting. Couponing. FIRE. Budgeting. Fractional trades. Outlets. Price alerts. LinkedIn.
All people and households have become businesses.
The tools that households have available for making purchases are enterprise-grade tools. The tools for managing personal finances are enterprise grade tools. The tools for managing personal awareness are enterprise grade tools.
If you have the ability to do something, you use it to make yourself money or save money by doing something for yourself.
Everything has become outcome oriented.
There’s a lot of cultural angst around “making it” as a person-business vs. existing as a human and being able to separate the two.
How did we get here? Derek Thompson from the Atlantic might argue workism - the belief in work as a religious substitute - is spilling over to every aspect of our lives. This is probably true. I believe another part of the answer is the result of having most of the basic tools to run our lives the exact same way businesses do. With great power comes great responsibility, or in other words, our tools compel us to become businesses. Anything less is a “waste” of our potential. Simply by having the potential to be businesses, we feel less than when we aren’t acting as them.
What does this mean for brands and retailers? Most operate like traditional business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, treating their customers people who have tastes and personal desires. But now is the time to take a clue from business-to-business (B2B) companies and start providing customers with tools that help them be the best business they can be.
If a corporation can be treated as a person, then a person can be treated as a corporation.
Consumers, Inc - Powered by the Information Age
Electronic data in simplified interfaces has put the same tools that power the enterprise into the hands of consumers. Before these tools were available on a broad scale, people functioned in local communities. Maybe their personal lives were also their business, but they were confined to the community in their local area. Pre-internet people had to spend years building relationships, connections and systems to have access to the specific products, pricing, manufacturing, and marketing tools.
Now we live in a time where access to such tools is disintermediated and national - even international - in scale. We don’t need these same connections to buy, make, and sell things. We have Amazon, Faire, Google, Mailchimp, Etsy, Tiktok, and ChatGPT.
We have the tools to make ourselves enterprises.
And because of the internet and commercialized software, commerce, personal finance, and organization tools are the same in personal lives as in business. We use G-suite and Microsoft at work and in our personal lives. We use ChatGPT as our AI for life and business. We shop on Amazon for both business and personal. We’re in Slack channels for both personal and business. It’s the same software, or some slightly similar substitute with slightly fewer features.
What’s the difference between the Shopify that Mattel is building on vs. what your neighbor built their handmade pottery site on? The difference between downmarket software and enterprise software is often less than expected.
And often it’s more efficient for people to use their personal tools than the ones provided by their business.
The internet has also made the public nature and level of digital documentation require that our “personal” growth tools are mixed with our businesses. We stage our homes and vacations for photos that signify our taste and status. Our largest clothing investments are targeted for work events when we need to impress. We must buy things that function as signals as much as well, function.
We even market ourselves on the same platforms that businesses use.
We use LinkedIn to promote our achievements and knowledge - so do business. We use Instagram to promote our aesthetics and style - so do businesses. We use X to promote our opinions, news, and wittiness - so do businesses. We use Tiktok to promote our vibe and creativity - so do businesses.
The data we have on our personal lives is also often as robust as business data. We can track our financial data, internet usage data, body data, social data and more. With that data comes the inherent belief that we should use it to improve our lives. As I wrote for FC Insiders back in 2020:
“I’m already feeling the pain—what I put out, what comes in, how to optimize, understanding what I’m missing—and I’m ready to pay someone to implement my system:
- I need a personal Systems Integrator to make all my systems work together.
- I need a personal professional services company that can help me identify and achieve my personal KPIs for the year.
- I need a personal marketing agency that can help me assert my identity and remain authentic.
- I need a product development company to help me organize and realize my ideas.
- I need a personal PR agency that can help me be thoughtful and wise about what I say and when I say it.
- I need a personal logistics and supply chain system to help me identify how to best manage everything.
Every household is becoming a digital kingdom.”
- Your 2020 Body is a Dataland, Future Commerce Insiders #066
If you’re not using your data to build your person-business, you’re probably being exploited by other businesses who are using your data to grow their business.
B2B Tools for B2C
For many years, B2B companies have looked to consumer-focused businesses for direction on innovation and modernization. There’s still a lot of this that needs to happen. B2B is still loaded with opportunity to innovate, as we heard Kirsten Green talk about in Step by Step Season 10: The Consumerization of B2B. But the reverse is also true. B2B companies have been employing long-successful tools to help their customers operate more effectively towards their goals.
The B2B businesses that have built the best moats to protect their customer base have built tools that their customers rely upon so heavily that they might have to completely rebuild or relearn parts of their business to continue to operate.
These B2B focused tools are based on a better understanding of the customer. This could be because there’s a personal relationship built between an account manager and that customer, or it could be because the customer has volunteered information on that basis that they will receive something in return. This is best accomplished when that value is well documented and communicated by the business or current customers who are already using the tool.
There’s inspiration for B2C all throughout B2B.
For example, one thing B2B companies often do well is help their clients understand how to best leverage the product. They give them best practices for how to employ the product, and also marketing and sales. In B2C, the integration of “product use case” and the pipeline to employ the product in an optimal way is still often a disjointed process.
To extrapolate to a use case, in fashion and apparel - post-purchase - there could be a pipeline to use optimization, like pulling in UGC and influencer activations of the product in the wild based on a geographical or location-based parameter, and data about the event or occasion. The customer could have a pipeline of personal content back to the brand or retailer of in-action shots of how they wore the pieces, and the brand could provide coaching on how to get more out of the pieces (which could be AI or personal depending on price point and business model). This could be automated through integration with the customer’s photo cloud and time-bound parameters that the customer could control.
Inventory is another area to model after B2B. Best-in-class B2B businesses give their clients tools for tracking quantity and use. They provide options for optimizing reorder and if shipping or pickup is more efficient. CPG and grocery are an obvious use case, but especially with resale as a component, durable goods. I mentioned this back in early 2021 when we chatted with Adam Seigel from Recurate.
“I could see brands that are engaged with Recurate creating personal inventory lists for customers. There's an element of both the life after their product is used the first time… and they also could show the resale value after the life of the product, and really show the net impact on the customer.”
- Future Commerce Podcast Episode 194 “The Most Sustainable Product is the One That Already Exists”
People could keep track of usage to know when they need to reorder, and they can keep track of the depreciating value of assets they own. They could also be provided with more explicit instructions on how to maintain the value of the things they purchase.
These are just two ideas to mirror back some of the B2B world to B2C, but think about these other categories: clienteling, one-to-one personalization, account and payment terms, and more could be options for improvement in B2C.
B2C brands and retailers need to recognize the same KPIs drive people and businesses. The wave of selling to consumers alternates between selling them things that either make them more profitable or grow, just like a business. The growth vs. profitability debate (covered at length in Season 3 of Infinite Shelf) is just as relevant for consumers.
Here are some key markers that consumers consider when making decisions about growth and profitability:
- Saving money: Tools like coupons, volume discounts, bulk purchasing, and loyalty.
- Efficiency: Things like - fast casual, drive through, automation, pickup, delivery, location, meal kits, white glove, installation.
- Financial health: Good credit, cash flow (salary + “side hustles”), diverse investments, liquidity, tools for money management, etc all matter to consumers as well as businesses.
- Aesthetics and taste: As Daisy Alioto has championed, the Taste Economy is at work more than ever. Self-promotion and social signaling are similar to brand and marketing efforts of businesses.
- Luxury: I put this in its own category aside from style and taste because you can have taste without money. Some luxury items might not be on trend, but they demonstrate a level of wealth or ability to mingle with wealth that’s important for upward mobility aka growth.
- Education and knowledge: Knowledge of what’s happening in the world, expertise in a specific field, and ways to prove knowledge (certifications, media mentions, diplomas, intelligent conversation and thoughts in key moments, correct vernacular and community-speak).
- Social: Reach of social network (both online and offline) is powered by products, services, and experiences purchased and optimal use of those purchases.
The methodologies for signaling these things look different at different income brackets and in different subcommunities.
Where Do You Fit?
Now is the time for you to embrace the person-business identity of customers and recontextualize what parts of the profitability and growth you fulfill. Then look around at B2B companies you respect and think about how their tools and ways of selling could apply to your customers. If you don’t, you might find your competitors offering up a tool or feature that sucks your customers into their moated community, and you’ll have a hard time finding a way to ford the waters to entice them back.