It’s the customer’s turn.

J Cornelius
4 min readFeb 13, 2019


The economy has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The pace of technology innovation from giants like Google and Amazon have made it possible for the average person to find a wider variety of products and services faster and easier than ever before.

This shift has created new realities. We all know about the long-tail, the enormous and never-ending list of things just outside of the mainstream. The oddball products you’d never find in your local store because they aren’t made in enough quantity, or close enough (increasing logistics costs), or carry enough margin (because of production costs) for the local store to justify adding to their inventory.

At one time, this was the only way you could by software.

The same thing is true of digital products and services. Not so long ago, people bought software in boxes from retailers like Best Buy and Office Depot. Now the majority of single-seat software is sold and delivered completely online, and many companies are opting out of the old distribution models and developing SaaS instead. Realize it or not, you don’t own most of the software you use. Facebook, Gmail, Mint, E-Trade, Amazon, Netflix, and the list goes on and on and...

A Beast with Two Tails

Just like the long-tail provides people access to a greater variety of products, it also provides companies access to a great variety of people. Heterogeneity works in both directions. This is good, right? Well, it’s a double-edged sword.

Just because you can reach more people than ever doesn’t mean you can reach more customers than ever.

When people have access to a greater variety of products and services they typically seek out ones that are more suited to their needs. This presents a problem for companies who have long operated on the idea that taking a product to market and finding the right customers for it is the best way to do business. That may have been true before, but as they say, past performance is not an indicator of future results.

Me. Me. Me.

People want more customization and personalization in nearly everything they buy, especially younger people. Even light bulbs have gone from a utilitarian purchase decision based on how bright you want it to be to a decision about which smart home system it will talk to (link), how many colors it will emit (link), and even if it also play music (link).

You either make a mass-market commodity nearly everyone can use with zero customization like cocktail napkins or AA batteries and compete on price (which is a race to the bottom), or you make something highly personalized to each person (e.g. Facebook?) and compete on value. If stock market valuations are a reasonable indicator, personalized products win.

The New Economy (well, kind of)

We’ve moved from a seller’s economy to a buyer’s economy. With so much choice available people have the ability to find the products and services they feel most comfortable with, or the ones which best suit their needs.

Companies who don’t make the shift to human-centered thinking will go the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Once mighty, now merely a fossil.

B-school types will tell you this is called Customer Intimacy. It’s essentially how well suited your products are to the needs of the customer you’re serving, and it’s something modern companies must be paying attention to.

Value Disciplines — 1993 Harvard Business Review —

For years companies that wanted to grow big have focused on Operational Excellence and Performance Superiority. Customer Intimacy was reserved for boutique firms. There was no way to scale customization at a personal level.

Tech changes that.

Anyone who’s run a business knows it’s really hard to improve on one axis without influencing the others. If you focus on product quality you’re likely to compromise efficiency. Focusing on efficiency usually reduces quality, and so on.

Historically, it’s been incredibly hard to excel on all three axis. Very few companies have been able to create a highly efficient operation which produces an exceptional product that is customized to each customer.

Tech changes that.

If there’s one thing the technological revolution has ushered in, specifically for software companies, it’s the ability to produce a completely custom experience for each customer. But how do you do that if you don’t understand your customer?

⚡️Let’s talk about it.

For more thoughts and insights visit me at Nine Labs and check out the Design Driven Podcast, and the Design Driven Alexa Flash Briefing.



J Cornelius

Helping digital product & innovation teams get clarity and confidence in what they’re building. Author of LOOPS #design #ux #ui