At a press conference in New York last Wednesday, Spotify — the streaming music company valued at $8 billion — announced it no longer wanted to be just a streaming music company. It wanted more. It wanted to be Apple.
That’s a big change. But, of course, change can be a good thing. Change can be a necessary thing. But with change, as with all things, come consequences.
Spotify announced new features to its streaming music service. Starting first in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Sweden (it’s a Swedish company), Spotify users will have access to podcasts, music that adapts to the listener’s running pace, and short streaming video clips from partners such as Comedy Central, Vice News, ESPN, and Slate.
After the announcement, Wired called the move “an effort to become The One True Internet Experience.”
One Thing To Rule Them All
In a world where consumers crave efficiency, there's nothing more inefficient than specialization. Yes, there’s a quality and a romanticism to the woodcraftsmen in the studio, spending weeks on a chair. But that dinner party is tomorrow … gas up the van; we’re going to IKEA!
So it is online. You’ve seen this stat before: five exabytes of content were created between the birth of the world and 2003. In 2013, five exabytes of content were created each day. It’s literally too much for any person to process. But we find what we like, we visit those sites and read those authors regularly, though that takes time. Increasingly, companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and now Spotify are trying to consolidate the time you can spend or the effort you exert. When you open your Spotify app you never have to leave. Everything interesting is already there for you; it’s an invitation to laziness.
Thing is, as Wired points out, becoming The One True Internet Experience isn’t a new concept. AOL tried this in the 90s: news, messaging, email, browsing, and chat. It didn’t really work. Now you see it with Facebook, Snapchat, and Spotify. If one of them could successfully contain a large audience the financial and societal implications would be massive. And that’s reason enough to try. But these companies are going about it wrong, and this is a lesson from which credit unions can learn.
Don’t Create Products, Create Value
Convenience is a powerful tool as it changes behaviors, but only when the perceived gains in convenience outweigh the hassle of changing behavior. Mobile wallets are a good example of this. Yes, the technology is good and more secure and there’s a million-and-one reasons why it’s better than plastic. But is it any harder for me to take my credit card out of my wallet than it is to pull up the mobile wallet application on my phone? Maybe. But it’s harder to say if that will change behavior.
Yes, Facebook has a chat feature (which became a not-great standalone app) and hosts video and articles. And Snapchat has Discover and Geolocation features. And Spotify now streams podcasts and videos and knows what kind of music I might want to hear based on my “tempo.” But there’s an argument to be made against each.
One, is it really more convenient to read the New York Times on Facebook than it is to read on the New York Times website? Two, are any of these new offerings actually any good at what it is that they do? Will I notice a difference in the streaming quality of a video I’m trying to watch? Because if I don't, what is the point?
For credit unions, adding products and services to a pre-existing suite is no more an avenue to growth than McDonald’s adding the Premium McChicken to its already monstrous menu. A diversified suite of products can often be a successful avenue for growth, but only when there’s an identifiable and wanting audience, a way to add value. Credit unions do this by tailoring products to underserved and unbanked populations, individuals who legitimately need access to affordable financial services.
What doesn’t add value? Watching highlights of the NBA playoffs on Spotify when my ESPN app is two clicks away. I like advancements in technology as much as the next guy, but how lazy do they think I am?
The fact that more companies are trying to create The One True Internet Experience signals the exciting potential of a technologically changing world. But you don't change because you can do something, you change because you can do something better.