As I’m writing this, a major 24-hour news channel is covering a drama unfolding in New York City. As the story broke, all the news anchor knew is that there was some sort of event in Manhattan that caused a lot of nasty smoke which prompted a bunch of firefighters to respond the scene. This information was delivered with visual footage of a lot of smoke pouring from a building surrounded by fire trucks.
In the following hour, the station played call-ins from bystanders who reported hearing a loud noise and seeing a lot of smoke. One segment featured a woman who described how she was on the toilet when she heard and felt an “explosion.” (TMI alert! Too much information). I was beginning to wonder what value the news anchor was providing. Where were all the sources that news anchors are supposed to develop over their storied careers? Where was the expertise in covering other events in New York City that involved loud noises, fire, smoke and firefighters? Where was the analysis?
This do-it-yourself (DIY) news coverage -- where bystanders provide commentary and video -- is happening a lot more thanks to portable electronics and high-quality communications systems. There’s no question that it is cheaper, more efficient and possibly even better than a reporter covering a story. But it has made me think about all of the other tasks and services that have become DIY. Travel arrangements. Banking. Electronics purchasing.
Buyers that source through distribution, for example, can do everything from component qualification through order and delivery confirmation online without ever involving a sales or support person. A lot of people like this process because it's available 24/7 they don’t have to deal with an agent who is trying to sell them something else.
In most cases, DIY options save plenty of bucks – or at least that’s what we are led to think. I’ve recently discovered DIY is not always a value. Hypothetically, let’s say a small business wants to hire an agency that can help them with tasks such as PR, marketing and social media. After a while, the business discovers that all this marketing and PR assistance comes online in the form of frequently asked questions, webinars, how-to blogs and automated links to social media – items you could find on most Google searches. The small business creates, uploads and edits its own content; pushes it out to the market and gets an automated report. In other words, it hasn’t saved time or money or added any professional expertise to the company’s marketing efforts.
I’ve had the opportunity to test-drive a variety of tools distributors provide that assist in design; research and qualify parts; enable e-commerce and BOM scrubbing; provide visibility into the wider supply chain; provide technical and sales assistance; enable buyers to check pricing and inventory; track orders and perform a myriad of other functions. Most are compatible with Excel spreadsheets – a tool many purchasing departments still use – and retain data if you are a returning customer. Most of them are free, and several of them don’t limit buyers’ choices to the distributor’s line card. The vast majority of the information supplied on these sites comes directly from suppliers or is developed by distributors in the form of reference designs. While there are comment sections and online discussion groups, those aren't the main source of product information or news.
Distributors have told EPS that online offerings save their organizations a significant amount of money. As customers have decentralized and gone global, distributors have to support all of their product and service offerings around the world. Transferring more information and capabilities online is one way companies extend the reach of their increasingly strapped resources. Judging by distributors’ ongoing investment in online capabilities and a growing proportion of e-commerce sales, DIY purchasing – at least to some extent -- is resonating with customers. All distributor sites offer varying levels of support ranging from live online chats to 24/7 telephone assistance.
In other words, experts are available if you need them. I think the importance of expertise is going to increase as the industry moves more toward DIY. Anyone can post product information and product reviews on the Internet, but that doesn’t make them an expert. Experts have a proven track record, years of experience and a reputation for accuracy. They should also provide some value – especially if a customer is paying for that expertise. But even if a tool or service is free, it’s still reassuring to know it’s backed by an experienced source.
That’s probably why YouTube – the ultimate DIY site – hasn’t replaced cable news. Yet. Let’s not forget about travel agencies. The battle to add value – and to get paid for it -- is far from over.