It feels like each week a new app or digital service is being hailed as the next big thing in e-commerce.
This pace of development puts us marketers in a tough position, especially in the online sector, where having a new piece of technology or user-friendly website interface can mean the difference between winning and losing sales.
At NBTY Europe we’re about to launch new web platforms for our Holland & Barrett and GNC brands.
As part of the process we’ve explored many different options, many different approaches and many different models - all for the greater good of offering the best e-commerce experience to our customers.
This planning process reminded me of a paper by Arno Minkkinen coined The Helsinki Bus Station Theory. It was written as an analogy about being a professional photographer, but the principles apply just as much to e-commerce and business.
Imagine there are two dozen bus platforms, from each of which several different lines depart. After that, for a mile or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops.
In the theory, you pick a direction - say it’s making your e-commerce platform based on user-generated content - and set off. Let’s say each stop represents a month in your creative process.
“If you pursue originality too vigorously, you’ll never reach it”
Three stops later, you’ve got a good website, but a short way on your journey you realise you’ve been following someone else’s path. Someone’s already further up that particular road than you are. So you hop off the bus, grab a cab and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform.
You try again and something similar happens. Maybe this time you take the bus route to the e-commerce user interface. Someone’s already going there, so you go back to the station and try another route.
What’s the answer? “It’s simple,” said Minkkinen. Stay on the bus. Just stay on the same bus. Why? Because if you do, in time you will begin to see a difference.
The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometre or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination.
That’s when you find that you are in fact doing your own thing you are being the first.
So why did this story remind me about how businesses develop e-commerce platforms?
Firstly, it illustrates a critical insight about persistence. That in the first weeks or months of any worthwhile project, feedback - whether from your own emotions, or from other people - isn’t a reliable indication of how you’re doing.
The second point concerns originality, with the Helsinki Bus Station Theory suggesting that if you pursue originality too vigorously, you’ll never reach it.
Being focused on the single solution that best suits your customers’ needs without being distracted by the trends is a lesson that we should all bear in mind for digital marketing.
Until then, remember to stay on your bus.
Lysa Hardy is chief marketing officer of NBTY Europe