Today’s biggest companies aren’t the same as they were a generation ago, nor with a few exceptions were those companies the same as the biggest companies from a generation before that. And this is a sign of a healthy, dynamic economy. Fortunes are made by finding and creating the next big thing, not by entrenching in existing industries until their decaying utility makes the entire system collapse and reset. Nevertheless, it’s worth looking at the current-day behavior, effects, and larger consequences of today’s biggest companies.

A Conversation Starter

We recently heard an online interview with PJ O’ Rourke, economic and political writer, who was talking about the new, digital economy when he said:

“You think back 20-30 years ago and you think of the top ten companies and you knew them. You knew what they did; they made stuff. They provided services, and you used that stuff. They made Chevrolets. They made electricity. They made toothpaste. Now, you look at the top corporations and they make what?…Money. Money and trouble as far as I’m concerned.”

Marketing Today’s Big Companies

We’re not sure how much we agree with this view. As was also mentioned in the interview as part of the larger panel discussion: With Amazon, people like being able to buy things online and have them show up at their door step. It may be a different kind of service, but the digital economy delivers, in large part, digital services that make things easier, if the tech itself is complicated to understand.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely satisfying to say that appropriating and then monetizing the world’s social networks is just a different version of making toothpaste. So maybe here’s a better way to put it: We’re not sure how much we disagree with O’ Rourke’s larger point, either. And with this dueling perspective in mind, we wanted to take a deeper dive into how today’s big companies are marketing themselves.

Loyalty Marketing and Customer Success

If, like us, you keep tabs on trends in the marketing industry, you know that many of the buzzword practices currently include loyalty marketing and customer success. You have experts in the industry blogging about how companies need to understand the difference between customer support vs. customer success—with the obvious implication that many businesses need to put more emphasis on the latter. You have big-time digital marketing publications with articles discussing “how businesses can use AI tools to improve customer engagement. You have major marketing agencies, like rDialogue, out there talking about how loyalty marketing is “the root of their company.”

In turn, we wonder if, and how much, this new emphasis on businesses making a deeper connection with their customers is a reaction to the perception that the only thing “today’s biggest companies do is make money and trouble.” Loyalty marketing and customer success are more important than ever because being associated with a positive customer experience is necessary to reassure the customer that the company is offering any “real value” at all.

A New Generation of Socially-Conscious Monopolies?

What are the stakes if the new digital economy continues to churn out winner-take-all companies based on their unquestioned loyalty to their customers. Where does this path eventually lead us? Are we to believe that a new generation of socially-conscious monopolies is going to deliver an economic utopia? With the interconnectedness of customer networks and a business culture in which customer success is so deeply ingrained, will customers continue to have leverage if their success depends on a single company and for which they have no other reasonable choices? Or will the old rules of monopolies apply and loyalty marketing is just a Trojan Horse for price-gouging down the road? We noticed that Amazon Prime membership has gotten more expensive yet again, while you need to use more of their ever-expanding roster of benefits to make the higher membership fee worth the cost. Likewise, we’re skeptical that Facebook’s investment in network security and self-monitoring infrastructure (the one that took a big bite out of future profit projections and thus the company’s market value) was out of any obligation to their customer. Rather, it was to guard against governmental action that would change how the company was regulated, a potentially bigger threat to its bottom-line.