The moment you have a product AND a service or an assortment of products, you have to start thinking about how to connect those products and services together to serve your customers’ needs. To quote Kristen Baker from her article, ‘How to Build a Product Ecosystem Buyers Will Want to Be In’, you have to know how “to solve for all of the needs of your customers — which helps improve brand loyalty and advocacy.” And to do this, you need to develop products or optimize existing ones to best suit customer needs.
The end game of a product/service ecosystem is an interconnected feature list putting the customer at the center in order to “to make the lives of your customers easier by solving for a wide array of challenges within the system they’re already a part of.” (Baker)
Tabletop gaming cafes are an excellent example of a product and service ecosystem. Ca Ca City is a cafe with branches all over Taipei. They serve the usual drinks and simple dishes you would expect. They don’t serve lunch or salads or complicated lattes with foam pandas embossed on the top. What they sell is table time.
Table time is the service. Students, housewives, people on their day off who like to play games but don’t have the space or freedom to use their own homes to organize a group are looking for safe, comfortable, not too loud environments to play. And Ca Ca City offers exactly this.
There is a drink minimum, of course. Since its a group of friends, usually, that means the cafe sells time at a table and several drink orders. The enticement to enter this arrangement is a membership. You don’t have to join, the menu price is the same for any other customer. But for a fee, you can join the cafe’s VIP list and get discounts.
Here is where the ecosystem expands and teaches the real lesson on why you need to be thinking about how you can integrate your products and services together into this dynamic: Ca Ca City also rents out games. Purchase is available, of course, but the brilliance behind this cafe over its competitors early in the game cafe market was other cafes required customers to buy the games in order to play. In fact, there are cafes that prohibit customers from bringing in their own games, including Dungeons and Dragons, and enforce a time limit. More on this in a moment.
Ca Ca City delivers because it understands how the threads in their product web are connected and convert into sales: you can bring your own games if you want, you can rent games since it’s usually a hassle to bring your game boxes, or you can purchase the games at a discount if you are a VIP member. Which also counts for items that go with the games. Ms Baker outlines how they developed their ecosystem:
Listen to your customers. Don’t listen to the static answers, “I’m looking for a something something stereo”, but listen to the need-“I want to play music in my home office but it can’t be in the way, it has to have clear sound and it has to be able to stream my playlists”.
Simplify the connections within your product ecosystem. Let’s go back to Ca Ca City. The customers are people who know what the cafe offers and they want to spend time with their friends. The cafe makes it painless to rent space, order a round of drinks and set up a game in a single transaction. There isn’t sales pressure, there doesn’t need to be. Missing a pen? Dice? A score sheet? All available where you buy your cappuccino and in all likelihood you will get when you order your drink.
Update and improve your product ecosystem. One branch is heavily tabletop role-playing game customers. Not just Dungeons and Dragons but also systems with extremely complex, arcane requirements such as miniatures, maps, and environments. So they remodeled the cafe to include larger, smoother tables and a miniatures and paints corner next to a reduced card game shelf. Management understood their market and adjusted to its habits.
Baker caps her rules by telling us to be mindful to make joining your ecosystem valuable for customers. The keyword here is “value” and many misunderstand this to mean price. Ca Ca City wasn’t the first gaming cafe. Students were bringing their Pokemon and Magic the Gathering cards to Starbucks and McDonald’s but this Taiwanese cafe gelled the demands together and sold themselves as a gaming cafe. And the community had long since complained there weren’t many places for an older enthusiast to play with their friends until a cafe stood up and said, ‘we have tables, you can use them, do exactly you normally would, just pay a little more for time’. DnD demands time; sessions can take three-, four-, sometimes six-hour stretches. Where most coffee shops have a one- or two-hour occupancy rule, Ca Ca City will gladly let you rent a table for as many hours as you need…for a price.
I want to add another step: follow up at the social level. Actively engage the customers if you can as they leave, encourage them to follow your brand on social media, or by joining an emailing list. (LINE is a popular social app in Taiwan which integrates Messenger-, Stories- and Twitter-like features, and Ca Ca City’s page is active with gamer customers.) Create an environment where your customers want to be actual participants in a community. It’s not enough for them to feel they are, that is so much smoke and mirrors from a marketing department, but you want them to believe their business and their habits matter to your brand.
How have you organized your products into a brand ecosystem? Let me know @expajackb on Twitter.