Symbaloo is an internet based company with 15 million users whose product is a homepage. On Symbaloo, people can click tiles that link them to their favorite websites or generate helpful tools on the website itself. People can choose to either use the standard homepage or to customize their own page (Symbaloo, 2019).
The (dutch) standard homepage of Symbaloo
The unique value that Symbaloo offers to their customers is defined in two terms: simplicity and customizability. Symbaloo mostly targets two groups of people. Firstly, the digital immigrants. This group consists of the more elderly people who have a rough time navigating the internet, who are mostly appealed by the simplicity of the website. Secondly, the digital natives. This group consists of younger people who are already sufficiently experienced with the internet and are more appealed by the customizability and the visibility of the website. (Prensky, 2001)
Symbaloo has to thank most of its users to customer centricity. Symbaloo has put a lot of effort in understanding who their customers were, why they were using Symbaloo and what the most important value was. This centricity was eventually the most deciding factor for most of the digital immigrants, who had trouble getting started on the internet by themselves. Symbaloo acted as a fallback for when users had troubles with using the internet, resulting in a lot of interactions by phone or by email.
The business model of Symbaloo consists of four different aspects:
- The tiles at the homepage are sold to advertisers. Although it wasn’t specified that these tiles were sponsored, the tiles were highly successful, regardless of the fact that they were promoted by a biased recommendation agent.
- Symbaloo sells PRO accounts for a fee, which offer more functionality than the free standard accounts
- The searches in the google search engine (in the middle of the page) generate referrals for which advertisers pay (through google). This search engine also contains sponsored recommendations, which are displayed as natural results and were also equally successful as other search results, regardless of being promoted by a biased recommendation agent. The working of the tiles and the search engine contradict the results of the research by Wang, Xu and Wang, who mention that the sponsorship should probably have been disclosed. (Wang, Xu & Wang, 2018).
- The wallpaper in the background, which either displays a beautiful picture or an advertisement .Personalized information was used to decide who gets shown what wallpaper. For example, some wallpapers were only shown to either males or females. It was not disclosed that this info was used, but it did lead to higher click to rates per view than when the advertisements were not personalized, which somewhat contradicts the research of Aguirre et al. (2015).
The homepage of Symbaloo with a (personalized) advertisement in the background
The business model of Symbaloo works well on the short term, but is not sustainable on the long term. As time goes on, the amount of digital immigrants will reduce and the amount of digital natives will increase, which means that the advertisements and the unique proposal they have now will have to be changed. The problem with the business model as it is now, is that most digital natives have little desire to use a homepage other than the standard google or bing for example. For the digital immigrants, Symbaloo offered simplicity, which was a necessity for some to be able to properly browse the internet. However, as digital natives do not experience the same limitation, the value of that simplicity becomes far less. In other words, the growth of the homepage of Symbaloo has stagnated. (Prensky, 2001)
The workings of the business model become more visible when looking at the BCG matrix. The BCG matrix is a matrix in which products are placed in any of 4 areas, defined by the dimensions market share and market growth. For Symbaloo, the homepage would be a cash cow, as they have quite a lot of users, but the growth has stagnated as mentioned before. Because of the lack of growth, Symbaloo is in danger of going out of business. In order to survive on the long term, Symbaloo has ventured into an entirely new branch: education. Symbaloo is looking to use their existing environment, userbase (a lot of users were educational users) and current knowledge in order to become a big party in online education environments. At the moment, the educational application is still starting up and growing fast (question mark on the BCG matrix), which requires a lot of investments. These investments were funded by the earnings of the homepage. (BCG, 2014)
The BCG matrix
Symbaloo nowadays offers two unique propositions to the educational world. The educational product (http://www.lessonplans.symbaloo.com) offers crowdsourced content creation in the form of lesson plans, which become available online. These lessonplans are about a single subject, i.e. Napoleon, Vulcanism, or Microsoft PowerPoint, and are created and used by the teachers themselves. The lessonplans are crowdsourced and marketed as such, which according to Nishikawa et al. (2017) increased its performance. Besides that, there is also the customizability. Symbaloo sells packages to schools, which allow them to fully integrate created lesson plans and other learning environments into their own single Symbaloo page. In other words, Symbaloo creates a personalized product for each different customer, which has proven to be very valuable to schools and school communities all around the world.
The story of Symbaloo includes both success and failure. Where the original product and their original value have been mostly deprecated, the expertise and developed environment have remained very relevant in the value that Symbaloo offers to their customers nowadays. Customizability and crowdsourced content creation are the two pillars on which Symbaloo continues to thrive nowadays. The company is one of the many examples that have shown the importance of customer centricity nowadays and its effects on the fate of companies.
Aguirre, E., Mahr, D., Grewal, D., de Ruyter, K. and Wetzels, M. (2015). Unraveling the personalization paradox: The effect of information collection and trust-building strategies on online advertisement effectiveness. Journal of Retailing, 91(1), 34-49.
Boston consulting group. (2014). BCG Classics revisited: The growth share matrix. Retrieved from https://www.bcg.com/publications/2014/growth-share-matrix-bcg-classics-revisited.aspx
Nishikawa, H., Schreier, M., Fuchs, C. and Ogawa, S. (2017). The value of marketing crowdsourced new products as such: Evidence from two randomized field experiments. Journal of Marketing Research, 54(4), pp.525-539.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, NCB University Press, 9 (5), October 2001.
Symbaloo, (2019). What is Symbaloo? Retrieved from https://en.help.symbaloo.com/portal/kb/articles/what-is-symbaloo-22-2-2018
Wang, W., Xu, J. and Wang, M. (2018). Effects of Recommendation Neutrality and Sponsorship Disclosure on Trust vs. Distrust in Online Recommendation Agents: Moderating Role of Explanations for Organic Recommendations. Management Science, 64 (11), 5198-5219.
Note: most of the information about Symbaloo, their business model, history and way of working is based on my experience of working there (2017), of which there is no online source available.
Written by: Oskar Sabel, 414014os