The Internet has changed the way we buy goods, connect with each other, find information and share entertainment. The web is more than just a publishing platform, it can completely change the way businesses operate. Those that fail to offer the relationships and effectiveness their customer's expect will loose their faith and their custom.
Revolutionising industries - whether they like it or not
In the early 2000’s newspapers and record labels were forced to accept that their market’s expectations had shifted, leaving them with outdated business models in the wake of Napster, Google and the new norm of digital sharing and distribution.
It was left to enterprising companies like Amazon and Apple to build new infrastructure, marketing and sales models that would meet the changing needs of contemporary consumers.
Now with firmly established online music and publishing platforms like Apple’s iTunes and App Store, it would be easy to relegate the story of those content distribution models to the history books as a lesson hard learned. But, the Internet isn’t finished revolutionising the businesses of the world.
Still in it’s youth, the Internet is an unparalleled content distribution medium, but that’s not to say that’s all it will ever do. Already it is a medium for connecting billions of people - facilitating friendships (Facebook), business relationships (LinkedIn) and collaboration between individuals and businesses (Kickstarter). It is providing tools to improve our health (Jawbone Up), our lifestyle (Foursquare) and the way we organise ourselves (Basecamp).
The lesson: Build the web into your business
To take advantage of the opportunities the web presents, companies must realise that the web is not a distant broadcasting platform, it’s part of your business.
It’s not enough to simply publish communications to the web. Rather, to take advantage of improved efficiency, effectiveness and creativity, the web - and the connectivity and creativity it brings - should be woven into the fabric of how your business operates.
To be able to take advantage of what the web can do for your business, it’s important to understand what it can offer from the point of view of three common business concerns:
- Marketing - how you connect with customers and how they connect with you.
- Product or service delivery - how you create, how you refine, how you enhance and how you deliver your product or service.
- Administration - how you run your company and benefit the most from an empowered skilled workforce.
Marketing: Don't advertise, connect
Instead of broadcasting, engage with individuals to create an impassioned community of customers, advocates and interested onlookers. Sugru, a DIY repair and craft product has achieved this beautifully by gathering a community to suggest new and interesting ways to use it. This adds value to the product by providing use cases and also helps the community of users with instructions and how-to’s.
Target the right people
Get the right message to the right people through targeted, personalised advertising and communications. This can include targeted advertisements, emails, social comms and websites. This is partly a challenge of knowing where your customers are - are they on Facebook or LinkedIn? - and also what they are like - are they hip trendsetters or savvy businesspeople or both? Your messages need to be tailored to capture your company’s unique tone of voice and connect it with your audience.
Know who you’re talking to
Keep track of customers, their behaviours and interests to communicate with them as individuals. Services like Hunch can provide insight into your audience as individuals and help you to talk to them in a way that resonates with them.
Be more than just a company - be a helping hand
Reinforce your brand, products and services by leveraging usefulness or entertainment value with apps, comms and shareable content. Services like Nike+ not only add value to Nike’s products, but also helps to foster customer relationships by helping them reach their goals, and have fun along the way.
Product or Service Delivery: Don't produce, co-create
Meet your audience where they are
Deliver products and services to your customers wherever they are, be it at home, on the go or in retail environments, by bridging digital experiences like mobile, social media and retail. Amazon does this simply by making it easy to buy from them on a PC or phone with specially optimised websites for both. Or to take it one step further, virtual retail experiences like Goertz Virtual Shoe Fitting connect in-store digital experiences with visitors social media in the world beyond.
Make your products more effective for individuals
Deliver the right product or service to the right people with personalised experiences. Facebook ads deliver targeted advertising based on things the viewer has already expressed an interest in by ‘liking’ them or merely in conversation. Imagine how effective your services could be if you could tailor them specifically to individuals rather than broader demographics.
Enhance your products
Reinforce the value of your core products with complementary digital services like Fiat ecoDrive that make using your products more fun, more productive and more social.
Learn from communities
Feedback from engaged communities can help to improve products or even create new ones. Kickstarter helps creators engage directly with their audience and test the market before it’s even been made.
Learn from how your products are used
Improve or create new products by learning directly from observed customer behaviour. Facebook are great at this because they have teams of people dedicated to keeping track of how people use their product. They make small changes and test how people use them in real life - kind of like A/B Testing.
Track your effectiveness
Streamline and track effectiveness throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Bringing your whole customer lifecycle, from acquisition to communications to delivery, into digital means that it’s all measurable and trackable. Web enabled customer management can give you a real overview of how your company works in practise.
Administration: Don't manage, collaborate
Connect your workforce
Social business platforms empower workers to connect with colleagues, resources and the collected knowledge of your entire workforce. The web can be used to create a support network for all of your employees, improving access to support, knowledge and resources.
Improve skills and performance
Learning and development platforms empower workers to set their agenda for developing skills and expertise while providing clear and trackable goals for employers.
Collaborate with colleagues or external teams and allow more flexibility for when, where and how projects, teams and resources are managed.
Know more about your workforce
Create an overview of workers, their skills, interests and goals, to streamline task management and get the right job assigned to the right person.
Empower your staff
Connect all of the above by sharing information and freeing internal communications - empowering workers to make informed decisions and take initiative to respond quickly to emerging trends and needs.
Create an open, collaborative business environment where staff are empowered, satisfied and energised. More satisfied employees means higher productivity and better levels of staff retention.