“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
Lewis Carroll wrote this line in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland roughly 135 years before the dawn of digital marketing.
But the sentiment behind the phrase couldn’t be more relevant to modern marketing. Because as technology progresses and markets shift, businesses must continually work harder just to ensure they are not left behind.
However, there are two common obstacles that often prevent this from happening:
Obstacle 1: Humans are inherently terrible at understanding how quickly technology progresses
Technology’s rate of change is constantly accelerating. This means we hit developmental milestones ever more quickly, with society having less and less time to adapt at each milestone before the next one arrives.
Unfortunately, humans have a really, really bad habit of using the past to predict the future.
That’s because our brains stopped evolving around 10,000 years ago, when we were still hunter-gatherers. Back then, the rate of progress was far slower, steadier, and more predictable. These days, however, society-shifting breakthroughs are coming along more-and-more frequently:
The unfortunate result is our primitive minds expect technology to develop over the next 30 years at around the same rate as it did in the 30 years prior. But what actually happens looks something like this:
It makes complete sense when you think about it. In the 30 years since 1988, we’ve gone from corded home phones to mobile phones, to smartphones; the new Samsung S9+ has 10,000 times more RAM than the Tandy 100 TL, a popular PC in 1988. It’s also a camera, a music player, a personal organiser – and a whole lot more.
Could you honestly have predicted owning a pocket-sized device so powerful within 30 years back in 1988? Or in 1998? Or even 2003? Well, over the next 30 years, technology will develop far more quickly than that.
And when you look at how quickly the smartphone changed consumers’ online habits, it’s clear many businesses have underestimated the rate at which modern technology affects marketplaces…
Remember when Google announced that more searches would soon be done on phones than computers? Well, that milestone already came and went way ahead of schedule, back in 2015. That’s why, since around 2013, Google has made a series of well-publicised changes to heavily favour mobile-friendly websites in its search results. Despite this, a 2017 PayPal report found only 18% of UK small businesses have a mobile-friendly site.
Unlike Alice, 8 out of 10 of small business stood still as their world moved around them; between 2016 and 2017, the annual spend on mobile nearly doubled from £13.5 billion to £27 billion. And it’s estimated to hit £43 billion by 2020. If those businesses continue to stand still, will they survive the next 30 years? We’ll take a closer look in part 2 of this post next week.
Obstacle 2: Businesses are awful at reacting to change
Big business has a reputation for struggling with innovation. And when you consider examples like Kodak, Blockbuster, and Woolworth’s, it’s easy to see why. Those companies failed to keep up with marketplaces changed by technology – and they suffered the consequences.
As innovation changed consumer habits, many of these businesses got bogged down by internal red tape, slow decision-making, bureaucracy, and in-fighting while more nimble startups emerged to take their market share.
Credit: New York Times
So does that mean the “agile” approach of startups and their ability to “pivot” is the way forward for business? If we’re talking about the ones that succeed, sure. But aside from being a buzzword-hater’s nightmare, startups have a failure rate of 90%.
So while startups can often react quickly to change, most of them fail for far more basic reasons – the top one being that there is no actual need for what they’re offering. As it turns out, innovation is useless if nobody wants your product.
If big business is slow and archaic, and most startups make stuff nobody wants, who does that leave? It leaves the local plumber. Mid-sized manufacturers. The neighbourhood restaurant. The family hairdresser. And this is where nightmare stories of inadequate online presences are rife. Out of date opening times, disconnected phone numbers, incorrect addresses, unanswered emails – the list is endless. In fact, a 2017 study by Approved Index found that two million British small-to-medium businesses have no website at all – a confronting statistic in an increasingly digital economy.
How you can catch up
Is your business running very fast to at least stay still? If not, it’s impossible to understate how important it is to start – because technology is about to change business again. And that change is coming far quicker than most businesses realise. We’ll explore that in more detail in next week’s post.
For now, focus on getting your online presence up to speed using this checklist (ordered by level of importance):
DIGITAL CATCH-UP CHECKLIST
- Get a mobile-friendly website.
- Keep your website as simple as possible so you can easily update it.
- Do some basic SEO – Google’s webmaster guidelines explain the fundamentals really well.
- Sign up for social media – even if you hardly ever post – and keep your business info updated.
Tick these off your list and you’ll be back to running fast to stay still. If you’re more ambitious and want to start overtaking your competitors, be sure to read part two of this post next week. We’ll look at some of the big technological changes we may see in the next few years – and how your business can take advantage of them.
Need a little help checking off your list? Call 0161 660 3827 and we’ll be happy to help.