April 15, 2015
Matt Forman

Consider the following:

Where does this leave us?

We find ourselves in the midst of a digital business revolution; one that is transforming businesses, industries and even entire economies.

In our home country of Australia, the rapidly growing digital economy has been valued at $79 billion (5.1% of GDP), making it bigger than traditional industry sectors such as agriculture, retail and transport.

As the generation of data and technology increases exponentially, and the collection frequency becomes higher due to efficiencies in storage and transfers, collecting data by the second is now the norm. Using algorithms to further automate and understand all of this data, businesses can make better and smarter decisions than ever before.

Unfortunately, not everyone is taking advantage of these extraordinary advancements, and given the rate at which we’re now able to collect and analyse data, falling behind in the digital business revolution is as easy as failing to adapt.

The Challenge of Change

Participating in the digital revolution requires change; acquiring new skills and knowledge; new systems and processes; new partnerships; new forms of collaboration and investment in new people, programmes and technologies. Change on this scale can create uncertainty, doubt and many other real or perceived barriers to progress.

The problem we now face is that the revolution is here, but not everyone is equipped to deal with it or even to participate.

For some larger companies, change is not a challenge. To put things into perspective, if the world’s largest 500 companies were one country, it would be the largest economy in the world with a combined revenue of over $17 trillion and workforce of 42 million people… just think about that for a moment.

Companies of this size are equipped to deal with the digital business revolution and to succeed through it. They have spent years embracing digital technologies and marketing techniques, with huge resources at their disposal so they can finance change programmes and test new methods.

Unfortunately, things look very different for smaller businesses and many private, modestly sized companies. It’s much harder for them to find the money, time, resources and confidence needed to comprehensively explore, test and adopt new techniques and technologies.

When examining what prevents people from adopting digitisation and participating fully in the digital business revolution, our extensive, global research has identified 7 distinct barriers, all of which are inherent in businesses, industries and economies of all sizes.

Although these barriers may manifest themselves differently from business-to-business, industry-to-industry and economy-to-economy, the impact of not addressing them consistently results in serious impacts for economic and industry development.

In the context of marketing, the 7 barriers manifest themselves as:

  1. Lack of Awareness: Lack of awareness around the purpose, role and connections between different digital marketing techniques and how to apply them.
  2. Unclear Targeting: An unclear understanding of who your target market is and their exact needs at each stage of their customer journey.
  3. Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt: Embracing new and evolving marketing techniques is often accompanied by some element of fear, uncertainty and doubt that can stall progress and success.
  4. The Complexity Factor: The perceived concern or worry that digital marketing will add an extra layer of complexity to existing marketing needs, including more platforms, channels and activities to manage.
  5. Technology & Resource Gaps: Gaps in technological capabilities or general lack of resources, including time, can prevent the support of a modern digital marketing strategy.
  6. The Cost Deterrent: The perceived concern about increasing total marketing budget or the cost of investment in new activities.
  7. The Paralysis of Choice: The abundance of digital marketing disciplines, channels and platforms can be a confusing and overwhelming challenge.

The Scale of it All

The digital revolution is not only impacting businesses, it’s transforming entire industries and economies. The barriers to adoption are manifesting themselves similar to the digital divide; the gap based on socio-economic differences between those who have access to modern information technologies and those who do not.

In an interview discussing the digital divide and comparing the ability of countries to share information and technology, Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director of INSEAD’s European Competitiveness Initiative, said of countries who have hit a wall in the adoption to ICT, that “they are not receiving the benefits of the changes made in ICT…there are obstacles to receiving those benefits, especially in talent and skills”.

When businesses are able to embrace change and tear down these barriers, they can grow and evolve with their customers, as opposed to getting left behind by ambitious start-ups who are perhaps more hungry to improve their capabilities and more agile and nimble to accommodate change.

Take for example the staggering growth of two modern start-ups turned household names; Airbnb and Uber. Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, and Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, have only been able to forge ahead by being innovative while the traditional hospitality and transportation industries remained stagnant in the face of change.

The success of Airbnb and Uber demonstrate the importance of not just adapting but adapting quickly. When comparing the readiness of countries to embrace ICT in the digital divide, Beñat Bilbao-Osorio, Senior Economist of the Global Competitiveness and Benchmarking Network at the World Economic Forum, said the reason why some countries are lagging behind is not only because they aren’t leveraging ICT properly but mainly a result of “other countries going faster than them and moving ahead in the rankings”.

We see this same issue with businesses who are struggling to adopt digitisation. For many of them, failing to innovate is only half of the problem. Doing so must happen before their competitors establish a significant head start, or risk falling behind.

So the question becomes, how do we close the gap between businesses who are able to participate and succeed in the digital business revolution and businesses who aren’t, or to put it even simpler: How do we ensure that no business is left behind in the face of digitisation?

Tearing Down the Barriers

Fundamentally, there are only two things preventing the adoption of digitisation; barriers and the timeliness in which they are addressed.

Identifying which barriers stand in the way is crucial, but at the same time, the longer one waits to tear them down, the greater the probability that new or existing competitors will beat them to it.

Closing the gap between adopters and non-adopters of digitisation requires a readiness to embrace change and an acknowledgement that the impacts organisations can sustain by not participating fully in the digital business revolution far outweighs that of any barrier.

Our vision is to see an ever more diverse and inclusive range of businesses, Governments and institutions realising the full potential of digital marketing, because currently, all but a privileged few are still just scratching at the surface.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is your business adapting fast enough to the change the digital business revolution is forcing upon it? Just drop me a line in the comments below.