After a failed encounter with an online banking website, I was on the phone with a customer service rep. She couldn’t get the website to perform either. She gave up and told me, “You could print out the form and fax it to us.”
“What’s a fax?” I asked with a satirical desperation she failed to appreciate.
Her suggestion that I print out a form, fill in the blanks, and then fax it back to them seemed about as out-of-step with the times as asking me to send it by pony express. The lesson here is that business conditions move at an Internet-fueled pace today that is far faster than anything we have ever experienced.
One of the challenging aspects of this environment is that leaders need to ask questions about their company that are entirely new to business or are coming at a rapid pace.
Moving ahead through 21-century questions
Here are six important questions a company must address to survive and thrive:
How can our industry be disrupted? Cab companies cruised comfortably for decades until Uber and Lyft came along and turned the industry on its ear by leveraging the power of peer-to-peer commerce. Do any of today’s emerging technologies have the power to significantly change your business? Further, it’s not only technology that disrupts. When Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire recently partnered to get into healthcare, all the legacy players realized they were in for possibly the biggest disruption in more than 50 years.
Have we embraced our inner information company? While the audience for legacy media is shrinking, every company serious about growth is working hard to increase the size of its information-consuming audience. Blogs, white papers, e-books, videos, graphics, and podcasts are vital components of marketing. To do this successfully, leaders need to change their marketing mindset and truly become “media moguls” in their niches.
Where do our current customers and tomorrow’s customers hang out online? The previous point concerned the content of the information you provide. Just as important is understanding where your audience resides in the virtual world. You might find that your older demographic predominates on one social media platform while your younger demographic is found on another. The two groups might also have different product or service needs, and this difference could direct your publishing efforts.
Is our visual presence up to date? Design aesthetics on the Internet change quickly. If you haven’t freshened up your look and feel in the last couple of years, your site may be very dated. Virtually every commercial relationship today starts on the Internet; you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Do our employee and customer experiences create brand ambassadors? Your company needs to please people so much that customers and employees say good things about you in their social media accounts. The reach of your own social media is dwarfed by that of your customers and employees combined.
Are we taking advantage of Big Data? Back in 2013, it was estimated that 90% of all data in the world had been generated in the previous two years. That pace continues today, and data can be used for market analysis, customer and noncustomer analytics, competitive analysis, pricing, brand analytics, and more. Find the places where you can profitably plug into Big Data.
Finally, this list of questions comes with shampoo-bottle directions: lather, rinse, repeat. You need to ask them of yourself and your company every few months; there may be a new social media platform or design style the next time you address these questions.
Stimulate your strategic thinking—and encourage these skills in others—to help your business move forward in an increasingly competitive world.