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How to create growth in an age of digital evolution

It’s no longer a question of whether or when a business goes digital, but how well it embraces the opportunities digital offers for growth and gaining the competitive edge.

How to create growth in an age of digital evolution
[zhukovvvlad/Adobe Stock]

There were 7.83 billion people on the planet at the beginning of 2021, with 66.6% of them using mobile phones and more than 53.6% of them using social media. Digital advertising revenue was expected to account for 57% of all U.S. advertising in the United States last year. All of which is to say, it’s no longer a question of whether or when a business goes digital, but how well it embraces the opportunities digital offers for growth and gaining the competitive edge.

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In terms of that competition, through the third quarter of 2021, there were nearly 1.4 million applications in the U.S. for new businesses, more than the third-quarter year-to-date data for previous years. Fueled by unemployment, pandemic concerns, and the numerous factors contributing to the “Great Resignation,” more people are striking out on their own, potentially adding to an already crowded digital landscape.

So, how can this cohort of new entrepreneurs position themselves for success, and how can non-digital natives shift their legacy mindset—and possibly their approach—to not only survive but thrive despite the uncertainty of what’s now our normal?

EMBRACE THE UNKNOWN

Let’s examine a fictional case. Carla ran a healthcare organization for years, but she hadn’t recognized the level of healthcare inequity for minority populations until the pandemic. She left her job to start an advocacy and resources firm, but isn’t sure how much to invest in her digital presence given access issues for her target audience, the changing nature of outreach technology, and her limited resources.

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For innovators, early adopters, and founders like Carla, moving forward requires a leap of faith. Disruption starts from something known, which means ideas about the way things “should” work may linger. You have to be willing to separate the principles of what you’re trying to achieve from the method used to achieve it.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with technologies that hadn’t been tested before. We made predictions that weren’t always right, but they always inspired creative ideas about how to use that technology to reach more people and make their lives better.

The important thing to remember is flexibility. In my industry, out-of-home advertising is the oldest form of advertising, yet it straddles the traditional and the technological to great effect. Keep your goals and your audience in mind so you’re pragmatic about how to incorporate something new into something existing. Allowing yourself to adapt will allow your business to advance.

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Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? You choose a path and have to pivot later. We’ve all shown we can do that. Or, you ignore digital innovation until it threatens your ability to meet customer expectations, dampening any chance of meaningful growth.

BE A STRATEGIC TECH ADOPTER

Growth for the sake of growth is rarely a smooth or sustainable approach. You didn’t go into business to frustrate customers and drive them away, so their needs should anchor your strategy for how technology supports your growth efforts. Confront and address any gaps between what you want, what the customer needs, and what it takes to get there.

In Carla’s case, she eventually envisions providing consultations and education via extended reality (XR) but doesn’t have the provider or partner base to make that a useful experience for customers right now. What she can use are solutions like QR codes on transit stops and community center posters that drive her customers from the physical world of commuting and errands online to her website and social channels.

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Not every company can be a unicorn and not everyone is slated for a meteoric rise to enterprise status. But organizations that reflect on what makes sense and practice a little due diligence—even in the middle of a sprint—can mitigate some of the headache and heartache of adopting new technology. For instance, you can:

• Use data to confirm and adapt to customer needs to innovate more effectively on your product or service.

• Partner with an expert and/or other leaders in your network on how best to build out your digital presence.

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• Ensure a convenient, hybrid, human experience for customers, allowing them to connect with you and share with others whether they’re online or offline.

There are additional considerations if you’re transitioning from a legacy system. Namely, communication and buy-in. Everyone needs to understand what you’re trying to achieve and why, and that the initiative is supported from the C-suite down.

Being strategic—whether you’re a startup or an established brand—means not joining the next trend for the sake of change. It also means not assuming the next thing is necessarily the best thing for your customers and where your organization wants to go. It’s still possible to explore the options and not become overly excited, or alternately so overwhelmed by the nature and pace of innovation that you give up.

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FIND SOLID GROUND WITHIN A STATE OF FLUX

The reality of change and driving growth through change can be daunting. It might help, then, to think of your progress in different terms. Instead of trying to run a race across an uneven and ever-changing landscape, view your progress as a ladder.

With each rung comes solid footing, propelling you upward or providing a safe space to pause. The view “forward” is just you, proceeding toward the top at your own pace. You may choose to climb slowly or you may choose to run, but the key is that you get to the top without breaking something or risking a fall back down.

Technology rarely leads to setbacks if you approach change with an open mind and a solid plan. The transition from print to radio to television to the Internet meant following people where they wanted to go and reaching more of them in the process. The simple truth is, you can’t grow if customers can’t find you. But you want them to find you open to new ideas and feedback, leveraging technology that’s intuitive and appropriate for their needs, and ready to bring them along as you climb to reach your goals.

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Anna Bager is President & CEO of OAAA, the national trade association that represents the out of home (OOH) advertising industry.

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