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Don’t whinge about change, start adapting: Futurist

The digital revolution has left many a time-poor small business owner struggling to adapt to new technology.

However, futurist and innovation strategist Anders Sorman-Nilsson believes the key to success in the new world is balancing the digital with the analogue, or traditional methods of doing business.

Dynamic Business spoke to Sorman-Nilsson about his new book, Digilogue, and how businesses can ‘win the digital minds and analogue hearts of tomorrow’s customer.’

How did you go from law to the world of business and technology?

It’s been a bit of a long journey, but I’ve always had a fascination with technology, growing up in a family of techno-phobes where we only got a computer when I was 14 or 15. In more recent years, the fascination with technology has stemmed from a love/hate relationship, because I personally, as a futurist running my own management consultancy, love the world of the digital. From its possibilities of re-shaping health, giving deaf people their hearing back or helping handicapped people see in a whole new way through innovations like Google Glass, the digital world of technology has so many potential benefits to humanity.

Why do you think businesses – from SMBs to large corporations – are struggling with the rise of the digital world?

I work with Fortune 500s, but one of my toughest clients is my mum. My mum runs a bricks and mortar menswear store in Stockholm, Sweden, and it’s been in the family since 1917, so it’s an old family business – it’s every antique lover’s dream. It’s got the old original furnishings, a neon light on the outside, so you’re getting the feel that the store is all about the tradition, it’s bespoke, the personal service, about face-to-face communications. But in the last ten years, since digitisation and the internet, online retail happened and my mum’s business is going backwards.

Part of that is digital disruption but part of that is that she didn’t change the business model to change with the times. She didn’t start up an online shop when she should have, she didn’t start blogging or writing instructional videos on how to tie a good tie – we need this kind of advice, there are so many good opportunities for her to amplify all the beautiful history and brand equity of her business, but she chose not to, and that’s why digital disruption has been disruptive to her business model.

You work with companies of all sizes, but are there any beliefs or mistakes common across the board?

There’s a lot about tradition and legacy and the personal touch and why all of those things have an enduring place. They appeal to what I call our enduringly emotional analogue hearts. People love the message of the book because it says, don’t throw the analogue baby out with the digital bathwater. In our rush to innovate and digitise, companies run the risk of throwing away a lot of expertise, tradition, and brand equity if they seek to do things too fast to keep up with the constantly changing business landscape. So it’s important to retain the best of heritage and tradition but also make sure that you start digitally amplifying that story.

What are simple things time-poor SMB owners can do to start their digital journey?

Firstly, they need to ask themselves the following questions: which customer touch points should you digitise, and which ones should you not? There are things that every small business owner should definitely be digitising – they should be digitising their customer relationship management system tools to ensure they have in-depth knowledge about their customers. They should have a CRM system that hooks into their digital newsletters and website so they can send targeted advertising and marketing materials based on their digital customer profiles, so they can constantly stay in touch with those customers.

They should be digitising things like instruction manuals for their products and services so it’s easy for customers to be able to educate ourselves about that company before going to see them, we can gain a little bit of trust. We do our due diligence digitally these days, we can’t be bothered picking up the phone and calling someone just because we’ve had a word of mouth recommendation. Before that point, we want to see if it’s a valid company.

Many small businesses still don’t have a website, and you really need to get online as a first point of call. People are worried about social media being able to ruin a brand, but I think it’s more suspicious if you cannot be found online than if your brand isn’t super glamorous in terms of design online. You need to be able to be found, because we do digital due diligence, and it’s increasingly happening not just on a desktop but also on our smartphones.

Then the second question is, are there bits about your business where you build really good, on-going dialogue, or face-to-face trust with your customers? The digital world is great for attracting new prospects, but in terms of retaining customers, having a really good face-to-face and personal relationship is absolutely critical. You need to ask yourself which parts of your business do really well in the analogue world. So that could be taking your key clients out to lunch, writing a hand-written thank you card, remembering when their partner’s birthday is or what their child’s name is.

How would you sum up Digilogue?

It is a book that argues digital disruption will impact every business, secondly change doesn’t really care if you like it or not – it’s going to happen without your permission. Small business owners can’t just whinge about change, they need to start adapting. Thirdly, digital disruption is only disruptive if you as a business owner are not adaptive. Finally, don’t throw the analogue baby out with the digital bathwater, but start making sure you connect really well in the analogue world and also offer value in the digital world to your clients and prospects.

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Gina Baldassarre

Gina Baldassarre

Gina is a journalist at Dynamic Business. She enjoys learning to ice skate and collecting sappy inspirational quotes.

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