Digital minds analogue hearts

Thursday, 01 August 2013

Anders Sorman-Nilsson photo
Anders Sorman-Nilsson

    Anders Sorman-Nilsson believes directors must ensure their brands provide informational value to their clients’ digital, rational minds and an experiential connection with their analogue, emotional hearts.

    Everything that can be digitised will be digitised. This doesn’t mean everything that can be digitised, should be digitised, and your future role as a director will be to advise on what aspects of business should be digitised and which should not. This requires a dose of soul searching, a pinch of introspection and bushels of self-awareness, as well as strategic foresight into the constantly digitising communications landscape. The more tuned in you are to digital disruption and how it is revolutionising business, the better questions you can ask of management.

    Digital disruption is sweeping the world. A decade of discontinuity and upheaval is underway. In Deloitte parlance, for some industries the fuse until the digital bang goes off will be shorter. For some it will be longer and for others it has already happened. And, the size of the bang will be different for different industries. This digitisation of everything changes the game for business – and for directors.

    As a futurist, I am fascinated by the power of technology, the high tech and the digital, yet I am equally, as a student of history, intrigued by tradition, the touch and the analogue. Having grown up in a small family menswear business in Stockholm and watching my mother battle with Amazon’s price-checking app, and becoming a front-end showroom for eBay, I also fear the creative destruction digitisation is unleashing on old-school, traditional businesses. But perhaps this is only fair. What digitisation and the internet bring is an end to information asymmetry. This asymmetry helped companies prosper by using different insights and access to unique information about the value chain and more than occasionally extracting a premium from middlemen, wholesales, clients and consumers downstream or upstream. When a B2B or B2C client can immediately access competitive quotes, check the salesperson’s digital footprint and merits, assess the company’s corporate social responsibility credentials and Google it on BrandKarma or see which farmer raised its chickens, the game has shifted and clients around the world have taken matters into their own hands – literally.

    The shift occurring is that our rational minds, which seek information, have become digitised. We are online, hyper-connected and linked in 24/7/365, and the first and last things we see each day are our mobile devices and their cleverly integrated digital alarm clocks. What was an analogue thing is now a digital service. But while pundits will tell you of the compound annual growth rate of digital retail, eCommerce and mCommerce (mobile commerce), the fact remains that 90 per cent of global retail is still analogue, bricks and mortar. Nobody really remembers their first digital MP3 download, but analogue vinyl is forever. We remember the tangible, the physical, the experiential. Company executives must ensure their brands provide informational value to their clients’ digital, rational minds, but provide experiential connection with their analogue, emotional hearts. Despite digital times being all around us, we still love wearing an analogue watch on our wrist, symbolising we still perhaps enjoy wearing our analogue hearts on our increasingly digital sleeves.

    So what does this mean for you as a director? From my experience, here are the questions you need to be asking of your executives:

    • What aspects of our business can be digitised?
    • What does this mean in terms of democratising access to our industry and thus new, nimble entrants?
    • Which client touch points can be, and should be, digitised, even in the face of nostalgia?
    • Which client touch points must never be digitised because they offer us a unique edge a digital or traditional competitor can never digitally duplicate?
    • What trends are we ignoring that could come back to bite us in three to seven years?
    • Do we risk alienating a group of clients or staff if we digitise part of our business?
    • Is there an "analogue baby" we mustn’t throw away in our rush to innovate and digitise?

    The response to digital disruption is not an either/or response. It’s a combination of digital and analogue – to go "digilogue".

    Nike is a good example. It used to be a hardware company that made sports apparel. However, it noticed that because of the digital iPod popularity, more joggers were running while listening to music. This was not new; the Sony Walkman had done much the same. But the novelty lay in Nike’s combination of analogue with digital. It created Nike+, which, via a chip in your shoes or an app on your iPhone, could monitor your analogue movements digitally, while allowing you to select motivational songs through your Apple iTunes library. The app also went social. Joggers could share tips, runs and favourite work-out routes and receive claps and recognition from friends for exercise completed. Nike found itself moving from just providing hardware to also providing software. It went digilogue by offering digital and analogue touch points. It now captures joggers’ digital data, which it can use to tailor communications, offer bespoke promotions and become entrenched in its clients’ and prospects’ increasing digital monitoring of their health. Nike is thus providing a bridge between the real, analogue world and the virtual, digital world.

    Digital minds, analogue hearts. To win the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s customers, you must provide informational value to your customers’ digital, rational minds, and connect experientially with your customers’ timelessly analogue hearts. This leaves you as a director to start asking better digilogue questions of your executive teams.

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