Why creating sustainable growth means looking beyond the digital present
Over the past decade, it has become common to suggest that every company is now a tech company.
The exponential growth in digital usage quickly outgrew what we traditionally think of as the technology sector and, for users, the agility of the internet didn’t stay confined to the online world. Technology has shifted expectations about how everything can or should work. Soon, companies selling everything from furniture to financial services started to look and act more like innovative tech companies. They find new ways to solve old problems through digital channels.
In other words, business leaders seeking to guarantee growth turned to digital technology – to the point that, now, the Chief Technology Officer is a key part of the C-suite.
After a year when we’ve all relied on the internet more than ever, in every aspect of our lives, growth through digital has never been more apparent. For business, digital communication has at times been the only possible way of staying in touch with customers, and there’s no sign that the CEO’s focus on agility and technology is fading. In recent surveys, IBM found that 56% of CEOs are ‘aggressively pursuing operational agility and flexibility’, PwC found that they see cyber threats as the second biggest risk to business, and Deloitte found that 85% think the pandemic accelerated digital transformation.
If the exponential growth of digital has made every company a technology company, though, it has also made terms like ‘technology’ and ‘agility’ less useful. If every CEO is pursuing a digital strategy, that term must be encompassing a vast range of different ideas. As we look towards the next decade of growth – focused on managing the challenge of achieving more responsible and sustainable business along the way – we will need to think carefully about what comes next once digitalisation is universal.
Supercharged tech growth has skyrocketed user-generated content
Of course, the importance of agile technology has never been the tech itself, but what people do with it. For customers we’ve seen tech innovation create new ways of talking, direct access to brands, and large changes in how we consume media and make purchases.
As digital channels take on a greater share of activity than ever, one of the effects of an exponential growth in digital is an exponential growth in user-generated content (UGC).
This user-led interaction, from product reviews to marketplace listings to social interactions, fully embodies the agility that companies have spent the last decade trying to bring to their processes; because it is made by people, UGC is rapid, diverse, and flexible by default. While it may be too soon to say that every business will become a content business, it’s clear that this will become an increasingly important part of how businesses operate. Certainly, it’s already a major driving force for sectors as diverse as marketplaces, gaming, and dating.
A UGC business must be protected to maximise opportunity
In the move towards UGC, a business’s user interaction and user experience will have consequences across the organisation – from profit margin, to brand positioning, to reputational risk, to technological infrastructure. Across all of these, there will be a need to uphold users’ trust that content is being employed responsibly, that they are being protected from malign actors, and that their input is being used for their benefit. Turning content into sustainable growth, then, is a task that needs to be addressed across the company, not confined to any one business function.
Marketers, for instance, have benefited from digitalisation’s capacity to make the customer experience richer and more useful – but it has also introduced an element of unpredictability in user interactions. When communities are managed and shaped, marketers need to ensure that those efforts produce a public face in line with the company’s ethos and objectives.
While tech teams need to enable richer user interaction, their rapid ascent to become a core business function has left them under pressure to everything, everywhere. Their innovation in how content is managed, therefore, needs a middle path between the unsustainable workload of in-house development and the unsustainable compromises of off-the-shelf tooling.
With the ultimate outcomes of building user trust being measured in terms of things like brand loyalty and lifetime user value, finance departments will also need to adapt to this form of customer relationship. The creation of long-term financial health needs investments and partnerships which truly understand how the relationship between businesses and customers is changing.
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UGC as a vital asset for sustainable business growth
Bringing this all together will be the task needed to create sustainable growth – growth which is fit for and competitive in the emerging context of UGC, sensitive to the increasing caution that users will have around trusting businesses, and transparent about the organisations ethos, purpose, and direction. It will require not just investing in technology, but understanding how tech is leading us to a more interactive economy at every scale.
As digitalisation continues to widen and deepen, we may find UGC, and the trust it requires, becoming just as vital an asset for businesses as product stock or intellectual property. To prepare for that future and maximise their business growth from their UGC, businesses need to start thinking and planning today.
By Petter Nylander
CEO Besedo Global Services
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