How can businesses evolve their digital footprints to stay relevant in the new normal?

Digital This article is by Roland Emmans, Head of Technology Sector for Commercial Banking at HSBC UK

For decades now we have witnessed a rise in technology in all aspects of our lives, from home computing to smart phones and the rapid evolution of the internet.

At the same time businesses have needed to evolve their digital presence to offer consumers their goods and services in different ways. While the pace of technological change has always been high, arguably we haven’t ever seen a greater pace of change than we have in the last 12 months. Now, as many firms are looking to execute plans for life beyond COVID-19 we expect to see technological innovation help businesses recover and thrive in the ‘new normal’.

What does digital mean today?

There has been a huge blurring of digital and physical over the last year and for many firms the only way they have been accessible to customers is through online platforms. That begs the question, how many businesses have reviewed their websites and apps to make sure they are current and accurately reflect their business today? Failing to keep on top of this would be like having a shop window that hasn’t changed for years.

This might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many firms have yet to optimise their websites for use on mobile devices. Many were traditionally designed and tested on desktops yet today the majority of e-commerce is completed on mobile devices. It’s essential that businesses ensure their platforms work seamlessly on these platforms.

A digital footprint must evolve and grow alongside the business. Websites, apps and other digital platforms must continually evolve to keep them relevant and to keep customers coming back. Businesses must make the most of the data that their websites provide to ensure they are reacting to what customers are telling them.

Al Keck, founder and CEO of Infinity Nation, an award winning digital marketing agency, recently told us that businesses should treat their websites as they would an employee.

“No firm would employ a salesperson without giving them KPIs which they would manage and monitor to make sure they’re producing effective results for the business,” he said.

“A website is similar, what we see too often is that a website is built and that box is ticked. We couldn’t be clearer that you’ll never get the best out of it if it doesn’t evolve and you don’t make the most of monitoring metrics and then spend time to fine tune it – as you would with training a salesperson.”

With that in mind here are some of the key considerations that businesses should have when looking to improve the quality of their digital footprints.

Evolution

Businesses must regularly review their online platforms to make sure they are fit for purpose. If a website is not accessible across platforms, then already a proportion of prospective customers are alienated.

It’s important that businesses use digital to build on their legacy and not forget it and, while it’s essential that a website is serviced as a ‘living’ member of the team, that shouldn’t be at the detriment of history and culture. A website should embody exactly what the business is and offers and reflect the culture and history that it has been built on. Incorporating little personal touches to surprise and delight customers.

David Prescott, CEO of bookseller Blackwell Ltd, explains: “While it’s essential to take the time to focus on digital tools, there is a danger with e-commerce that everything becomes digital and the physical is forgotten – but there is a way to incorporate both.

“Every book that we sell goes out with a vintage bookmark which puts a spotlight on the history of the shop and we receive a huge amount of positivity on social media for doing that. We think that personal touch is important way to connect our customers to our history and culture.”

Measurement

It is vital that business leaders make the best use of the data that’s available to them. Tools like Google Analytics provide a range of metrics that will help businesses better understand their customer base.

In the age of data it’s the ability to analyse customer behaviours in order to better entice them in from the front end should not be ignored. If a certain demographic is making purchases on an e-commerce platform it’s important to understand why that’s happening and how it can be harnessed to produce further sales as well as providing intel to hone a more effective customer journey.

Al Keck, explains: “Firms need to know who their best customers are. Whether you’re e-commerce or B2B, you really need to unlock the data you have; it’s a goldmine just waiting to be excavated.”

Driving repeat business

In many instances businesses need to think about their wider digital footprint and how tools such as social media fit with their strategic plans for growth. Too often we see websites that are functional and transactional but don’t take a longer-term view of a customer.

It’s important for business leaders to transition from a transactional platform to a more interactive environment encompassing social media and direct communications to build a holistic and engaged relationship with customers.

David Prescott, explains how important it has been to embrace the online community in the absence of physical events, “Normally we host a huge number of events like book signings but that all changed when the pandemic restrictions were put in place.

“To replace that we’ve held a Twitter festival and really tried to focus our social media content on having conversations with our customers rather than specifically trying to sell. We also shared a lot of information on what was going on behind the scenes as we adapted to the new working environment and that really helped to keep our customers engaged with us.”

In summary it’s clear the pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of digital by large sections of the population who perhaps were less equipped previously. This results in a huge opportunity, technology and digital tools have the ability to boost sales and become vital to generate leads as businesses look to build growth.

However, for some, the increased focus on digital presents a risk of falling behind the competition. Through lockdown a company’s digital footprint is their business as far as the outside world is concerned and it’s essential they maximise this so that it fully and accurately what the business looks like today.

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