Keep innovating or get left behind

In today’s digital world where the only constant is change itself, businesses that stand still risk being left behind in the slow lane.

· TheTimes x Raconteur

When it comes to digital, you’re never really finished. In fact, the launch of a website, an app, a campaign or other digital initiative marks the beginning, not the end, of the hard work.

Why? Technology doesn’t stand still. Consumer demands and behaviours keep evolving. The competitive environment is turbulent and full of disruption. And every day and every interaction your customers have with your brand, you learn a little bit more. Consider each of these ideas for a moment.

Right now there are people all around the world dreaming up new ways to do and improve things. These could be micro-innovations, such as the development of a new tool for measuring social data. Or they could be bigger innovations, as we’re seeing with augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. It could involve advances in cognitive computing and machine-learning or breakthroughs in connected living and the internet of things. Or it could be a minor search algorithm change by Google or advertising algorithm change by Facebook, with major ramifications for marketers.

These changes are real and they’re going on all around us, all the time. The question is what will they mean for your business and its digital endeavours? Even if you don’t think the rise of chatbots on Facebook messenger – more than 11,000 of them within three months of launching earlier this year – has a role to play for your business, do you know how it will affect consumer behaviour and expectations?

As digital innovations continue to permeate the world we live and work in, at pace, the more consumers experience the art of the possible. Encounters with a brand, even one in a completely different sector to your own, shape people’s understanding of technology in our digital world, and how they choose to use and interact with it.


Amazon is perhaps one of the best examples of this effect, where experiencing the online retailer’s data-driven approach to personalisation, targeting and recommendations often left consumers wondering why it was so hard to receive the same relevant content and engagement from other businesses with rich data, such as their bank, grocery retailer, telecoms or utility providers.

One of the biggest impacts of digital advancement has been competitive disruption. From sector to sector, established businesses have been upended by new entrants leveraging digital to innovate business models. Even if you don’t believe that your sector or category could fall victim to an Uber or Airbnb equivalent, no business is immune to the industry-agnostic force that is digital technology or the ripple effects of competitors’ actions.

The post-millennial “iGeneration” are the first group to have been brought up as true digital natives and they’re now entering the workforce. Many will have had the chance to learn to code in school and some will already be thinking of “hacks” to the establishment that could impact your business or your value chain from out of nowhere. Then there’s the known competition. Digital often favours the first or the fast-mover, and if your competitors are more agile and pacey than your business, you risk being left in their wake or, in the very least, suffering from the knock-on effects of their actions.

The importance of digital optimisation isn’t rooted in the risk of getting it wrong and falling behind, but in the upside potential for getting it right​.

Lastly, consider one of the much-lauded benefits of digital – its real-time nature and rich pool of data on which to base your decisions. In theory, every interaction your customers have with your brand, from navigating your website to engaging with social media content to opening an e-mail, and much more, is telling you something. In reality, businesses need to be ready and resourced to listen, and to act on it.


Fundamentally, there’s nothing static about digital. Constant fine-tuning, tweaking, adapting and optimisation of your digital presence and digital strategy are essential. To launch a digital initiative, from a website to an app or beyond, and then walk away in the hope the prevailing forces won’t apply to your business is risky at best and foolish at worst. There’s simply too much change and too many forces at play.

The notion of continuously reviewing and iterating plans and activities may spark concerns about the level of resources needed to do them justice, but in reality the importance of digital optimisation isn’t rooted in the risk of getting it wrong and falling behind, but in the upside potential for getting it right.

Operating in an agile, responsive way to the signals that you know to look out for, be they from customers, competitors or digital leaders, can yield tremendous value. Having a finger on the digital pulse of your organisation and the ability to make course-corrections, however subtle, based on real intelligence can unlock significant improvements in performance.

The more attuned you are to customer behaviour and expectations, the more likely you’ll be to engender their favour and loyalty. The more sensitive you are to competitive pressures and market forces, the better placed you’ll be to respond appropriately and not get outmanoeuvred. Ultimately, digital optimisation is your opportunity to get behind the wheel of your digital investments, rather than simply be a passenger.

This article originally appeared in a special report in The Times on 08 September 2016, and published online by Raconteur here.