Not long ago, growing an online business was considered the same as increasing organic traffic from search engines.
Although more organic traffic from search engines can help a business boost its business and clients. But simply focusing on organic traffic from search engines is a myopic approach and involves much more than that.
The reason the two used to be confused with each other is because the digital space was dominated by search engines and most digital activity used to lurk around search engines. However, with the explosion of social media, digital platforms, and larger digital ecosystems, that is no longer true. Millions of people now live and breathe within a larger digital space than that earlier provided only by search engines.
So, growing an online business must be tackled from a number of dimensions. Let’s consider some of them below.
Revisit your business model
If you have an existing business, you must revisit your business model. A business model is a representation of how your business creates and delivers value to your customers and audiences. It includes all the key components required to deliver that value. With the ongoing digital transformation, if you are not keeping up with the trends, that may have changed and may have changed dramatically. So, revisiting your business model and going back to the drawing board can help you re-validate your purpose, your audiences and customers, and how you plan to deliver value to your customers in the digital era.
Look around and consider for a moment those businesses who failed to keep up with the digital transformation. Remember Blockbuster? They were unable to see the digital tsunami that annihilated their business overnight. Do you see what’s going on with the shopping malls across many parts of the world? People may be visiting them more for their food courts rather than to shop from the shops of those malls. Shopping malls may be providing a place for people to hang around more than a hub for shopping.
So, before you venture into growing your online business, take a look at whether your business is positioned along the right digital pathways and pointing in the right direction. Once you have established that, you can start pushing it along those pathways of digital success.
Know your digital ecosystem
As you reassess and validate your business model, you will discover how your business environment has transformed. Your discovery would lead you to the following:
- The way your business’ value chain has transformed
- The new competitors that have entered the marketplace, many of which may have gotten ahead in some ways due to the way they are leveraging the new digital capabilities of the digital landscape.
- The digital interplay between market participants that you may not be aware of and that may leave you behind if you don’t get on that bandwagon. For example, your competitors may be exchanging value and goods with suppliers in new ways that may be more cost effective than the way you have conducting business. If you don’t catch up, your competition may be able to deliver more value for the same price that you are offering to your customers. Moreover, if you don’t catch up in time, this may be a major blow to your business.
The bottomline is that you need to know your digital ecosystem and how value is being exchanged in that ecosystem between various entities. You, then, need to get clear about your overall position in that ecosystem and how you will deliver value and then have a clear strategy to grow that value over time (in digital ways and others.)
Get to know your new digital audience
To grow your business online, you must know your digital audience. This audience may not be the same as those that you interact with in the non-digital world.
Here, it would be prudent to take a segue and distinguish between the digital and non-digital audiences. Simply using a mobile phone or a device doesn’t necessarily make your audience digitally savvy. By digital audience, we mean audience that has adopted certain digital behaviors and are driven by those behaviors to make critical decisions of their lives. Those habits and behaviors may involve the following:
- Do comparison shopping,
- Read and research on various subjects before deciding on certain aspects of their lives,
- Use various apps for different activities such as banking, personal development, etc.
- and so on.
Depending on your business and the audience that you serve, your prospects and customers may not have all gone digital. You, therefore, need to assess that crowd and determine that breakdown.
Once you have done the exercise to know that breakdown, you can then move forward in planning and investing in both types of audiences. Accordingly, that will impact the systems and processes that you will need to build and support those various forms of audiences. (see the discussion later in the article).
Formulate your digital business processes
Once you know how you want to serve your digital audiences in the digital world, you can then start formulating your digital business processes. For example, if you discover that your audience is digitally savvy and lurks around Facebook more than anywhere else, you can start offering customer service on Facebook and invest less on a call center for example. Similarly, if you know that your retail customers are more into coupons, you may start offering them digital coupons through online channels. If you don’t, your competitor next door may already have started to offer them online digital coupons and taking your foot traffic away from your brick and mortar store.
Build the right digital systems
One can’t grow their online business unless they have the right systems to help them do that. You may or may not remember the many companies that emerged during the dot com boom in the late 1990s and 2000. Although these companies showed a lot of promise to deliver value to their customers, many were unable to follow through. etoys.com is an example of a toy retailer who didn’t go out of business because they didn’t have the business but failed simply because their systems and business processes were inadequate to handle supply chain, inventory, and customer fulfillment issues.
So, therefore, once you know your digital audience and your digital business processes that you will need to serve those audiences, you will need to build the right digital systems. It’s easy to say, for example, that you will start to offer your audiences digital coupons but it’s another thing to build systems that will help you create those coupons, maintain them, track their use, expire them, and so on. Furthermore, you will need to track and assess their effectiveness as well. All that requires good online systems and you must have the right digital strategy in place to offer them to your customers and visitors.
The article reviewed some of the critical areas that an organization must address as it looks to boost its digital presence in the new digital world. One thing is for certain and that’s that an organization must look at this question more strategically rather than as a tactical one.
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