All businesses are sorting out how to live with the daily reality of COVID-19. Some are asking another question that is equally important: how do you prepare your business for a post-COVID-19 world?
I believe that a new kind of existence was emerging before the pandemic hit: a world in which every interaction a business has with every audience is digital-first. A world in which every interaction is informed by purposeful outcomes. COVID-19 merely accelerated this change. Success means achieving digital excellence in a more connected way.
Signs of a Digital-First World
The signs of the digital-first world not be more obvious:
We’re All Online Now
COVID-19 has accelerated our transition to a digital-first world.
In recent weeks, Internet usage has surged by as much as 70 percent as people have practiced social distancing at home and have shifted their behaviors online. Netflix said that it experienced the largest quarterly gain in membership from January to March. Amazon gained 4 billion unique visitors in March, dwarfing online competitors such as Walmart.com.
But that data should not surprise anyone. By 2019, 87 percent of people living in developed countries were online. Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, had gained 1.62 billion users globally, up from 1.22 billion in 2015.
The new normal? It was already here.
Businesses Need to Be More Purposeful
But there’s something else going on besides a transition to digital-first living. COVID-19 has underlined the reality that customers, employees, and shareholders expect businesses to contribute to their personal and societal well-being in meaningful ways.
According to a study conducted by Twitter, “Advertising during COVID-19,” 77 percent of respondents say they feel more positively about brands making an effort to support society at the moment. According to a special report about COVID-19 conducted by Edelman, 78 percent of the general population expect business to act to protect employees and the local community.
Here again, COVID-19 accelerated a change that was already under way. Before COVID-19 came along, businesses were responding to customers, employees, and shareholders who wanted them to be more purposeful and meaningful. For example, in August 2019, the Business Roundtable released a declaration signed by 181 CEOs putting “purpose over profits.”
What does all this mean? This means businesses need to be digital-first now. They need to excel with every element of digital in a more inter-connected way.
Achieving Digital Excellence
All businesses are transitioning to all-or-nothing digital existence in which creating and sharing meaningful content across every online touchpoint will make the difference between thriving and dying:
CMOs need to attract and build customer relationships online.
HR needs to attract and keep talent through digital.
Investor Relations must create shareholder value through digital.
IT absolutely needs a bullet-proof digital platform. If your site goes down in a digital-first, your entire business goes down.
And every business needs to pivot their narrative to being purposeful and meaningful for every single audience.
But it’s not enough to do any of those things in isolation. Every element of your digital existence must work together seamlessly to allow a business to connect to its audiences that matter most to drive performance. It’s not enough just to have a secure website. You need to have relevant and important content that speaks to your audiences, and they need to be able to find it through an optimized and amplified site that breaks through all the clutter that is increasing in a digital-first world.
Great websites optimized for search are out. Great websites built in a secure platform, optimized for search and complemented with strong performance marketing are in. Sharing your commitment to sustainability/ESG to customers is out. Sharing your sustainability/ESG commitment to every single audience, including your customers, is in
How to Get started
Businesses need to become digital decathletes now. How do you get started? My own company uses a benchmark we call Connect.IQ to assess the digital performance of global businesses. We study 300 criteria that cover content, user experience and technical implementation, including organic and paid search visibility and social presence. Based on our findings, we suggest that you:
Strengthen your home base. Many businesses are neglecting the basics on their websites. For instance, when we assessed the “Our Company” content across global sites, we found that 46 percent make no effort to explain what they do.
Be more purposeful. There is a huge opportunity for businesses to show how they improve the lives of others – their employees, customers, shareholders, and society at large. For example, only 42 percent of companies explain their purpose and only 1 percent quantify purpose-driven ambitions. Realize that every job seeker, potential customer, and shareholder from here on out will look for evidence that your are actions are guided by something else than the profit motive.
Amplify. Maximizing your visibility requires a combination of organic search optimization and paid search and social advertising. Only 27 percent of companies we looked at have increased their paid search spend over the past two years, which is just one sign that they need to do a better job amplifying their story. In addition, reassess your paid media strategy to align with the values that your people are looking for, such as sustainability.
Secure your assets. Invest in a durable cloud-based infrastructure. And as I discussed in Forbes last year, cybersecurity needs to become a CEO-level mandate.
These are but a few steps every business needs to take in order to achieve digital excellence. The next move is up to you. And Investis Digital can help you take that step. On Wednesday, July 8, at p.m. ET, we’re going to host a webinar, “Beyond the Buzzword: Building Lasting Connections Today and Tomorrow,” that discusses how the communications landscape is changing under COVID-19 and how you can adapt. To learn more and register, please use this link. We look forward to talking with you on July 8.