In this mad race to digitise business and embrace the data revolution many companies appear to have forgotten the one thing that’s pivotal to their success – the customer. That’s the view of media doyen, self-help guru and partner at Growth Mantra, Nigel Marsh.
Marsh, a keynote at yesterday’s Daze of Disruption seminar in Sydney, told an enthralled audience that there are plenty of businesses who spend an enormous amount of time, effort and money collecting a customer’s data but wouldn’t have the foggiest idea on how to use it in an effective way. Basically, he argued, in this race for technological supremacy the consumer can often be forgotten.
“I believe that digital and data should be at the heart of any organisation in the future if they are going to be successful,” Marsh said. “But precisely because it is so important it can unwittingly lead to a neglect of focus on the most important thing, the consumer.
“There are many companies that have all my data – they have my mobile phone number, they have my email, they have my purchasing behaviour – but they don’t have the faintest clue what actually makes me tick. They couldn’t run a bath let alone a consumer-centric company. There’s a difference between information and understanding, and there’s a difference between understanding and action.”
Marsh agreed that many of us can feel utterly overwhelmed by technology which leaves us thinking we’re always playing catch-up to the latest new thing. However, he argued, humans have been like that throughout history. “You invent the car! Wonderful! You’re ahead of everyone until everyone gets one,” he said.
And for those struggling under the sheer weight of digital disruption, Marsh’s advice was simple – don’t be scared or proud to being in some outside help.
“Sometimes life does throw you a curveball and you can feel you are at the mercy of circumstances and there’s nothing you can do and you’re overwhelmed,” he said. “You just think ‘I can’t make any progress… what can I do to make things better?’ And then, in hindsight, and with some emotional distance and some expert advice you can see that there was actually some patterns and processes that could have helped had you have known about them.
“There are plenty of people who can help you in business, there are people who spend their entire lives studying how to cope with disruption. And it’s not a sign of weakness as a business person to ask for their help. If you talk to somebody whose business is disruption, they can give you ‘fresh eyes’ and tell you about processes and patterns that are common and can help you.”
Marsh said too often when problems cropped up it would send the decision makers into their shells. Rather, he said that’s when you need to “run to the fire, not away from it”. Rather than see it as some sort of disaster, Marsh said you needed to think “what are the opportunities here?”
And even the great disruptors of our time – the likes of Facebook, Google and Uber – could quickly find themselves being disrupted, Marsh argued.
“You can get the technology right but the consumer wrong,” he said. “Let’s pretend Facebook became achingly uncool to a global 18-30 demographic. Just pretend that someone took Google’s moral high ground. Just pretend a competitor to Uber set up a taxi service run by women for women. That would disrupt all three of those companies and none of that disruption would come from technology and digital, it would come from consumer understanding.
“Good leaders today have to do two things at the same time, they have to put people and data at the heart of their business; that absolutely has to happen. But at the same time they have to force themselves and their companies to look beyond the ‘d-words’ [digital and data] to the consumer. Because the only ultimate protection in the days of disruption isn’t technology, it’s understanding and delighting your customers better,” Marsh concluded.