The digital landscape continues to undergo a significant shift that will have profound effects on business this year. The challenge is that hardly any business leaders noticed. That’s not their fault however. Even through the impact of technology on business and consumer behavior was widely reported, in depth reports on what to do next or how this will affect their business specifically were scant at best.

I’m sure you heard it from “experts” everywhere, “You need a Facebook brand page! Why are you not on Twitter yet? Have you checked-in on Foursquare? Hurry up and get set up on Google+. If you don’t get on social media, you’re going to go out of business!”

And, here you are…still in business I presume. But like any keen business leader, you’re avidly thinking about your next move. You already know that running the show in a mode of “business as usual” is not only limiting, it’s terribly complacent. But if you are to change, you need to better understand exactly how technology is influencing the behavior of your customers and why.

The truth is that you can create brand pages on every social network you can imagine and you won’t succeed unless you know whom you’re trying to reach and where, what it is they expect and value, and how these channels represent a meaningful opportunity for you and your consumers to connect. You first must answer what’s in it for them and what’s in it for you.

What the social media gurus aren’t telling you is that the landscape for business isn’t changing because of social media, it’s changing because consumer expectations are evolving. Your customers are empowered through technology where social media becomes only part of the disruption. Social networks, smartphones, tablets, review sites, gamification, geo-location, et al. are producing a new breed of consumer and businesses are largely missing them altogether. In fact, the emergence of this more “connected consumer” is forcing the end of business as usual. And at the same time, the pattern of decisions these connected consumers make usher in an era of risk where any business, large and small is vulnerable to digital Darwinism – the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt.

Your job is to not embrace new technology with arms wide open, but instead understand it and learn which disruptive technologies separate you from existing and potential customers. What’s unique about connected consumers is that they find and share information differently than their more traditional counterparts. They make decisions differently than the everyday consumers you’re used to engaging as well. But this part is the key, the connected do not displace your traditional customer, they simply expand your opportunity to grow your business. How you’re marketing, selling, and servicing customers today are largely missing this new breed of consumer and thus limiting your overall opportunity for growth.

To reach the connected consumer, you must first walk in their footsteps. It takes research not guesswork. It takes understanding not skepticism. And it takes a dedicated not generic or approximated approach. Why? Because while your traditional consumer relies on tangible media such as TV, radio, newspapers, direct mail, email, Google search or static websites, the connected consumer is not blindly seeking information, they are reliant on the right information finding them in the right places.

For example, your new prospective customer lives on their smartphones and tablets. They network with friends, family and the businesses they support in mobile and social networks. They check in to locations to signal to people nearby that they’re in the neighborhood and to alert businesses that they’re ready to interact live. Consumers install apps to better make decisions and to broadcast those decisions to their social networks. What’s more, they research products and services based on the experiences of their peers in real-time and in turn share their experiences with everyone else to shape and steer the experiences of others. In doing so they expand the idea of audiences to something far more efficient and expansive, an audience with an audience of audiences.

While it seems foreign or dismissible to those who are not actively embracing or even dependent on disruptive technology, connected consumers are only growing in size, magnitude and influence. Ignoring them is a step toward digital Darwinism. Understanding them and their behavior is a step toward relevance. In 2012, consider yourself a digital anthropologist or sociologist as you immerse in a day in the life of your connected consumer and seek to close the chasm between you and them. There are many professional analysts, researchers and strategists who can help you find the answers you seek.

Starting now and lasting well, forever, technology and empathy are now part of your business strategy. To what extent disruptive technology impacts your markets, will depend on your industry and the rate of adoption within it.

Your priority areas include understanding…

1. Social Networks from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ and how they’re connecting to influencers and businesses

2. Geolocation check-in services such as Foursquare and Facebook location updates to share locations and earn rewards or opportunities for discounts

3. Crowdsourced discounts and deals including Groupon and LivingSocial and what’s valued and why

4. Social commerce services like Shopkick and Armadealo and how they create personalized experiences that are worth sharing

5. Referral based solutions like Yelp, Service Magic, and Angie’s List to make informed decisions and how shared experiences can improve your business, products, and services

6. Gamification platforms such as Badgeville and Fangager, and why rewarding engagement improves commerce and loyalty

7. How your consumers using mobile devices today and what apps they’re installing. Also, how they’re comparing options, reviewing experiences and making decisions while mobile?

8. The online presence your business produces across a variety of platforms such as tablets, smartphones, laptops and desktops. You must realize how consumers are experiencing the online presences you create and whether or not they deliver a holistic and optimized experience for each platform.

9. The consumer clickpath based on the platform consumers are using. Are you steering experiences based on the expectations of your customers? And are you taking into consideration the device or network where the clickpath begins and ends? Are you integrating Facebook F-commerce and m-commerce into the journey?

10. The expectations of connected consumers, what they value in each channel and platform, where they engage and how your business can improve experiences and make them worthy of sharing.

This year and next are formidable years to solidify your position in how you compete for the future. Nowadays, no company is too big to fail or too small to succeed. Simply knowing your customer is one thing. But, understanding how they make decisions and participating in that process influences behavior while building meaningful relationships. Regardless of technology, the future of business isn’t created, it’s co-created. To succeed, it takes a culture of customer-centricity and the ability to recognize new opportunities and adapt based on what they present.

As Leon C. Megginson once said in paraphrasing Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

#AdaptorDie

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