How Do You Stay Relevant in the Digital Age? Here are 4 Ways.

Nov 28, 2017 | Jessica Ogilvie

It’s no secret that technology is changing business practices faster than ever before. One tweet, photo, or video can make or break companies in ways we couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.

The good news, says Dan Keldsen, co-author of The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business, is that if you harness these technological advances instead of fearing them or trying to ignore them, you can launch yourself into the future — and you don’t need to wear a hoodie and Converse every day to do so.

“The six forces we describe in The Gen Z Effect are available for anyone of any age and for organizations of any size,” Keldsen says, “but are the most outrageously powerful in the hands of smart small-business owners and freelancers.”

1) Take a Stand on Who You Are

As a startup or small biz, it might be tempting to try to be all things to all people — cast a wide net, right? Not so much, says Keldsen.

“You actually do have to focus,” he says. “If you can’t clearly articulate who definitely is your customer and who definitely is not, you’re trying to bite off more than you can or should. You will waste a lot of time and money on people who don’t care.”

Let’s say, for instance, that you own a yarn shop. “There are a lot more non-knitters than there are knitters,” says Keldsen. “It’d be good if you could get non-knitters to become knitters, but best way to do that would be to get in front of knitters first.”

Plus, part of what makes your customers feel connected to you and your business is a sense of belonging and community. Keldsen suggests being “extremely clear who is or is not in your crowd, and nurturing that connection. You are they, they are you, the jokes, ideals, and goals that you share are crystal clear, and make it obvious that customers can trust you.”

2) Establish Yourself as an Expert

A large part of what will fuel your success in this age of endless information is to become a trusted expert. Think the Apple Genius Bar, or, back to our knitting example, yarn shops that also offer knitting classes.

“[You want to] be seen as a teacher, coach, or expert,” says Keldsen. “It instantly makes you more valuable than an unproven ‘salesy’ approach, which is, more often than not, smoke and mirrors.”

In the digital realm, this could be through blog posts, videos, or social media posts. In the brick-and-mortar space, this could be through classes, events, or workshops. Another example: If you own a small winery, suggest pairings, hold tastings, or partner up with restaurants and markets.

“Walk customers from ‘complete n00b’ to ‘sommelier,’” says Keldsen. “Make it easy for them to live comfortably with their level of knowledge, rather than triggering guilt about being a ‘wine idiot’ and never returning. You’re seen as a partner in their life, rather than simply as a supplier of something they could get from anyone, for as little as possible.”

3) Be Honest

One thing that can be said about consumers today is that they can smell an advertisement from 10 miles away. They can also smell a bot, a marketing ploy, or any company that’s going to waste even an iota of their time by trying to pull the wool over their eyes. To that end, it’s wildly important that you be upfront and honest with your customer base. If you’re using a bot as a first responder to customer questions, for instance, go ahead and name it SallyBot, says Keldsen.

“The cynicism filter is pretty high,” he says, “so the antidote is that you acknowledge things and make them clear.”

By naming your bot [fill-in-the-blank]Bot, for example, it’s clear what’s going on when inevitable awkward language exchanges take place — like, when SallyBot says something particularly Bot-ty. “That gives you a chance to drop in some corny humor that’s appropriate to your brand,” says Keldsen, “or maybe drop some inside jokes.”

4) Age Is Just a Number — Really

It might seem like half-formed technological wizards are springing forth from every high school across the nation and being deposited directly into Silicon Valley. But the truth is, you don’t need to be 18 years old — or even 35 years old — to be excellent at using technology to its greatest effect.

“We needed to stop talking about generations 50 years ago,” says Keldsen. “There’s only negative baggage with the labels we put on generations. It’s only about limits instead of enabling people.”

Instead, Keldsen says, the most important thing for entrepreneurs to do is to dedicate themselves to learning quickly, and then moving on that knowledge as soon as possible.

“The companies that want to be part of the future are embracing what’s real today, and they move faster than the others do,” he says. “This is what I like about small businesses; they are very fast. They adapt quickly. They have to, because they don’t have capital to burn through. They have to be smart and more engaged.”

So get out there and embrace your status as a business of the future. After all, says Keldsen, we’re all in this together.

“We called the book The Gen Z Effect because we are all soaking in the stuff,” he says. “Eighty percent or so of the world is on the internet. It’s not a fad, as it turns out.”