One of the biggest changes for many people during 2020 has been the huge increase in digital traffic. It has been a steep learning curve even for those who regarded themselves as pretty digitally-savvy. Apps like Zoom and Teams became household words, and everyone suddenly knew about file-sharing, productivity, and project management apps like Slack, and the importance of cloud.
It felt like the digital age had (finally) arrived. It has long been heralded, of course, and for many people 2020 was just an acceleration of existing trends. For many others, it was a huge step into the unknown. However, there is generally acceptance that the genie cannot, and will not, be put back in the bottle, and nor should we try.
What this means is that digital know-how is the new ‘must-have’ skill. More importantly, though, we believe that it means that more marketers will need to embrace a deeper ‘digital mindset’ in 2021 and beyond.
Defining a digital mindset
What is a digital mindset? It is important to be clear that it does not mean simply being able to use technology. Anyone can learn to use technology, but not everyone has a digital mindset.
A digital mindset means embracing the opportunities of technology, and understanding how it can be used to improve what we do. People with a digital mindset appreciate how technology can democratise teams and organisations—and take action to make it happen. They accelerate actions and interactions by harnessing the power of technology. They understand the importance of increased interconnectedness, and how it can be used to improve everyone’s lives. And more importantly, they are confident and content with the speed of progress, not anxious because everything is changing.
We have seen examples during lockdown of individuals and organisations who failed to embrace a digital mindset. For example, the company that shifted to Zoom meetings, but expected them to work in exactly the same way as the previous round-table team meetings. Or the organisation that put on a conference where every speaker simply gave their presentation remotely, without any audience interaction. These organisations knew how to the use the technology—but failed to take advantage of its possibilities.
There are other examples, however, of organisations that embraced the new opportunities.
SAS, the technology company (and a client), organised its Global Forum 2020 as a virtual event, and reached four times more people than previous events. The feedback was spectacular, with people commending the accessibility of the speakers, the range of sessions, and the forum site itself. It was a very good example of embracing all the opportunities.
On a smaller scale, a private school in the UK held year-group parents’ meetings with the head in July, using Zoom. The purpose was to explain plans for the next school year. The hour-long meetings were structured, but hugely interactive, with short presentations from heads of year and the head herself. Parents were encouraged to ‘raise their hands’ digitally, and to use the chat function to send questions direct to individual teachers. They were given a quick explanation at the start of the meeting about how to use the technology. The response from staff to parent questions was rapid, organised and fluid. The head herself answered questions on screen as they arrived in her chat box. There were over 50 parents at each meeting—but parents left with the feeling that they had been heard and knew what to expect next.
A new frontier
What characterises these examples is that the changes and opportunities go far beyond simply using technology. In many cases, attendees at both events found them more useful than the previous approach. There is a huge convenience to virtual meetings and forums—even if they have no live face-to-face contact. Crucially, the organisers of both had thought about what attendees wanted, and then delivered that experience.
There is growing recognition now that we need to move beyond an either/or approach. It is not a matter of face-to-face or digital: we want both. We recognise that the organisation is the people, not the building.
This is perhaps the most important aspect of a digital mindset: a focus on people. This may seem odd, but digital is not about the technology, it is about how it is used to connect people. This is what we mean by a ‘digital mindset’—and why we are calling it as one of the crucial skills for marketers in 2021 and beyond.