Don’t build a strategy FOR the digital world – develop it IN the digital world

Building a strategy FOR the digital world is a mistake. What businesses need is a strategy developed IN the digital world. But most businesses do not cohabitate with their new normal customers. And as a result, their behaviour is defective, resulting in inadequacy and failure. 

When Englishman Captain Cook and his party of explorers first landed on the Northeast Australian shores back in the 1770’s, the welcoming communication with the aboriginals didn’t work out that well.

Needless to say, to the aborigine eye, Cook’s ship Endeavour with its three masts, sails and costumed voyagers must have offered an extra-terrestrial sight. And the British empires’ explorers who by the end of the 1700’s already were accustomed to strange encounters, still must have been quite flabbergasted by the awkward rabbit-like animals jumping around on their arrival; the strange marsupials with huge back legs, a strong tale and short boxing front legs. And thus an interested English science officer pointed his finger inland in the direction of the strange animals, asking the aboriginals in seaworthy English: ‘What are these?’.

The scientist might as well have asked the Aboriginals ‘Would you like some soup?’ or ‘Where do you spend your next summer holiday?’ or ‘Do you drive all electric?’. Gestures and other sounds will have accompanied the moment. In any case, the story goes that the aboriginals replied with ‘Kangaroo’, and that way the animals got their name. What the British did not know is that ‘kangaroo’ means ‘I don’t understand’ in the natives’ language. The aboriginals interpreted the pointing, expression and tone of voice as to whether the visitors could further proceed inland.

‘Old normal businesses interpret the behaviour of the digital customer without real understanding of the new world words and gestures.’

Had this story been true, it would serve as a metaphor for the pathway old normal businesses still use to communicate and understand digital consumers. Old normal businesses try to engage in communication using their old methods and language, and they interpret the language of the digital customer without really knowing the meaning of new world words and gestures. Furthermore old school businesses take their old school status for granted. And as a result even today an ‘I don’t understand’ often becomes ‘hopping animal on two legs and a long tail’.

The only way the English would have got to really understand the native Australians and effectively build a sustainable relationship is by learning to speak the aboriginal native languages and to live amongst them. A huge undertaking though, since all 250 aboriginal tribes through time have developed their own particular language. But in building realitionships, there exists no shortcut. Only by absorbing the culture of the tribe and by fully respecting the tribe, you in turn can be absorbed and loved by the tribe.

Looking back at those early dicovering times, we don’t have to refrain from saying that the explorers were not interested in cohabitation. Europeans did not adapt to indigenous peoples, their cultures and habits or their religion. It was the native who had to adapt the disruptor and to oblige the invasive rule. The Western powers wanted to control the land and thus the tribe. They had no interest in becoming part of the tribe.

‘Most businesses are digitally illeterate and still create a value proposition far removed from what the new world customer wants and by now expects.’

History has an urge to rhyme. And the small reflects the big. Most business leaders stick to their role as middleman: interpret customer behaviour, adapt the value proposition according to that interpretation, develop a route to market and send the message. Even so they try to persuade and convince the digital consumer to come to them. They try to communicate but use the wrong message. They interpret data, but use unfit interpretation methods. As a result, most businesses are digitally illiterate and still create a value proposition far removed from what the new world customer wants and by now expects.

For most business leaders, the digitally inspired world remains a strange land, populated by strange customers behaving strangely. Most business leaders don’t cohabitate with their customers. And by not living in their world, they don’t learn to understand their customers and understand and speak their different languages. They still act as the middleman. They still push stuff. They do not become part of the tribe.

As a result, most business leaders do not develop business models nor products or services or customer experiences for the digital inspired customer. They observe something they cannot understand and then build something based on a defect interpretation. This defective interpretation causes inadequacy and failure.

‘Business has to live, to breathe and to speak the customer tribe’

Making a businessmodel FOR the digital world is just wrong. Building a digital strategy is plainly wrong, because it is just digitizing what you have been doing so far. What businesses need is a strategy developed IN the digital world. And that is a whole other ballgame. It means businesses and their leaders and developers have to go and live with the tribe and become part of the tribe.

The ‘Kangaroo – I don’t understand’- story by the way is a fake. I bought it as well watching a movie about communication. Not a very good movie though, but one with a lovely story. For further use, always screen your information sources. In this age where real and fake co-exist, it becomes difficult to discern true from false, especially when you are not a subject specialist.

On the other hand, recent linguistic fieldwork has revealed the existence of the word gangurru in the northeast Aboriginal language of Guugu Yimidhirr, referring to a species of kangaroo. (