Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a prominent figure on the world stage as we struggled to come to terms with the new, strange enemy that was terrorism.
And it was when answering a media question about Iraq’s so-called weapons of mass destruction that he delivered his most famous response:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Or as has become the common vernacular, ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’.
Knowing what you don’t know
And it’s this statement that most accurately describes the condition of a large contingent of our smaller business operators when it comes to the digital or even the technology world.
Because despite the massive volume of free or at least affordable information available on most aspects of technology, the vast bulk of SMEs remain laggards when it comes to embracing and adopting new technology.
Front and centre of this dilemma is the continued poor adoption of that most basic of digital assets, the website.
Whilst websites are now regarded as the most effective marketing tool of all, Sensis reports that still only two thirds of business provide one. Not so long ago, that figure was as low as 40%.
On the one hand it’s good to see the majority of SMEs now have a website. On the other, what are the remaining third doing to not bother with what is now seen as the best marketing ally a small business can have?
Incorrect use of technology
But for every business that is using a website effectively, there are probably two who aren’t using it to its full potential.
And that is not due to that common reason, lack of budget. The real issue is simply that these business operators do not know any better.
Because many business operators simply aren’t aware that the way they go about their business could be not only streamlined, but fundamentally altered by today’s technology.
It’s difficult to ask for an integrated website solution when you don’t know what integration really is. Or a CRM when your customer records are still kept in word documents and spreadsheets. Or a smartphone app when you still aren’t using the right fundamental business software in the first place.
Who can forget the case of the local meat merchant who still doesn’t even have a computer?
An overwhelming issue
This isn’t to disparage the smaller business operator. It’s merely a symptom of smaller businesses not having the time or resource to be fully across technology developments which might affect them.
Technology is such a massive and fast developing business discipline, even the most informed business operator has difficulty keeping up with the best way to underpin and enable their business from a technology perspective.
And just to add insult to injury, many smaller business operators fear being exposed by their lack of technology understanding and so simply avoid the issue altogether. Or often wait till it’s too late.
Getting to know technology
Of course smaller businesses aren’t alone here. The road to business ruin is littered with the corpses of plenty of large and well-resourced businesses who have failed to recognise the significance of technology change on their businesses in time to save them.
Who can forget Kodak, Borders, Yellow Pages (technically still here) and Sony Walkman among others?
I think the main trick for businesses large and small is threefold:
First, to understand their core customer benefit instead of its present delivery mechanism (most famously described by marketing academic Theodore Levitt in his article ‘Marketing Myopia’ back in the 1960s). This approach will mean you are open minded about technology and not dwell on defending a dying delivery or production methodology.
Secondly, to ruthlessly keep abreast of developments that might in any way alter the way their customers perceive and purchase their product – no matter how remote it may seem from your business.
Thirdly, educate yourself as best you can about technology – not by doing a course in IT, but by accessing a range of ongoing information and education about how technology affects your particular industry.
On the face of it, these undertakings don’t seem too onerous. But the reality is that it’s a considerable stretch when you consider that the smaller business operator also needs to be across the various product delivery, marketing, staff, finance, legal, crisis and other business roles they need to fulfil just to survive.
It’s no place for the faint of heart.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.