In 1990, the scientist Tim Berners-Lee, from CERN, created the World Wide Web, spreading the Internet as a computer network, where information could be published by experts, companies, and researchers, and accessed by their clients. With its birth, the Internet has brought the business world a great novelty: the instant access to information about products and services.
I remember a TV commercial where a dad would come home with a bike for his son but struggled to assemble it because a page of the manual was missing. The kid would go upstairs to his room, access the Internet, find the maker’s website and print the missing page of the instruction manual. After that, he would discreetly throw the page down the stairs, so it landed by his father. Surprised, the father grabbed it and thought he must have missed it inside the box.
This commercial translated the essence of the Internet to the consumer: the ease and speed of the information access about the product. There wasn’t the need to write the company, go back with the product to the shop or call the customer service. Whatever you needed was there, within your reach.
This concept, associated to the e-mail’s readiness – another tool from the beginning of the Internet, created a race within companies to build their websites, complete with information, and pictures about the company and its products. To this day that reflects on the traditional menu of many sites: Who We Are, Our Products, Contact, that show the initial concern of presenting the company and its products.
Websites have multiplied along their birth names: URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) that they would be stamped in products’ labels and media advertising.
URLs became violent disputes between companies, that ran to assure they got the most creative names related to their businesses or were precisely the names known by their consumers. All of that so the consumer would easily remember the name and could type it on the browser without any mistakes.
That’s how the Internet grew, a vast electronic catalog that served as a communication channel between consumers and companies, students and universities, readers and press, people who were searching for information and the producers of such valuable info.
Everything went well and good until one day we woke up, looked at our browser’s screen and couldn’t understand anything anymore. We read the news that didn’t make sense to us and, alarmed, asked: ‘Google has bought YouTube for how much?’. We watched interviews about a blogger and thought ‘who is this guy?’, the interviewer describes him as a great blogger, with millions of monthly readers.
Names like Wikipedia, iGoogle, and Twitter sounded strange, but became big media stars, along with their dozens of millions of users. We were still not sure of what was going on. From that point on the market, jargons started to pop up leaving us even more confused with terms such as viral marketing, viral widgets, game marketing, SEO, SEM, search marketing. It only took one step.
We have carried on with our lives, producing and publishing advertising in the known media: radio, newspapers, magazines and, of course, TV; until one day we faced an uncomfortable reality, in which new competitors emerge, grow and operate in our business area, using the Internet.
However, the appearance of the Internet and the vertiginous growth of its use were not the final stop in that story. iPhone, Android, smartphones appear; and suddenly we don’t use our alarm clocks anymore, neither do we use our wristwatch nor the stereo sound system, and let alone our analog photographic cameras. In the blink of an eye, all of that is in the palm of our hands in the shape of a mobile phone.
The apps invade our lives, and many of the things that we used to do on the computer, like using Facebook, reading the news or checking emails, started to be done primarily on our phones.
More than that, a whole generation that was born and raised involved by the Internet, with YouTube and tablets, have reached adulthood, and what before was a group of young millennials is now the consumers of our product or service, and in some cases our competitors. They only watch, inform and communicate online, and their universe spins around NetFlix, Spotify, Whatsapp, Snapchat and Instagram, and even Facebook starts being ‘old’ for that generation.
It was not only in business that things changed and haunts us. Politicians and big corporations that would before control the information through public relations and relationships with the media, now can’t restrain the information flux, videos, and photos taken with smartphones showing everything from a dispute to moments that changed the world history.
If it is difficult to hide from this digital revolution, even harder it is to ignore its growth and influence in society and its consumers. If in the past it was dangerous and counterproductive to ignore the online world, today that is fatal to your business.