In 4 weeks time, 30 strategists, 250 volunteers created 1,000+ pages of crowd sourced research and 1 strategy proposal for the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012 of the EU Commission. Yesterday I had the privilege to talk to the man that initiated this group of highly qualified volunteers; Axel Schultze.
As part of the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012 of the EU Commission, you created a Digital Agenda Strategy Team. Can you tell me more about your motives to create this team? When and how did you come up with this idea?
The EU commission invited me to do an opening keynote at the Digital Agenda Assembly conference at the 21st of June in Brussels. I reviewed the European situation and realized not only is Europe 4 years behind the US but also not ready to strategically leverage Social Media for business. I proposed to the EU Commission to develop an open strategy to stimulate small and medium business to create growth and to compete on a global market. The scope is huge, so we need a clearly defined strategy to go after that objective. But as an experienced strategist I know it is possible. My motive is to make Europe a more stable and better place to live and work.
Very high goals: sustainable growth, additional jobs and being able to compete in a global market. In the meanwhile we see the news that Europe is struggling to keep their (financial) heads above the water. Do you think Social Media can ‘save’ Europe business wise?
If you look at the struggle Europe is in, there is a difference in what the press is saying and global reality. A large part of the EU, northern countries are economically very strong compared to US and Latin American countries. All in all, we see a rather strong Europe. We are always challenged around the globe. Even when disaster strikes there will be a way to create business.
There are various aspects of growth. If you look at the shoe industry, in Italy and Spain, the leather industry is big. However, both Italy and Spain are struggling. On a global scope, DC Shoes in California, has 8 million fans talking about their shoes on Facebook only. Falco is an Italian shoe factory which is not present on social media at all. Both companies target young people – but the US one is clearly ahead of the European one. If we can stimulate the Italian and Spanish shoe industry online, people don’t need to order shoes from the US.
Then there is the Fascino Group Guangzhou Shoes Manufacturer from China who is a very potential competitive risk. These shoes are not known in Europe because Chinese companies don’t allow Facebook in their marketing strategy. Renren.com is a chinese social network and they are present there. As soon as Fascino is able to deal with western social media platforms, they will come to Europe over-night. Whilst Falco is still not present at all and doesn’t even know how to deal with it. We need to prepare our local businesses. If businesses like Falco are not present other than through old fashioned business concepts, they will not be competitive. And the shoe industry is only one example.
The US and China are big countries with a lot of people speaking the same language. In Italy and Germany almost all television broadcasts are synchronised into their respective languages. Young people can only learn English from music channels, online and a bit from school. What about this language barrier?
Look at the kids in Europe. There are 230 million Facebook users who talk to friends in their native language but also to friends around the world in English. The common language has become English. As such we are initially focusing on those groups of people and businesses who are open minded, have typically a better financial position, and thus are more able to buy the products. They will lead the track and the slow mover will follow.
What if the Euro falls, what strategy will be needed for Social Media and business?
Companies who feel they have no time for Social Media need to learn that it is not a nice-to-have or fancy marketing play but a strategic tool to grow the business. The whole focus of our particular social media initiative is to help grow a business through widening the potential market – which today means more export. Whether the euro falls or not, business will need to continue selling their wares. And if they can’t locally right now, they can find consumers in other parts of Europe or the world.
The US economy almost collapsed 4 years ago. The US grocery brand Whole Foods was known as expensive. In that crisis even rich people saved money but Whole Foods grew. They understood they had to be as human as possible. Albertsons groceries was 10 times bigger at that time but closed more than half of their operation and almost vanished away, others even went out of business because they did not act on the opportunities to get closer to their respective markets which is one of the key advantages of social media. (read more about Whole Foods Social Media strategy on Mashable).
Zappos is an online shoe dealer. They had a hard time selling shoes online because people want to try shoes on. They started to send 10 pairs of shoes to fit on and let customers send the ones back that didn’t fit. In a few years time Zappos grew to a 1 billion business. They recognized that social media is not about fancy, but about building relationships with as much consumers as possible. The prejudice that you can only talk to a few customers in so much time is not true when you apply social media as a business relation tool and not as a spam tool.
What is it exactly that your group is working on, what the European Digital Strategy is in need of? What is this groups added value?
This group has worked through thousands of pages of research. The real work is to make sense out of this information, to distill it. We focus on the 3 biggest industries in the countries. We look at the perception of social media in European countries, at obstacles, rules & regulations and what business owners think of social media. We need to know where they are and identify the opportunities. If we would be pure data junkies, we would see construction work is important because it is big in all countries. But knowing construction is very local, we rather focus on industry segments with a sustainable impact on a country’s economy. The most notable effect for businesses in this situation in Europe is to grow outside their country. We won’t be able to come up with that objective without knowing what is going on in the respective countries. Now, going forward, we cannot continue doing this for the next 4 years for free. We need to find funds and hope to get funding from various sources. And we will look for resources to execute this project in the next couple of years.
What outcome do you hope to present in Brussels.
We developed an execution plan where we hope to assemble a team for the entire project. We would like to see country specific teams and funding to get them going. We build a 3 tier engagement model, where we conduct an awareness campaign with sponsoring from industry leaders to fund this campaign. We recognized the need for profound education for business leaders, business teams as well as consultants and that will be the first problem we need to solve.
On the 20th of June we will reconvene with the team on how we will go forward. We will install more country teams where we get educated resources. We hope to reach 7-10 countries for the remainder of the DA 12. Cutting through the noise is the biggest challenge for all groups on the Agenda. I believe our group demonstrated that we are well able to cut through that noise.