Surveying digital trends: According to the Digital Society Index 2019, for innovation to succeed, it should meet people’s needs and wants.
The Digital Economy gives you the power to be a better version of yourself
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2019 - 12:00am

For innovation to succeed, it should meet people’s needs and wants. Brands can build better relationships with their consumers and audiences if they are able to do that. It can also help preserve the long-term benefits of a digital economy that works for all.

This is one of the central messages that emerges from the Digital Society Index 2019, a project of Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) developed in collaboration with Oxford Economics, which combines a primary survey of more than 43,000 people across 24 countries with economic and statistical analysis.

Trust in big tech is falling. This survey first started in 2018, and even the collapse in trust in the use of digital technologies has been observed. The number-one cause of distrust is the misuse of personal data. Stronger regulation of technologies like artificial intelligence is being proposed. And social media has been blamed for both political polarization and misinformation. Thirty years from the birth of the World Wide Web and against a longer-term trajectory of growth and prosperity brought about by the digital economy, 2018 has been a tough year.

Within that context, the Digital Society Index puts people at the heart of the digital economy to determine how trust can be rebuilt to deliver sustainable growth. To that end, a new needs-based framework has been developed. Taking inspiration from the groundbreaking model of Abraham Maslow, his original “hierarchy of needs” concept has been tweaked for the digital age. However, research shows that in most of the 24 countries analyzed, these needs are far from being adequately addressed.

Basic needs: Access to digital infrastructure has always been a necessary condition to engage with the digital economy. But now, in addition, trust in the use of data is part of the foundation on which digital products and services must be built. Only 49 percent of people globally believe their basic needs are being met, although Western economies tend to perform strongly here.

Psychological needs: Digital technologies can help enhance users’ sense of good health and well-being. However, globally, only 38 percent of people believe this need is being met. Asian countries tend to perform poorly on this measure. Singapore ranks lowest on psychological needs.

Self-fulfillment needs: The extent to which people feel they have the right digital education, skills and opportunities for fulfilling work can offset concern about automation and the impact of artificial intelligence. However, only 45 percent of people globally score positively on this measure, with under-utilization of digital skills by employers a challenge. For example, in Denmark, less than four out of 10 people with average or above-average digital skills agree that their employer makes it possible to use the full range and depth of their tech knowledge.

Societal needs: This is about people’s broader optimism that digital technologies will be a force for good overall, helping to create jobs and solve societal challenges. Overall, less than half (49 percent) of people believe in digital’s role here, although people in Asia tend to be much more positive about the potential of digital to enhance society.

The demographics of these trends show clear anomalies. Women score lower than men across all aspects of the model except basic needs. In some countries, the gap is particularly stark. For example, in the Netherlands, 42 percent of men are optimistic about the societal impact of digital, but this falls to 30 percent for women. And in terms of age, it is the younger people who score lowest on psychological needs, reflecting those studies that show how higher usage of digital technologies impact on young people’s mental health and well-being negatively. Furthermore, while technological development accelerates, many people around the world feel left behind by digital growth.

This sentiment cuts across differences in economic development, tech maturity and culture. It’s not just a first-world problem: it’s a whole-world problem, with three major elements:  first, skills are not keeping pace with needs. Digital technologies are reshaping the jobs of tomorrow, but one in three people globally can’t remember the last time they did any digital training (or have never done any). Second, the pace of technological change causes anxiety. In countries such as China, India and Brazil, more than 80 percent of people feel the pace of tech change is too fast. Third, the future is not evenly spread. While many countries perform strongly on the index in terms of delivering a digital economy that works for all — Singapore, the United States and China top the rankings in 2019 — many countries are pursuing an imbalanced digital growth strategy.

Belief in digital drives the business case for action. This research analysis important for businesses and brands since digital needs influence consumer behavior.

The new digital consumer is hardest to reach but most valuable. The more positive people are about the digital economy’s wider impact on society and their own digital skills, the more likely they are to engage with digital products and services. In other words, give people belief in digital and they will be more likely to use digital products and services. There’s not just an ethical case for delivering a digital economy that works for all, there’s a strong business case, too.  For example, a male digital native is fully engaged in terms of what the digital world can offer: shopping online, using apps to take a taxi and streaming music. But he’s also taking actions that, for many businesses, might seem problematic. As the research analysis shows, he’s installing ad blockers, reducing data-sharing and deactivating social media accounts.

This is creating significant implications for brands, businesses and governments in the way they engage with consumers through digital products and services. Increasingly, this means brands will need to find new ways to maximize the value of precious moments of interaction with consumers, moving beyond reach to creating more meaningful moments of engagement.  

How to respond to the new digital needs: The changing needs and awareness of consumers calls for a more balanced and creative approach to engaging people in digital products and services. It is no longer enough for organizations to rely on increasing access and extending the user base — that effort must be matched by innovation in developing a meaningful relationship with consumers. Based on the research analysis, three recommendations each for brands, businesses and governments can be considered:

For brands, traditional demographic approaches to segmenting consumers are insufficient. Looking at customers through the lens of digital needs can help brands find ways to increase positive engagement with digital products and services, as well as help test new services with more skeptical user groups.

Focus on engagement, not reach.  The most valuable consumers are reducing the amount of data shared online, installing ad blockers and limiting their time online. That means working harder to maximize the value of interactions that will often be initiated by consumers themselves.

Help people undertake their own digital detox. Enabling people to have a healthier relationship with digital may mean sacrificing access to data, but over the long-term it will lead to a better relationship based on trust.

For businesses, compete on openness. Transparency around data usage can be a source of differentiation. With misuse of personal data, the number-one driver of distrust in the tech industry today, any business ignores it at their peril.

Make better use of digital skills. Understand the digital skills that your employees have and constantly reimagine work processes and organizational design around the full spectrum of their abilities.

Showcase digital’s societal potential. Promote the ways social impact programs and commercial offerings can help meet people’s needs and wants.

For governments, develop a balanced scorecard of digital development. Metrics should focus on inclusion and trust alongside growth of digital industries.

Give people more control over digital innovation. By involving people in a more deliberative process of debate and discussion, governments can help shape a shared understanding of what is and what is not acceptable in terms of technology development.

Harness technology to enable effective learning. Ongoing training and immersive learning experiences will help leverage skills and unlock the potential of digital technologies.

It’s a common soundbite that what’s good for society is good for business. But it happens to be true. As Tim Andree, executive chairman and CEO of DAN said, “The digital economy gives us the power to be better versions of ourselves. Capitalizing on this means harnessing digital in the right way, with human needs placed squarely at the center. By doing so, we can build better brands, better businesses and a better society. Let’s make it real.”

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com.

DENTSU AEGIS NETWORK DIGITAL SOCIETY INDEX 2019
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