Mar 242012
even the biggest businesses can die if they don't understand the world around them

The last week has seen some interesting changes in the local online business community.

Embattled department store David Jones’ announced they are following Harvey Norman into an “omni channel strategy”.

Harvey Norman chief executive in turn appeared on national television to state the “internet drives no sales.”

In the political field, it was reported the Australian Labor Party are looking at using Blue State Digital tools to counter voter and member apathy.

Each one in it’s own way illustrates how organisations can be distracted by shiny new technology while ignoring much deeper problems.

In the case of David Jones, the department store ignored their core competencies and tried to ape their down market competitors in milking the financial services cow.

This worked fine while they could offer 24 and 36 month interest free deals and as soon as their partners American Express started charging a monthly “Administration Fee” that business evaporated.

One of DJ’s down market competitors is Harvey Norman, co-founder Gerry Harvey has spent his life building a fortune based upon providing cheap credit to consumers.

It was always going to be a mistake for DJs to compete with Harvey’s as Gerry is far better at the business than the well connected, genteel board of David Jones and their snappily dressed friends in the store’s executive suite.

Worse for DJs, the whole strategy alienated their core markets and while management focused on financial services customers went elsewhere to find the quality goods and services that the upmarket department store should be providing.

For both though, the financial services business model is now fading as the 20th Century debt supercycle comes to an end; consumers no longer want to load up on “buy now, pay later” schemes.

So all the talk of “omni-channel strategies” really doesn’t address the underlying weaknesses in both business.

This disconnect with reality is true in politics as well where the ALP is reported to be considering using the Red State Digital tools that Barak Obama used so well in his 2008 US Presidential campaign.

While the tools are impressive, they don’t address the problem that the electorate – and the member bases of the major political parties – have become rightly disillusioned and disconnected from the political processes that exclude everyone except an increasingly smaller circle of cronies and insiders.

The only good thing that will come of using US political communications tools in the spectacular eruption the first time one of the ALP’s factional warlords encounters a grass roots online campaign like The Great Schlep.

Heck, the resulting furore might even see some of the apparatchiks distracted from partying and whoring on their union credit cards for a day or two.

All the frivolity aside, the reality for the Australian Labor Party, David Jones and Harvey Norman is their problems are far deeper than a well designed website and impeccably executed social media strategy can fix. These organisations need major rethinks about how and why they exist.

It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at the web or how effective your social media strategy is – if the foundations of a business are shaky then a nice “omni-channel strategy” aren’t going to fix things.

For some of organisations, a failure to embrace the online world may be one of the causes for their problems, for many though there are far more basic issues they need to address.

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