21st Century Business

The world is a rapidly changing place for businesses, particularly in a connected world where millennials with changing and different needs than previous generations are becoming the majority in the workforce. Business practices are changing and Cloud, especially, is forcing a change in how businesses operate. The rise of social media and accessibility to customers has opened up new channels for organizations looking to grow new and develop their existing business. How this is leveraged is what I call 21st Century Business.

Key Drivers

Both business and the world are changing. Consumer habits are changing. Society behavior is changing. Consumers are moving away from the traditional avenues of consuming information and entertainment; advertising, television and radio, and physical media are being consumed less and less. Advert-less digital content and on-demand consumption is driving consumers away from traditional channels and, as a result, away from traditional avenues of advertising. Ad-blocking technology and conscious ignorance means that in the digital world individuals are switching off. In a polar effect, marketing overload means that individuals and businesses are unable to find and consume the information they need too – and sometimes that information is not even marketed.

But from this stem new opportunities. The digital age of hyper-connected individuals and social media is creating new openings and new channels of engagement. For businesses to keep up, they need to adopt new practices and new methods of reaching their audiences. The atypical individual and the typical channel no longer exist as they did. Instead, there must be new methods and new channels used to disseminate and consume information.

Key Components – Assets, Actions, and Outcomes

There are some key components that need to be leveraged for 21st Century Business. I call these assets, actions and outcomes. These are summarized below:

  • Assets:
    • Content/Knowledge and expertise
    • Relationships and network
  • Actions:
    • Content creation
    • Content distribution
    • Social media (e.g. blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Outcomes:
    • Engagement
    • Branding
    • Relationships and network

Content is king. Content is a key part of 21st Century Business and requires knowledge and expertise to create that content. But it’s also about sharing that knowledge and expertise. It’s about leveraging social media to distribute this content, knowledge and expertise. Customers are looking more and more to this kind of content to understand the markets, products, and services around them. The Content Grid below is a fine example of where these come into play.

The Content GRid

In his blog Content marketing ROI and that dangerous sales-marketing gap, Jon Reed makes some excellent points that related directly to content creation and distribution in a sales and marketing context. In particular, Jon points out that one of the biggest challenges that companies have is “creating truly memorable content that reinforces brand and expertise.”

I speak to customers on a regular basis that read my blogs and have read the recent book that I co-authored. These blogs are a key source of information and helping them to gain a greater understanding. They consume this type of content on different platforms. But while a blog may be published on a platform (e.g. SAP Community Network or WordPress), they may discover it via a different platform such as LinkedIn or Twitter. They may receive it in an email from a colleague that has found it on one of these platforms.

But it’s not just that they read blogs, Tweets or LinkedIn discussions. They find meaningful content in those blogs. They find critical information and opinions in those Tweets. They can engage with experts and discuss real problems in LinkedIn groups. They can combine all of these in one way or another to obtain value. And they want to engage with those experts to help them educate them specifically in their own context, solve business challenges, or implement solutions.

Key Outcomes – Value, Reach, and Brand

Relationships and networks are formed by creating value, the distribution of that value, and creating a brand through engagement alongside that value. The components of 21st Century Business combine as below to create value, reach and brand which, in turn, create relationships and network:

  • Knowledge & Expertise + Content = Value
  • Social media + Distribution = Reach
  • Value + Reach = Brand
  • Brand + Engagement = Relationships & network

Brands are important, but the days of television and magazine advertising to create brands is becoming a thing of the past. Although this traditional channel still has a great deal of value, for many these are no longer regular activities. Sure, people still watch television programs via Netflix or read digital content on an iPad app, but without the advertising that accompanied the traditional form of these activities then the means to creating a brand is changing.

Relationships are essentially nothing new within business. Relationships can be built off the back of the aforementioned content and distribution. Engagement via social media can help create relationships. Social media may also create one-way relationships that become realized via an in-person meeting or event, or through outreach from a business that needs a service or solution. When a customer has a problem, they can seek the experts online via the content or social media channels that they consume. When you have a problem you can reach out to experts you have networked with.

Once you have relationships and networks then extending the value beyond content and opinion is the next and final step of 21st Century Business. Once you have a recognizable brand then it’s about making inroads into your target audience. If you have proven expertise then there is a real value proposition for doing business. How this is done is based on the market and industry in which the business operates.


Without tying everything together then this is just content creation or content distribution. In order to build a business around 21st Century Business it requires understanding of how to create and distribute targeted content, build a brand, and market that brand to create relationships that can be leveraged. It requires understanding what consumers need and what content to create to meet that need.

The method of creating brands and doing business is changing in the 21st century, hyper-connected, digital world. Content is becoming king and true expertise is needed to forge value-adding content. Only content that provides value will be distributed and so 21st Century Business hinges on experts sharing their knowledge and expertise to the wider community. Over time a brand can be built and this brand will attract the smart customers who need to work with experts. In a way, this is a new method of indirect marketing through a sharing economy. It is the 21st Century way of doing business.