When the internet made online shopping a phenomenon, companies like Amazon and Google quickly turned consumers' digital data into their biggest competitive advantage. In the process, they became the world's biggest data powerhouses. Much later, when electric car sales doubled worldwide, Volvo opted to be the first established car manufacturer to only sell electric vehicles. That strong push into the 21st century put the company that much closer to an anticipated IPO.

What do these industry giants all have in common? They, and many other companies, have built or expanded on their success by capitalizing on emerging technologies. They assessed technology's implications for their companies, customers, and industries and then adapted their business models accordingly.

What they didn't do was grasp blindly at the newest shiny thing and hope for the best -- and neither should you. Not every new technology is meant to help your company grow, and even ones that can aren't guaranteed to succeed.

In his examination of Volvo's move and its lessons for technology adoption, Nicklas Bergman, speaker and serial tech investor, explains that while you may not be an early adopter of emerging technologies, turning a blind eye to them isn't an option either. As a business leader, you need to stay abreast of new tech and understand how it will impact your business and industry. "Whatever you do, don't ignore it, he cautions. "Ignorance is bliss, but it's not a viable strategic response to new technologies."

To make a technology work, it has to become part of your culture, and therefore you have to get your employees -- as well as your customers -- to buy into it. That means being strategic as you evaluate tech-enabled changes to your business model, from market research to production and operations to consumer engagement. With these three tips, you can use technology to successfully seize new opportunities.

1. Use it to break new ground -- physically or virtually.

The internet opened the world to consumers, and likewise, it made every market across the globe accessible to every startup company in the digital age. The youngest companies can reach international markets at launch or scale up rapidly enough to break into new markets while they're still young.

With the right technology, you can perform extensive research into international markets from halfway around the world, as well as segment your target audiences within each market. Build an expansion strategy that revolves around thoroughly analyzing new markets before you delve into them, and you'll more likely succeed each time you break new ground.

2. Use it to make your online store stand out to customers.

Researching a new market to break into from across the globe is one thing, but actually setting up shop in that market is another. You may not have the resources to build a brick-and-mortar storefront in another country, but you can afford the technology to take your virtual store wherever you wish. For consumers, virtual shopping is even more convenient. They can find your shop, peruse your goods, and make purchases easier, which automatically boosts your brand's value.

That's the theory, anyhow. But how can an e-commerce upstart hope to compete with the Amazons and Alibabas that have gotten there first? The trick is to make the shopping experience fun and entertaining. Tophatter, a mobile marketplace that has received $35 million from investors since launching just six years ago, focused on building its platform with customer entertainment in mind -- letting customers bid on products in a dynamic yet simple, secure, and free-to-join environment. By consciously upping the "fun" quotient of their sites, online store owners can better appeal to the 74 percent of global consumers who say they are happiest online when they're buying something.

3. Use it to focus operations on consumers.

As you use tech to expand your reach, you'll soon realize that you're not the only company doing so. In fact, a 2017 World Economic Forum report predicts that consumers will gain "more choices and control than ever before" over the next decade thanks to mobile and technological expansion. To stand apart in the crowd, use your tech innovations to operate in ways that appeal to consumers' evolving demands.

For instance, while companies are making money hand over fist from consumer data, consumers are starting to penalize that abuse with their wallets. They are demanding more transparency, and designing your business model to provide it to them will generate more lifetime loyalty than any ad campaign.

The introduction of new technology always means that change is inevitable, but that change should be well thought-out and implemented. Embrace the innovation, but don't lose sight of your company's mission -- to build a brand your consumers can trust, no matter where they are.

Published on: Aug 27, 2018