"Unlike the rest of the world, Switzerland is blessed with a very robust and stable economy." This is Sven Ruoss speaking, head of corporate development at a Swiss media company.
"The economy is one of the main reasons for a lack of ambition or a hunger to improve a decent business. We often find Swiss small and medium size businesses to be self-sufficient and content with a limited market share. Of course, there are many creative and ambitious people. But they are not what you associate with the Swiss market when compared to emerging economies."
Finally, Ruoss reveals that more than half of Swiss SMBs still operate offline.
Challenges for the Digital Transformation
This begs the question: How much does an online presence help in generating business? And does a mere presence guarantee more revenue? Then, how does the attitude of Swiss blend in with the latest technology advancements in digital marketing?
For existing Swiss SMBs, there are some basic challenges in going digital. This is especially true for firms that have been in existence for a long period of time:
a. Understanding the digital world
b. Ease with which one can use social media to engage with stakeholders
c. Keeping up with trends and renewing the digital toolkit constantly
d. Time and costs
Skills that are required to understand the digital world are varied. There is no end to learning, and how steep the learning curve is depends on an individual’s willingness.
Digital Natives to the Rescue
Digital business models and e-commerce are not everyone's cup of tea, and this may explain the Swiss SMBs reluctance to opt for digital makeovers. Although there are many DIY tools for websites, the task of creating value adding content is time consuming. This task might even hinder one's functioning of business.
In Switzerland, it has become a common trend to outsource the creation and maintenance of online activities to digital natives. Of course, one must specify the requirements and therein lies the challenge for many of the digital immigrants.
Is the Message Still Clear?
How do you want to visualize your business, and how would you like to find it when you Google your business name? If you were given an opportunity to be physically present and give shape to your online image, would you be interested to do so?
In Switzerland, personal interactions are always valued as they strengthen one's trust with one another. Jimdo, one of many website builder companies, recently invited me to a panel discussion on the "Challenges and opportunities for Swiss SMB's and freelancers in the digital times."
The main talking point were the findings from an independently conducted study by Jimdo and Digital Switzerland. The result: A reluctance of Swiss businesses to go the online route. But that's only half the story!
Giving a Face to the People
During the panel discussion, Jimdo took the opportunity to open their second pop-up store (after Hamburg) here in the Zürich as a part of their customer relations strategy.
According to Christian Springub, co-founder of Jimdo, Switzerland will be one of their main markets as a significant number of SMBs is already using their tool to build websites. The idea behind the pop-up store was to come out of the "bubble" and meet their customers face to face. Truly understanding their requirements would help them optimize the system.
In Switzerland, more Buyers than Sellers
According to a study, Switzerland is ranked well above the European average when it comes to internet usage. However, number of countries with digital presence is lower compared to other European countries.
The online buying behavior of the Swiss is comparatively high and is ranked third in Europe behind Denmark and Great Britain. But, the number of sellers is relatively low and the e-commerce industry primarily focuses on customers within Switzerland. If customers from other countries are supposed to buy from Swiss shops, the factors of currency and cost come into play.
Why Switzerland will be Unfazed about the "Digital Dinosaur" Tag
Irrespective of the advancements in technology and the evolution of communication industry, most businesses in Switzerland rely heavily on the aspect of "recommendations."
The digital divide among people depends on the type of business. Switzerland is a small country, has a well-defined structure and is divided by spoken languages. Most SMBs in Switzerland are walk-in businesses: Salons, kiosks, bakeries, laundromats, florists, diary shops, local pubs and restaurants.
Switzerland is a country that consists of a lot of villages and small towns. Small and medium businesses that originate from these areas cater to the demands of their local community. But a big chunk of these businesses, many of which are family run, were launched when technology was still a novel concept - and in many cases even before that.
Exceptional service providers get noticed in this quality conscious society, and they get recommended by word of mouth.
If one looks at a Swiss phone book or on the information sheets provided to new residents, a lot of service providers are listed with name, phone number - and, in few cases, an email address. This non-digital presence has been successful in meeting clients' needs – until now.
Looking at the trends, however, it might take some time for the digital revolution to take hold with Switzerland's digital dinosaurs.
Revisiting the Strategies
Company founders and digital entrepreneurs in Switzerland should keep in mind that an online presence is a key element to drive business if it is properly integrated in their business plan. A significant share of the marketing budget should be allocated for digital marketing.
How to sum up the digital presence in Swiss businesses? There is a healthy mixture of digital natives, dinosaurs, and outsourcers. As long as market demand and inflation remain under control as they have for ages, there will be a digital divide.
It comes down to individual Swiss SMBs to re-visit their strategies once in a while: An online presence is a "healthy" addition to their more traditional way of doing business.