Back in 2016 Anatoly Roytman, MD at Accenture Interactive Europe, Africa, Middle East & Latin America, said: “Meeting customer expectations is by no means a small achievement… Customer expectations are changing faster than ever and what people learn to love in one industry increasingly defines what they expect in other areas. It’s now your customer who’s setting the bar, not the competitor.”

And this still holds true in today’s digital landscape.

Every time we are asked to help news organisations with their digital transformation, we are met with their unwavering belief that they should develop technology themselves. No matter how small the news organisation is, they still think that having their own app, their own CMS, their own website and editorial system is crucial in the challenge of reaching their audience. And while this is often true (at least to some extent) what they tend to forget is that their customers also visit other websites, have multiple apps on their smartphones and make use of ‘big brand’ tech: streaming services such as HBO, Netflix and Spotify but also tech services like Airbnb, eBay, Google Play and Uber.

Why’s this relevant? Well, because they come into contact with this state-of-the-art technology when they use these day-to-day apps and tools, they also take those expectations with them with every subsequent functionality that is offered to them, whether it is an online shop, a website or - yes - a news app.

it’s now your customer who’s setting the bar, not the competitor

Think how frustrating it is when you have to schedule an appointment through your child's non-responsive school website on your mobile phone. You raise your hands to the sky and scream to the tech gods-on-high how on earth it’s possible for such bad tech to still exist. We’ve been spoiled by Netflix and their ilk: the audience expects everything to be as seamless and UX-friendly.

The great shift pt 3 - expectation curve

And this is exactly where it starts to become tricky.

Big tech companies spend millions of dollars to keep their functionalities and services top notch. They have developers and system operators who work day and night to make sure the product evolves but also always performs. They have vast budgets to support these people who work in-house and solely on this very specific technology. They understand that servicing such tech comes with a price. They know that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.

Just not a horse

Smaller tech companies (or, for the sake of argument, news organisations) usually don’t have these budgets, and nor do they have the people and/or the talents to be able to live up to the industry standards that the audience expects.

And, as a result, these smaller companies reach out to tech bureaus, agencies and outsourced development teams in order to get their technology wishes realised. They have a desired goal (though usually not the necessary budget to realise it) and they go into a project.

What actually happens is they build something best referred to as a ‘donkey’: it looks like a horse, it acts like a horse, it even smells like a horse - but it is NOT a horse.

And that’s exactly what your audience is thinking and feeling. Even worse, they will tell others that it’s not a horse. The real pain in this is that these bureaus, agencies and outsources teams put all your desires (optimisations, bugs, need-to-fix-wishes etc) on their roadmap and you don’t have any (or at least too little) power to make sure it gets the attention it needs. And that’s where the vulnerability lies. And that’s also exactly where you are at a great disadvantage to the big tech companies. Just not a horse.

companies must ask themselves if they are a platform or a plug in

It brings us back to Part I of this ‘Great Shift Trilogy’ as well. Companies must ask themselves if they are a platform or a plug in. And this goes for their tech as well.

Maybe, when it comes to technology, it’s a lot smarter to re-use the industry standard. You can white-label it, and make sure your audience gets the optimum experience. Creating your own is fraught with risk, and may see you relying on something that doesn’t quite deliver what you need. The risk is that if this is the case, it will harm your brand and eventually your audience will turn their backs on you. And, even if you manage to hit the jackpot and release a superlative app into the world at the first release, it doesn’t end there.

You’re still going to need to add things to the app you may not have thought of, respond to UX feedback and behavioural analytics findings. Even if you’re a wunderkind, you’ll still need to continue servicing it - and do you have the budget, expertise and support for that?

And, if you have that killer feature it won’t be long before other outlets - the big ones with the state-of-the-art in-house tech - will add your paradigm-shifting feature to their platforms faster than you can say ‘blueberry pie’ (Thanks, Pulp Fiction).

Before you know it, you’ll have lost any advantage you might have had. They have the ability to outrun you because they have the budgets and means to support their technology - and a dedicated team of system engineers and developers keeping an eye on the performance of the platforms twenty-four-seven.

So, consider this advice. If you are a small media or news organisation and you want to compete with the big boys and girls out there in the digital domain, ask yourself if you have the power, the will, the focus, the budget, the people, and the know-how to continuously support and innovate your online platforms and technology.

If the answer to one or more of these items is ‘NO’ then we suggest you invest in buying existing, proven technology that also services the necessary support. We literally spend all our time working on this kind of tech so you don’t have to. It saves you money (and headaches!) and it gives you time and opportunity to start making content that is so smashingly good that your audience starts to talk about that! This is how you make every story count: you do what you excel at, and you get tech support to help you optimise that, so it doesn’t eat into your precious creative time.