“Have a little courage, that’s all.” – The Cowardly Lion.

Having recently relocated to offices in South Bethlehem, we are fortunate to start each day with a majestic view of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, which is now the Steel Stacks  and Sands Casino. I can’t help but think about the great and powerful company that used to occupy this land, an industry titan for 140 years that once dominated not just Pennsylvania, but the entire country. Bethlehem Steel was brought down by a number of factors, including inexpensive steel imports and labor problems, but also importantly a failure to innovate and embrace technology. That’s a well-documented story, but it doesn’t end there.

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Despite the closing of its local operations the company reduced its impact on the Lehigh Valley by converting the land into a cultural, recreational entertainment and retail site now called Bethlehem Works, an essential part of the resurgence of the Lehigh Valley. Perhaps symbolically, the plant’s five blast furnaces have been left standing, a reminder that today’s leaders are at a similar crossroads, where you can’t wait for the scarecrow to tell you where to go and standing in place is not an option.

In the most disruptive era since the industrial revolution, which shaped manufacturing in America and eventually gave rise to great and powerful companies who dictated terms to their customers (“you can have any color you want, as long as it is black”), execs are recognizing that in today’s technology-driven world, customers have flipped the script. What does that mean? Your “one-way” marketing plan; the one that relies on a 30-second TV spot, a self-serving press release and a generic Tweet once a week isn’t going to help you ease on down the road.

At this very moment your brand is being observed, researched, assessed, critiqued, and talked about by consumers and clients, and chances are you have little or no part in the conversation. It’s no use clicking your heels together and wishing things would go back to the old days. Social media and digital communication are here to stay. They are not just tools to facilitate communication; they are shaping our culture, our attitudes and our daily habits; how we think, how we share, how we buy. And it’s all being driven by ordinary people, otherwise known as your customers.

Consider this: over 100 hours of content is added to YouTube every minute of every day. Over 167 million consumers – in the US alone – use Facebook, and more than 50 million people joined Instagram – in the past six months! Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals. And the ubiquity of smart phones and tablets gives people access 24/7, wherever they live, work, or play.

The good news is that many CEO’s have finally realized that social and digital media are platforms they need to embrace. In a 2012 IBM study, CEO’s unanimously agreed that technology is the top external force impacting them today (vs # 6 in 2004), ahead of people skills and market factors and the economy, and a full 71% of CEO’s realize that the world has changed and that technology is a great enabler. Imagine how they’ll feel when they realize that analysis of the content that customers create and consume can reveal as much about their target audience as any traditional market research they’ve conducted.

CEO’s have been put an interesting position where it is essential to learn while they lead. That takes a higher level of collaboration with staff and partners than ever before.  But another factor is inertia or fear of change. People (and companies) won’t change until the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of change. As my view of Bethlehem Steel reminds us, that’s too late!

But getting up to speed and making the necessary changes to embrace technology is much easier than you think. Don’t know what RFID technology is; have no idea what bounce rate is acceptable: don’t know the value of responsive web design? That’s okay, bring in someone who does. Bring in the right talent.

Contrary to what you might think, the right talent is not a team of asocial tech wizards, hidden behind a curtain. The right talent is multifaceted, marketing and tech savvy, personable, and able to work together with your team. The right talent/team will be business experts who understand the big picture. The right talent will know enough about your industry, products, customers and competitors to harvest true insights and develop actionable ideas that can inform product decisions, creative strategies and marketing campaigns. The right talent will understand how to combine online and digital technology with offline methods and traditional media.

At Ignite2X, we pride ourselves in bridging the divide between digital and traditional marketing. We build integrated business relationships where strategy, creativity and technology work together – all in a collaborative environment with a winning culture that leads to innovation.

The new frontier you seek is not over the rainbow; it’s right under your feet. It might take a little nerve, but now is the time to follow your heart and create a team that will help you leverage your assets, add intelligence and harness the power of new technology and media to grow and win. It all begins with the right talent, those willing to change the game to give every bit of data its bite and deliver solutions, campaigns and results with insights, creativity and technology.