…so according to current stats the UK economy is more Internet-based than any other in the G20. As if to underline this, UK advertising spend online is about to overtake other media. Web-based business is bigger than healthcare, bigger than sex or chocolate, which the report (from Boston Consulting Group) shows most people would give up, if only to stay online.
And that’s very nice for Internet entrepreneurs. But even speaking as a web-based person working for a web-enabled business, it’s a sign that we need to think seriously about how our economy works.
Because of our mix of clients (B2B, B2C, with a vast range of industry experience, public service, NGO and others among them) we get a nice macro view. That doesn’t give us any special insight but it does give us a ‘real world perspective’ – which is that we need an economy where manufacturers, producers and strong service providers are creating the majority of the wealth.
What are the positives? Well, that the UK consumer sector is alive and relatively well. But in an environment where high street retailers are struggling, this simply tells us what we knew: that we all (as consumers, we all think in similar ways) like shopping that doesn’t take us away from the sofa.
The problem is that the Internet is not in itself a ‘sector’. It’s not tertiary, quaternary or anything else – it’s a channel. Once a channel becomes the fastest growing element of your economy, it’s time to pay attention to how that economy works at a fundamental level to get it back in balance. Or use the channel to encourage growth elsewhere.
The UK still has tremendous innovative skills in production, manufacturing, skills, the ideas economy (the quaternary sector). We haven’t lost those skills and innovation focus. What’s happened is that as well as an external brain drain, other sectors have been easier to develop, and have siphoned off innovators (effectively, since the dotcom boom we’ve had an internal brain drain as well). And most people’s lives have become divorced from the physical reality of production as our primary and secondary industries have declined.
But those skills need development and nurturing: we need to maintain ownership of them. That means investment in manufacture and engineering, new attention to our service culture to get it back where it was. That means new economic partnerships to enable us to contribute to mass production and service effectively; it also means a proper partnership between industrial sectors, channels and of course the communicators who make them effective.
Useful partnerships between manufacturing and online channels include Make It, the UK Manufacturing promotion campaign – aiming at re-energising the sector by illustrating its relevance to today. James Dyson’s call for schools to teach engineering represents another call to action. And there’s strong evidence that as a breed, manufacturers are boxing clever now in a way they haven’t for some time.
But we need more.
And our role is to help that process by communicating the need and desire to retain expertise and create a real industrial strength again; aid the drive for innovation, reach deeper with the messages that connect it with life as it’s lived now, and like Lenin in 1917, show that no matter how virtual our economy is at the moment, we need to think about “Peace, Bread, Land” and what it means today.