It is very interesting to work with different brands and discuss with them how they embrace digital within their strategy.
Digital is creating a tsunami in most organizations and most of them still don’t exactly know how to handle it.
For years, we’ve been talking about “social media strategy” and then “digital strategy,” but as the markets are becoming more mature, we now talk about “digital transformation”.
From a silo, where digital was left as a standalone activity, it has become a transformation tool. This is not only rhetoric, but also a deep change of the perception of digital.
Several years ago, when people explained that a Digital team should disappear, some people would disagree. Nowadays, however, it is an accepted fact that the Digital Team is essentially just a “Digital Acceleration” unit.
The larger the group is, the more complicated it is.
As I was at the Adobe Summit 2014 EMEA, I had the chance to discuss with brilliant mind about this ‘digital transformation,’ including Pete Blackshaw (head of Digital at Nestle), Mark Phibbs (vice president of marketing EMEA at Adobe), Lucio Adrian Ruiz (head of Digital at the Vatican) and David Edelman (partner at McKinsey).
Here is what I learned:
1. Define a vision in order to create a common accepted belief
When discussing with Digital Directors, it is obvious that having a proper vision for digital is challenging.
The digital fracture is mostly at the executive committee level, which needs to understand the real business impact of Digital.
Obviously it’s not about feeling there is one single path nor that it is an obligation to go digital when you don’t want to. However, it is important to really understand how the company could leverage digital.
Without a vision, one might very easily open a Facebook page because you need to be on “social media” or to create an Iphone app because you need an app…. Those are barely relevant as you try to solve new problems with old schemes and without really understanding the motivation behind the tools.
However, it is very difficult — not to say impossible — to motivate a whole team without this strong vision.
Then, the companies need to harmonize the integration and there could be huge differences between services, hierarchy, countries or even brands in the understanding of what digital should be aiming to accomplish.
Sometimes you meet people that don’t even want to be convinced.
2. More than a tool, Digital is mostly a mindset
Even for the so-called “experts,” it is impossible to keep up with every single evolution connected to the digital world. Nonetheless, it is very easy to notice each time that an industry is disrupted, it is mostly by someone that has worked within the digital world (think of Nest, Airbnb or Uber…).
They aren’t smarter people; but, they have a different mindset that places the consumer at the center.
Very few companies are very consumer centric; but, the digital force you to become more so.
It is impossible to fight against a product/service that is frictionless for the consumer.
You do not need to use digital at all times, but always be focused on: How can I be more consumer oriented?
Customer centricity is connected to the way the company is organized, to the job descriptions; but, also simply to the schemas used internally in order to define the strategy.
Any person within an organization might call him or herself “consumer focused,” but the truth is that people are centered first and foremost on their own careers, then on their boss (still connected to their career), then their colleagues and, maybe then, on the consumer.
One doesn’t take unnecessary risks for one’s career even though this could be better for consumers. One rarely thinks long-term. A typical marketing profile wants to be able to announce tremendous short-term results, such as how he/she created a super viral campaign.
Forrester Research pointed out in one of its studies that most companies don’t have any organized process to improve the consumer experience.
Some countries like the U.S. have a different culture when it comes to consumer service.
Meanwhile, in France, many companies will consider customers only as a cost and are trying to reduce these costs as much as possible.
This is counter to the U.S. companies where the consumer is king.
This is a deep cultural truth that is very complicated to change; but, in the end, generating business should be a consequence, not an objective.
As a matter of fact, to implement such a change, companies will have to make important efforts, i.e. by changing the job descriptions or by evolving the targeted objectives or adapting the means to get there.
As soon as employees consider digital (or ideally the service to the consumer) as a necessary step in their own evolution, then they will consider it differently.
There are some companies that give a bonus to employees that have created initiatives to improve the consumer’s life – whether they are directly connected to the consumer or not in their daily job.
In this way, you can be “consumer centric” and be an accountant.
3. Marketing is at the core of the consumer-centric enterprise
David Edelman made the point very clear that to be consumer-centric it is necessary to place the marketing at the center of the digital transformation.
Even though it is not always the case, marketing is supposed to be totally consumer driven.
When it comes to breaking down the silos, to think about the global consumer experience, marketing could take a more important role than the one it has today.
Not to say that each and every case isn’t specific.
As a corollary to the fact that the company focuses on its consumers, data analysis — also known as “Big Data” — is growing exponentially and gives a new dimension to marketing.
Now it is common to hear: ”if you don’t understand data, you’re a bad consumer ”.
With data analysis, jobs are evolving.
Therefore, it is also about knowing where to position data analysis in the company; and also to ensure its proper use.
In order to go in that direction, companies such as Adobe are creating software to help marketers to face these new data analysis needs.
Afterwards, digital can improve pretty much anything: TV advertising, retail experience, recruitment….
Moreover, positions such as “Customer Experience Director” are appearing in some companies. This position should be connected to the C.E.O. and participate to the executive committee to ensure he/she will be able to work on any aspect of the consumer journey.
4. An urgent need to go back to basics
As a matter of fact, such a moving environment can be scary and it seems logical to wonder how to be successful.
Digital is not such a marketing revolution, but rather demands a return to the basics.
It means understanding the sense of purpose of the brand, but also its values. Not the values that have been defined by an agency or through studies, but the core values – those which primarily enable the company to rise and succeed.
When you’re lost, you should always consider going back to the foundations of your brands as this will allow you to better decide whether such or such an innovation is aligned with your values and sense of purpose.
5. Changing the work process
If digital is such a game changer, it is also because it requires one to be fast and agile.
As Peter Blackshaw from Nestle points out, one of the most challenging aspects of Digital is to make a huge organization more agile and fluid in its decision-making process.
In other words: how to bring a “start-up” mindset in the company.
It also means to integrate failure as a necessary path to innovate and to create small and fast teams.
Bureaucracy, internal politics and so on too often kill good ideas….
In order to facilitate the implementation of the digital mindset, groups such as l’Oréal or Nestlé organize hackathons, as they help employees to understand that in a very short time, they can get amazing results when working together with the right persons.
Peter Blackshaw talks about handling tension and not always solving them.
What is interesting, again, is the fact that data will help you to reduce the risk and take better decisions.
Data mark the end of the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person Opinion) concept.
Digital tools are very expensive to implement, but can generate huge savings in terms of learning, collaboration, homework, crisis management, better understanding of the consumers…
6. The necessary steps to a digital transformation
1. A clear vision and leadership aimed at improving the consumer experience
2. A shared vision by all employees who need to understand what is their new role on this chess board
3. A restructuration of the organization and the way people work together
4. Going back to basics in order to structure the future of the company
5. Innovation to serve a better customer experience
I would also add a 6th step, which is to build an iterative model of continuous improvement when it comes to designing and executing the consumer experience.