In the past two decades, the digital landscape has grown from an interesting niche channel for geeks to the most powerful driver of financial growth for most brands and industries. Yet, many brands still haven't been able to capitalise on the digital culture in an effective way.
There could be many reasons for this. They may not have gotten around to it yet. The brand could be generic in nature. The product doesn’t represent a considered purchase. Or it is a brand that is targeted at an older demographic. It could be a product that can only be sold through professional channels. The company could be too small. Or too big. They could be planning to go through the transformation soon. They may have had too little budget to invest in it. They may have a CEO who doesn't see the point. They could have competitors who have already cornered the digital part of the market. Or no one in their industry has really gone digital, so there's no pressure. They could have a very successful traditional advertising presence, and not see the need.
Let's see, am I leaving any excuses out? Ah, yes, there are those who have added digital communications to their portfolio, and feel that's enough. But they may not have taken full advantage of the opportunities that lie in a digital-centric market approach. Or they’ve created an e-commerce solution, without anchoring it in an end-to-end digital implementation plan. I am sure there are more good reasons. Whatever your excuse is, it's time to make a change. Your competitors won't rest on their laurels. No one will wait for you to catch up. No consumer or professional buyer will give any leeway. If you don’t make the digital transformation now, you will lose out.
Please don't give up, it's not too late
There are still available strategies in your industry or category. There are still opportunities for those who realise that a digital-driven holistic approach is the most profitable way to go. And there are certainly events, technologies and ideas in the future that you can capitalise on in the digital space.
The reasons for digital transformation are many. And as long as there is a gap in the market, you can build digital strategies that will outperform your old business model. Depending on the category you’re in, you have a window of a couple of years maximum to make the change. If you choose not to do anything, your competitors (current or new disruptive players) will take advantage. And your customers will move on. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Kodak. Or travel agents. Or record companies. Or bookstores. With digital you can only embrace it fully and wholeheartedly for it to work; there is no halfway to success. Clinging to old paradigms is guaranteed to work against your business objectives.
The beauty of a digital transformation, done properly, is that it lays the foundation for the future of your business. It provides you with a pathway and a compass to adapt to new technologies. It lets you incorporate digital creativity in a relevant way, and it allows you to speak to your customers in the way that works for them—not only for you.
A digital transformation strategy is, as any business strategy should be, a “living being” that adapts to the environment, allows for unforeseen changes (in technology, in culture, in financial situation) and grows together with your ambitions. It should define a set of digital cultural values for your business that reflect what your brand stands for, and how it relates to the people you are trying to reach.
Clearly, this can’t be far off from what your brand already stands for. But it is possible to find a role in digital that complements the characteristics of your brand, but still allows you to engage in different ways through your digital activities.
And of course, most importantly, a digital transformation is an opportunity to find incremental revenue for your business, to reduce cost and to grow steadily over time—pretty much the goal for any viable business.
Where to start
How do you approach a digital transformation? Well, the first thing to do in any strategic process (and in life in general) is always to listen first. Don’t talk, don’t do, just listen. Listen to your customers. Listen to your target audience. Listen to what people are saying in social media (but add a sense of realism to what you hear). Listen to your staff. Listen to your retailers. Listen to your customer-service centre. Listen to your gut feeling. Listen to your founders (even if they’re not around anymore, think what they would have done facing a new marketplace).
The rest of the process depends on your industry, your target audiences, your ambitions and your organisation. The important thing is to keep and open mind and build a strategy that is, if not futureproof (which is impossible), easily adaptable to whatever your market throws at you.
Listen to good advisors. In fact, to facilitate this process, you probably need some help. Find advisors who not only understand the digital space but also can relate to your core business strategy and build new strategies on your vision. What you really need is fewer partners who understand more. Anyone who preaches digital to you, without offering a channel-neutral approach, should be asked to leave.
A digital transformation is not about marketing or IT for that matter. It’s not about big data or programmatic buying. It’s not about banner advertising or search or retargeting. It’s not about a string of viral videos. It’s not building a new responsive HTML5 parallax website or a cloud-based service for your customers or even moving your store from the physical to an e-commerce site. It’s not having a branded app on your phone (or on the Apple Watch).
It’s actually not just about digital. It’s a complete review of your entire business in a digital context. And as most paradigm-changing decisions, it must come from the top—and must be driven by collaboration.
All you have to do is to get started. So if you are done making excuses, I believe you have some work to do!
Erik Ingvoldstad is managing director of Acoustic, based in Singapore and part of The North Alliance. You can follow him on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR