Clement Teo
Nov 2, 2015

The digital command center comes of age

What exactly is a digital command centre? Do you need one, and if so, how should you go about building it? Clement Teo of Forrester Research provides some guidance.

Clement Teo
Clement Teo

In today’s digital world, where customers are highly empowered by information readily available on their digital devices at anytime and anywhere, they can choose to engage with brands at their own convenience at any point within the customer lifecycle. To respond with relevance in real time, marketers must transform batch-oriented and channel-focused campaign-management teams into nimble teams that contribute to the shift toward providing the right digital customer experiences to suit their customers' needs and expectations—especially in a world of proliferating touchpoints.

A digital command centre speeds up time-to-market, aligns with an overarching marketing objective, and realises cost efficiencies in the long term. We define the digital command centre as:

  • An in-house marketing organisational construct that integrates various marketing capabilities under the same roof to drive customer obsession and turn marketing insights into action for growth.

The centre can come in a range of designs, from pop-up centres at major events to permanent rooms that house a roster of staff from product marketing, PR, content/creative, media planning/buying, production, and so on. For an increasing number of CMOs in Asia Pacific, such a centre delivers actionable insights to improve market research, better support customers, and drive sales. Digitally transformed organisations, or those that already have started their digital transformation, will benefit for the following reasons:

  • Better cross-channel collaboration: The digital command centre ensures that a speedy, well-oiled process is in place to leverage combined centralised resources, especially in times of crisis. This was evident in the recent AirAsia Indonesia plane incident, where CEO Tony Fernandes provided updates to the public swiftly on Twitter.
  • Extracting actionable insights from data: The entire marketing team needs to turn data into actionable insights. Lenovo, for instance, built social-media command centres in China, the US, and Singapore to better distill unstructured data about the brand and better understand what customers are discussing. The brand uses social-media listening to uncover 'unknowns' and understand what the consumer is passionate about. With its own social command centre, the team could quickly change or add new topics or themes to drive engagement around campaigns.
  • A long-term cost advantage: Organisations that rely heavily on production find significant cost savings through insourcing such services. CMOs have found that it is cheaper to produce the high volume of production with an internal team than pay an agency markup. In-house teams can take on email, internal video production, and basic web design, as well as social, media planning/buying and content creation to craft long-term cost advantages.
  • A competitive advantage: The command centre gets marketers access to first-party data. Organisations that are able to collect and analyse customer data to further understand their customer segments and organise marketing initiatives will be able to target these specific groups in a relevant and timely manner, including driving personalization to each customer.

Building a digital command centre is a complex endeavour. It requires an organisation to embrace changes to culture and workflow processes. CMOs should look at a phased approach:

  • Pre-build phase: This is where the foundation gets set. Start with a pre-build phase where key processes, organisation, and technology platforms gets aligned and set up. For example, start small with a social media command centre for a single product/brand. This helps provide lessons for improvements. Look at aligning team members to clear brand guidelines, familiarising them with the appropriate levels of approval for social posts and engagement, and instilling them with with the overall content strategy.
  • Test and learn phase: As confidence and capability grows in the pre-build initiative, CMOs can begin to apply what they have tested and learned. Here, CMOs can start to add more functions, such as content marketing and creative services, to construct a command centre. This phase provides a clear business objective where the organisation builds its 'muscle memory' and the data needed to support the business case.
  • The ‘mature digital command centre’ phase: None of the digital command centres we know of in Asia Pacific have reached this phase yet. CMOs should let the digital command centre’s capabilities mature before embarking on this phase. This means ensuring that there is clear ROI to show its value back to senior management, and the centre is fully customer-obsessed in addressing the always-on customer. It’s important to put controls in place to ensure that the digital command centre team stays ahead of the curve and continues to improve based on feedback.

The command centre is a long-term, complex endeavour for leading, digitally transformed (or transforming) organisations. But CMOs who have a clear focus on what the digital command centre can ultimately accomplish will help their firms win, serve and retain customers.

Clement Teo is senior analyst with Forrester Research. He recently authored an in-depth report on this topic, which is available from the research firm.


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