What does it mean to become digital?


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Marketers across the spectrum are struggling with this question not only for their brands but for their entire companies. The challenges faced by CMO’s have increased by a factor of 100X over the past decade as they grapple with the reality that they are no longer in charge of their brands and the advancement of digital technologies could render them as laggards to new entrants at a moments notice. All that said, I think this is a tremendously exciting time for brands to innovate and develop relationships with their customers in ways like never before. But to do so means that CMO’s and brand marketers must not just reengineer who they are what their product is but have to reimagine not just how to do so today but how they do what they do 3 years into the future.

The following is a synopsis from a great article from Strategy+ Business that I consider a must read for all brand marketers and those across the ecosystem from agencies, suppliers, and developers who will or hope to continue helping brands continue to relevant in the lives of consumers.

To realize the digital potential of your business, bring the dynamics of a startup to scale.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

What does it mean to become digital? Companies in all industries are building online businesses, enabling new customer experiences, experimenting with “big data,” and seeking advantage in a digitally enabled business environment. They have tried reengineering their practices; they have set up new technological platforms for customer engagement and back-office efficiency. But these efforts have not yet had the impact that they should. Instead of reengineering, they need reimagining. They need to conceive of their business freshly, in line with the capabilities that digital and business technologies can give them, connecting to customers in ways that have not been possible before.

Reimagining your business means creating many of the conditions of a startup—the sense of freedom, flexibility, and creativity—but at the scale and with the discipline of a large enterprise. You bring together cross-functional teams who can ideate, bring to life, and execute a truly digital user experience. You take a customer-centric approach to everything your company does—including innovation, user experience (UX) design, marketing, promotions, sales, operations, and customer service. You convey a distinctive brand identity and emotional connection that’s present in storefronts, websites, smartphones, connected devices such as high-tech fitness wristbands—and forms of interaction still being conceived. You use big data and analytics in all their forms to deploy insights from customers in real time, designing and marketing products and services that respond instantly after sensing and analyzing what people do online (and off). Reimagining your business also means continually measuring and testing the impact of these products and services, and learning from the results.

In the digital world, time really is money. Companies no longer have the luxury of carefully developing requirements for new products and services or for bureaucratic stage-gate approval processes. Nor can your digital presence be bolted onto your company’s current way of operating. Instead, it must be a natural reinforcement of your company’s brand, its positioning in the market, its core value proposition, and the capabilities you already have. The digital presence must also be a viable contributor to the business, with significant revenues and profits accruing almost from Day One.

Admittedly, the first steps in this transition aren’t easy. Becoming digital requires a new way of thinking. Moreover, the exact set of capabilities needed to get there will vary from company to company. Nike Inc.’s direct engagement of consumers, linked closely to the development of new apparel and fitness-related devices, involves a completely different approach from Aetna Inc.’s rethinking of its patient and customer experiences. But there are five basic principles of digitization that any company can follow to help reimagine its business and drive growth: Empathize with end-users, expand the brand and the value proposition, design for three years out (but build for today), build new structures and teams, and use digital  technology to energize your culture.

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