I like to refer to the challenge of digital transformation as scaling a digital mountain. Some see digital as being so daunting that they barely know where to start. Others approach it much like a rabbit warren with tunnels going in all sorts of directions. The fact is that “digital” is not a destination, but a journey.
Digital transformation inevitably demands that an organization review three fundamental principles:
• the speed of operation
• the relationship with the customer
• the business model
If business must continue to operate in a chronological fashion, underpinned by provable results, the nature of digital has upended some long‐held beliefs. Engulfed by multiple and asynchronous inputs, events and eco‐systems, the head of marketing is faced with the task of setting a strategy in a chaotic space. As much as the new technologies and digital world may contribute to the over‐stimulation and accelerated time scale, the main reason for the de facto chaos is the lack of overall direction.
Teams typically feel overwhelmed by the daily demands of work because of the plethora of choices they face. However, the difficulty is in choosing the right battlegrounds. In this context, brands need an effective compass to define a sharper and more widely shared “North,” to guide them through the surrounding sea change.
Where Is Your North?
All worthy business leaders are making decisions about resource allocation in a strategic manner. The nuance is often in the questions they are asking themselves. These questions will inevitably structure the way they operate. However, with ever more harrowing pressures on short‐term performance and severe time limitations, more often than not these questions slide down into more operational ‘pragmatic’ matters:
• How can we get in more sales this month?
• What new product shall we launch?
• How can I fill a recently vacated post?
• When will my next promotion happen...
But the key question, which takes time to answer and is distinctly more complex, is to figure out the purpose of the brand. And time and again, companies do not allocate the necessary resources to answer this question. Each brand manager needs to understand where is her/his North? The question is, ultimately, about figuring out why the brand exists and how that is different from what is on offer. The question is even more complex when the brand is part of a company with a portfolio of brands (e.g. Maybelline at L’Oreal, or Pantene at P&G).
A brand’s compass need to be calibrated around two defining elements: the brand’s mission and its values. The values – which need to be sculpted in the form of observable behaviors - serve to underpin and explain why the mission is strong and uniquely relevant for the brand and its customers. Even in a corporate world, this may require opening an uncomfortable door: how personal does the brand get?
The Liberating Effect
When a brand’s North is clear, succinct and broadly shared throughout the organization, the real benefit is in being able to distinguish between the need‐to‐have and the nice‐to‐have. Each campaign – whether or not it involves any digital components – is comprised of more‐or‐less integrated and coherent actions. The key is to know where to focus resources, starting with one’s time.
For example, when the marketing team is batting around ideas for how to improve the customer experience, the first issue is figuring out who the priority clients are (hint: hopefully, they are the loyal customers). Then the typical challenge is to know which features need to be removed in order to provide a simple and seamless experience. A typical marketing manager will struggle with this selection. Hence, one finds those overcrowded websites, the contortionist customer journeys and the unfortunately long development times.
If CMOs are so often struggling to chart their path up the digital mountain, I strongly believe that more work needs to be done to craft a brand compass and to identify a strong northerly setting.