The concept of digital transformation is the current topic both scaring and exciting our clients—they are excited that the world has changed and know that they need to adapt to ensure their often marketing-leading business remains on top. This is digital transformation: moving an analogue business to a digital one and exploiting all of the advantages of digital but doing so while protecting the revenues of an existing, highly successful business.
As part of helping a business transform, we consider how it will look in two-to-three years’ time—how the business will interface with its customers, what services it will provide. In doing so, it is natural to focus on the question “what needs to change?” However, I increasingly believe that this is the wrong starting point. Instead, we should kick off with “what needs to stay the same?”
Looking at digital services today, whether a brand website, an app, or a social feed, it’s striking how similar they all look and feel. I recently looked closely at the digital services of two U.K. cancer charities. These two brilliant charities have different purposes and do different things, but you wouldn’t know it from their websites or social feeds. The talented people who have built these channels have followed the best usability and design practice, making things simple, useful, and inspiring. But have they, or other brands, really spent enough time focusing on what makes the brand special in the first place, why they have always been successful, and why people love them?
Learning from the success of others in digital is important, and remaining number one requires changes to processes, culture, technology, and services. These go to the core of what a business does—for example, many wholesalers such as Unilever and adidas are using digital to become retailers, which is a real difference to their historic business. However, in navigating this change, it is important to focus on what has always differentiated you. In a digital world, what is the difference between a premium shopping experience and a discount one? I am a big fan of Matches Fashion, for example, which has exploited digital to go from a local boutique store in a suburb of London to a significant player in online retail by retaining the premium experience that made its store so successful.
The other organisations I respect have also transformed their businesses for a digital world in a way I recognise. Disney’s MagicBand is quite literally magical, and easyJet was amazing when it launched more than 20 years ago with phone numbers on the side of planes because it made air travel simple and accessible. Its digital presence, whether app or website, still does this. I love the way U.S. department stores are fighting Amazon with click-and-collect, which exploits a physical presence they have built up over decades.
There is a tendency for established businesses to feel threatened or behind the curve, prompting the belief that they need to move fast. But, in a rapidly changing world, you will always be behind the curve when it comes to new tech—it’s the constants at the core of your proposition that differentiate you.
When you begin the process of digital transformation, you should ask what makes you who you are. Of course, you should do a competitive landscape analysis and ask your users what they want. Those exercises are completely relevant, but so is asking: what makes us who we are? If it’s your store network, or your premium reputation, your simplicity, your humour, or anything else that makes you great, then make that your starting point.