What, why and how: Nailing digital transformation in 2022

It’s no secret that we’ve moved well and truly into a digital world - and that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Digital transformation may seem like a magic elixir for instant success, but you need to know how to do it, and do it well. Lucy Gillman sat down with Think Beyond’s Mercè Cozens on how you can get digital transformation right.

LG: Let’s kick off the interview by going back to the start: what is digital transformation and why is it so important in 2022? 

Digital transformation is about enhancing your digital capabilities so that you can do different things or do them much better. For example, you may invest in a new collaboration tool across your entire business that changes the way everyone works, shares and communicates. For marketing teams, this doesn’t mean swapping out one martech tool for a similar one – it should radically change how you do what you do or what you do.

LG: The pandemic clearly acted as a catalyst for digital transformation. That being said, organisations that didn’t have the necessary measures in place had to cobble together solutions. Is now the time to take stock and look at what tech you’ve got and what needs reassessing?

That’s a funny expression but yes, businesses had to cobble together solutions. We went from working in an office and chatting over lunch to being stuck at home and working through a screen. Some tools took off massively, such as Zoom. Others were controversial, such as productivity monitoring. In marketing teams, many tried tools to get even closer to the customer across digital platforms and communities.

The problem is that this happened so fast without much thought to what people need and how they work. Digital transformation done badly leaves a lasting legacy of issues from suboptimal (or too many) implementations to stressed out employees. Many companies need to think about rationalising their tech stack. 

LG: Digital transformation starts with a question: what tech do you need? How can marketers cut through the clutter and go with the tech that will actually help them?

Before looking at what tech you need, I would do some research into your customer personas and firmographics: Who are you trying to reach? Where do they go to consume content? Next is an audit of the tech stack and what you get from it. From here you get a good picture of how far from or how close you are to your strategy.

Also, remember that there are so many tools that it is unlikely that just one does what you need or one that everyone uses. Unfortunately, many marketing teams have to spend a lot of time juggling different technologies and analytical platforms. A key question must always be, “will this technology help us to do something different or work in a different way?”

LG: What are some of the common hurdles when it comes to digital transformation and what can businesses do to overcome these challenges?

Many businesses fail to realise that the hard work is in the transformation. Simply bolting on a new piece of martech or trying another software tool isn’t transformation. A transformation is a fundamental change to how you do things and that means that your people will go through the change curve at different speeds.

One of the main challenges of the CMO is to balance the resources available against the opportunities available and activities planned. If a new piece of technology is not central to what you are doing, not communicated and integrated into the organisation, it will remain peripheral. If it isn’t managed correctly, it won’t last long before moving onto another software tool. A good place to start is to focus on people, process and technology.

LG: Who’s responsible for digital transformation? Is it simply a 'marketing thing'? Is it marketing operations’ domain? Where does the impetus for change come from?

Digital transformation is usually dependent on the strategic goals of the organisation. Once the goals are established, the board should define the necessary state of the organisation to deliver them. This may involve the transformation of processes using technology.

In some cases, to better align marketing efforts to the needs of customers, the CMO will be the driving force behind technology. Unfortunately, the CMO sometimes spends in isolation from the rest of the business because of the discretionary budget under their control. This misses an opportunity for marketing to spread its influence in the organisation and to be responsible for wider transformation.

LG: How can you ensure senior buy-in for digital transformation? Simply put, does it work if you don’t have that internal support or enthusiasm?

From the top, digital transformation will be almost impossible without senior stakeholder buy-in. Projects won’t get off the ground unless they support the strategic goals of the organisation or tap into researched opportunities. 

From the bottom, it makes digital transformation either difficult to implement or hard to live with after implementation. Martech investments either won’t change the way you do things today or could be resented for making life more difficult. There is also the possibility that the shiny new tool is underutilised because nobody had time to invest in the transformation of processes and roles required.

Getting senior buy-in is never easy. It requires confidence and humility – first to pitch your idea, committing to the project and the benefits, second to accept defeat gracefully if it falls at the first hurdle. If you know that the digital technology fundamentally enhances your business, your way of working and your outcomes, it has a good chance of approval as long as it aligns to the overall strategic goals. The board also needs to show confidence in you to deliver a successful digital transformation – which may or may not be communicated to you. It is worthwhile thinking about your own skillset as well as building the capability around you to enact a successful transformation.

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