Only brands that understand their consumer and their digital behaviour will be able to reshape their businesses for digital. Matt Green explains how to kick start company-wide change.

Every now and then a new development comes along that changes everything. That was the case with wind, steam, the internal combustion engine and electricity. Now digital is radically reshaping the way we communicate, behave and do business.

We can already see that the emerging digital economy looks quite different to what existed before.

We now live in a world where Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.

The internet is transforming economies and massively disrupting the status quo.

The explosive growth of digital and the smartphone has given rise to a new kind of connected consumer, who has incredibly high expectations in terms of a ‘frictionless’ and integrated customer experience across all channels, off- and online.

This consumer, with a rich composition of the millennial generation, is more likely to trust online strangers above friends and family when making purchase decisions, manages an average of nearly 700 Facebook friends and frankly wouldn’t care if 74% of all brands disappeared off the earth for good.

To put it bluntly, this is not an easy customer to sell to.

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Digital transformation is the process of adopting the behaviours of digital natives, of delivering outstanding digital customer service, of investing in technology and future proofing business models. It’s also the only way to ensure brand relevance in the age of the connected consumer and it’s been identified as a priority by two-thirds of WFA DIGITALFORUM members.

The desire may be there but actually delivering digital transformation is not that simple. Unsurprising, perhaps, given that co-operation between departments, clarity of roles and company culture are the major barriers to digital transformation experienced by members.

Many in the WFA DIGITALFORUM are being asked to take on the role of change-agents, responsible for putting into action all the initiatives required for transformation.

For 62% of members, the key step has been to formalise a company-wide digital transformation programme including dedicated budget and training.

From our discussions on digital transformation, which we’ve conducted in WFA meetings in Paris, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Mexico City and last week in Cannes, a number of key considerations have come forward which apply to these programmes:

  • Digital transformation is not the silver bullet, it’s a process to reshape your business models to ensure you can capitalise on the power and impact of digital.
  • Digital transformation should start with the customer or consumer experience.
  • A clear and company-wide digital strategy shaped around a clear understanding of your consumer’s digital habits and behaviours is critical.
  • Top-down support is vital for budget, timings and staffing requirements.
  • Change doesn’t just happen. The digital transformation team needs to be persistent to rally disparate individuals and departments around the globe.
  • Commit. Commit. If you don’t, your business may succumb to what some in the industry are calling ‘Digital Darwinism’. And as Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, but the one most adaptable to change”.

None of this is easy but all of it is essential.

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