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Why Your Company Failed at Digital Transformation

The Influencers 631 Add to collection

INFLUENCER: It’s time to stop talking about digital transformation and start focusing on the task it implies, says Wunderman Thompson New York's Helder Santo

Why Your Company Failed at Digital Transformation

It’s quite possible that this will be the last article you’ll ever read on digital transformation. Ok, that may be a stretch, but hear me out. 

Clients today have a topline ask in meetings: How can we as an agency help them with digital transformation? The problem, from my standpoint, is that this gets the conversation off on the wrong foot. The ask itself is often generic and void of any real objective. It allows you to think that the central challenge today is somehow to get ahead of technology, to incorporate things like data and AI, and magically change your customer experience for the better - and hopefully without changing too much yourself.

This is a fallacy. The number-one mistake businesses make with digital transformation is putting too much emphasis on the word 'digital'. That makes the process sound somehow mystifying (and magically allows vendors to sell you things you only partly understand). Rather than grappling with true transformation, you instead focus on automation and personalisation, which is another way of saying 'segmentation'.

For many companies, the real challenge is different. It’s about organising your company around the consumer. To do this, we have to embrace a few principles:

The consumer is your starting line. Transformation is not a magic button. It’s a process of changing your organisation to reflect consumer wants and needs, rather than solely your own efficiencies. That requires you to look at your specific customer journey and understand what activities you need to coordinate across it. It’s about who needs to be talking to whom, and how to get them aligned and talking from the same script. 

No two companies transform equally. One of the problems with reading a case study about digital transformation is that it almost certainly does not apply to you. You need your own plan and your own path to progress. If someone is promising you a silver bullet without looking at your customers and their needs, they’re starting in the wrong place. While you can certainly find analogous situations in your industry, when it comes to the nitty-gritty, everyone is in a category of one. 

Transformation is not a switch, it’s a dial. In marketing, we’re used to campaigns, whether we admit it or not. We like projects that we can complete and tasks that we can assign to someone. But since organisations are not easy to change, and customers are continually evolving, transformation is more an adaptation of a mindset than a job to be done. It’s not only a task that is never going to be finished, but a process where a company continually reacts to what data is telling them. 

It’s data-driven, but thoughtful. Of course, data is central to transformation - it is how we understand customers and what they need - and how we reach them across a fractured media landscape. But data can become a cult unto itself, and when it does, it becomes less valuable. Instead, you need to be very intentional about what you want from data. In a transformed organisation, data does not drive towards conversion or make good on company objectives. Instead, it needs to be in the service of the customer first and help the brand only in so far as better experiences drive better business outcomes.

It’s time to stop talking about digital transformation and start focusing on the task it implies. Consumers today are connected and aspiring to achieve higher goals. Brands need to support them with better and more convenient experiences - and evolve with customers as they grow and change. 

Above all, no one completes the transformation process. Like a kid out of college, transformation has come to live with us and will likely stay much longer than we think. And that’s a welcome challenge to those who are prepared for it.



Helder Santo is chief client officer at Wunderman Thompson New York

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Wunderman Thompson New York, Thu, 08 Aug 2019 07:36:09 GMT