Kevin Adema
Kevin Adema 23 March 2017

Digital Transformation Is Trimming The Marketing Fat

Make no mistake: digital is the number one pressing topic for brands and agencies alike as CMO’s worldwide are feeling the pressure to deliver real results.

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken with numerous brand leaders and marketing agency principals on the topics of digital, digital transformation and moreover, digital implementation. Make no mistake: digital is the number one pressing topic for brands and agencies alike as CMO’s worldwide are feeling the pressure to deliver real results.

Thematically, these conversations all weave their way around how to implement digital into existing business marketing practice: into strategy, research, design, copy, customer service, production and so on. 

Albeit, these are good questions, it’s looking at it backwards.

The question isn’t how to weave digital into marketing's existing practice but rather, how to weave the marketing practice into digital?

Digital transformation is exactly that, transformation: changing from one thing into another. Industry giants like Dell, Adobe, IBM and Forrester (to name a few) are all pushing this topic and businesses are beginning to shift serious attention into what’s actually required. How do we radically change what we’re doing: our actions, processes, competencies and operating models all because of digital. 

Look for a moment at the exact definition of Digital Transformation: “the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society” (Wikipedia)

Two key parts to that statement:

  1. The change associated with the application 
  2. In all aspects of human society 

The change associated with the application.

Can I simply do what I used to do but now with digital? Absolutely not. 

In Lankshear and Knobel’s astute work, Digital literacies: concepts, policies and practices, they provide direct guidance to marketers: Digital transformation “may be thought of as the third stage of embracing digital technologies: competency – usage – transformation. The transformation stage means that digital usages inherently enables new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain [marketing], rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods” 

Traditional methods of marketing approached its craft as follows:

  1. What are the overarching business objectives and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
  2. What are the brands in place to satisfy those goals?
  3. What campaigns should we run to promote those brands?
  4. What are the target audience profiles best suited for those brands?

The new method because of the digital transformation demands a new approach:

  1. Who is the customer and what are their fundamental needs?
  2. Where are they engaging digitally / what topics do they find relevant (in context of their needs)
  3. How can we, as a brand, fit into those needs and provide messaging and content to sustain engagement to ultimately help the consumer and bring value?
  4. How do we shape ROI metrics to show brand growth and sales impact

In all aspects of human society

Marketing has and always will be about people. Understanding people, connecting with people and bringing value to people. As marketers harness the digital transformation’s required change, they must not lose sight of the paramount “people-first” truth. 

The end goal (the what) of a marketer remains: bring a consumer or potential consumer into a relationship with a brand for the sake of awareness, engagement, and ultimate conversion.

Because of the digital transformation, the “how” brings us full circle back to our opening points: we are not applying digital into existing marketing practice but rather, we are changing marketing practice because of digital.

Applied directly to today’s marketer, and to serve as a challenge: Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones in their key leadership work titled: “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?” underline how: “the most destructive existing force operating in institutions [marketing] is its efficiencies and capacity to dehumanize people.”

Digital has changed the way marketing is done. You can’t simply apply digital to old practices. You have to change your practices because of digital.

Digital has also reminded marketers of their central goal: a concentrated effort to “humanize” the brand and establish a relationship of trust.

The digital transformation is here. Marketers are faced with an enormous (yet challenging) choice:

  1. They can play a pivotal role in the digital transformation by seizing the unique opportunity to weave the consumer journey in with the operational overhaul or,
  2. They’ll watch the transformation happen and be trimmed away. 


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