Digital First Can Transform Your Business, Make Sure it Isn’t Crippling


Many of the brands I work with operate from a defensive position.  It is inevitable.  If you are not the brand threatening your competition, you are the one being threatened.  But regardless of position or stance, the one thing that can elevate your strategy is understanding the value of digital to your organization.  A device optimized website for B2B organizations and an app for consumer brands are table stakes at this point.  If you aren’t currently managing one or both of these for your business, you’re behind.  Stop reading this post and go light a fire under someone.

Those businesses that are doing it right understand the value of digital to their bottom line in the medium term.  Short term financial wins for most brands are unlikely.  Long term wins though beneficial, don’t meet a level of patience from the business.  Understanding how digital can transform the way you engage with your customers can be the easy part.  The more significant hurdle is determining how digital is going to change your business.  The nature of digital is blurring businesses together.  Is Red Bull an energy drink company, lifestyle company, or a sport company?  The truth is they are all three.  And to compete with any brand blending together media, product and experiences (or any other combination of industry outputs) you have to change the way you do business.  Not just build a website or an app – you have to transform your business.

Many CEO’s know this and are taking the challenge head on, spearheading the effort themselves.  The challenge is that CEO’s aren’t short of tasks within their primary role; so tacking on responsibilities of digital integration often elongates the process to near stalemate.  Some CEO’s hire a Chief Digital Officer; the key word being ‘hire.’  A new role in an organization looking to make transformational change often lacks the mandate to do just that.  Often the role is filled as a checkbox, but never truly operationalized to have the proper authority to affect deep and meaningful change.

For example take a CDO coming into a widget company.  In order to make change they may need access to retail operations, technology systems, packaging, marketing, fulfillment processes and strategic partnerships. The challenge can be, these departments are made up of humans, and humans resist change. Achieving internal buy in is as key a step as any related to a systemic, operational change.  I see brands hiring agencies in hopes that this consensus building process will become a defacto result in an executive sanctioned project.  The result is typically high quality work by the agency without the expected operational result the project sponsor wanted.

The best thing any brand can do is to take a deep breath and determine what value integrating digital has for them.  Perhaps it means higher profits, or simply defending against profit loss.  Brand positioning and loyalty shouldn’t be underestimated either, usually proving longer term ROI.

Key realizations that any company striving to become savvy in today’s digital ecosystem are:

  • Digital isn’t a new department, it’s a common thread throughout an organization
  • Thinking digital first isn’t going to feel comfortable
  • Some of your employees aren’t going to be good at it
  • You are going to get more wrong at first than you will get right; fail fast, pivot faster
  • Digital isn’t for every company; know what you expect before you start tilling the soil

The part of any new opportunity I enjoy the most is hearing how the project being presented to us fits into a larger digital strategy the brand has.  Unfortunately that vision often ends at the description of the project itself.  Being aware of that limitation for both business and agency is an important truth to agree on.  It helps create a shared expectation as well as transparency for what can come next, or, as any strategist will tell you, what needs to happen first.