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Digital Transformation for Dummies

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Techdept's chief executive officer Dan Kirby.

In marketing circles, the buzz-phrase of the year has undoubtedly been ‘Digital Transformation’.

This is important because clients not only have digital agencies offering to do this, but now also big management consultancies. And it’s not surprising, the world is on the cusp of a third industrial revolution, an information economy where data and connectivity beat bricks and mortar. How else do you explain the value of Uber and Airbnb when they don’t actually own the product they sell?

In the future every business will be, at least partially, a digital business. That’s because everything is now mediated by software: your web browser, your email client, your Google Analytics, your email marketing. And that’s just the basics. So getting to grips with the digital change in the world is critical for everyone today.

In this article we’ll explain how you can get started with three simple steps.

Open your mind

If you work in marketing you probably didn’t do a computer science, data science, or mathematics degree. But that doesn’t mean you can’t understand it.

Ogilvy Lab’s Gemma Milne said at Cannes Lions Innovation 2015 that “we close our minds before we let them be blown”. She was speaking about our relationship with mathematics, but this equally applies to digital. That’s because people often revert to the defence “I can’t understand it because I’m not technical”. Yet often they are simply describing a new concept that they have yet to grasp.

Start to understand digital lingo by reading blogs, watching videos, listening to podcasts. Make friends with some techies (check out local Meetup groups, and don’t worry they won’t bite!). Join an organisation like the MTA.

Focus on customer experience

In a piece commissioned by Accenture and published in November this year, Forrester Research found that the past five years have seen the start of “The Age Of The Customer”, and that customer experience design should be at the heart of digital transformation.

This is echoed in the insights of others - such as Gartner - who have similar conclusions about the centrality of customer experience. As marketers we are good at getting to know the customer, yet you can bolster your existing skills with insights from Silicon Valley.

Legendary tech investor Dave McClure says if you pitch to him for money he wants to know 3 things: who’s your customer, what problem do you fix for them, and what are the metrics that prove it will work. The first two are great questions to ask for any brand. Think what problems you can solve, even if they aren’t “traditional” in your industry - you may need to disrupt yourself to stay ahead.

Use empathy to connect with your customers in new ways. What is your purpose to people, how can you better serve them? Who are they, really? What are their lives like? What are their hopes, their fears? What are they trying to do?Jobs To Be Done? How do they use technology? What might you do to make their life better?

Play!

Starting small is more realistic and achievable than trying to architect an all-encompassing Grand Plan For The Future. Remember, the future never arrives...

A good starting point is to play with technology. Try something new and have some fun. Set up a secret account and play around, get your friends involved. You can’t begin to consider the implications of a new technology for your organisation until you know what it’s like. You’ll never find that out by going to conferences or reading reviews.

Experiment with what you already have. You don’t need to trash everything your organisation already does. You probably already have a valuable set of assets and you’ll certainly have people with ideas. Try to image what a startup would do if they had access to the people and assets you already have. Take one of those ideas and run a small test. Use the Scientific Method because it works.

The trick is to start. Transformation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing exercise. First just Do Something, even something very small.

Once you have done this, you learn - from success, but more often from failure. That’s OK as new things don’t always work (which is why you start small). What’s key is you treat that learning as a data point on the way to success - to treat failure like a scientist. Simply make notes of what works and what doesn’t, so you don’t make the same mistake twice.

Understand that transformation is a journey not a destination. If you’re doing it right it will never be finished, it will simply become the method your organisation continually uses to adapt to this changing world.

This 'Tricks of the Marketing Trade' blog was co-written by Dan Kirby, chief executive officer of marketing technology agency Techdept and Phil Dearson, founder of digital consultancy Subsector.

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Daniel Kirby

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