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Kate Stanford spells out the new rules for digital transformation ahead of her Advertising Week New York keynote

At Advertising Week New York, Google’s vice-president of ads marketing Kate Stanford will today deliver a keynote on the imperative of digital transformation and her vision for a more pragmatic, stepwise framework for enacting future-focused organizational change. Ahead of her session, she sits down with The Drum to spell out why digital transformation is a requirement, common hurdles to organizational change and three ways to kickstart a digital transformation journey.

New searches indicate new challenges for marketers

Digital transformation is so important. We’ve all really been hit over the head in the last 18 months by the fact that the pace of change was already fast, but it’s continuing to accelerate. [For example,] at Google, we see that 15% of the searches we see every day are brand new, for something we’ve never seen before, which is just such an incredible proof point for how dynamic consumer needs are and how quickly they’re changing.

So as marketers ... we’re all working so hard to be ready in this landscape that’s changing faster than ever before, that requires more agility than ever. And that, in turn, requires a different relationship with technology and more deeply understanding changing consumer behavior with real-time insights, and being ready to respond to those trends with automation.

The mismatch between urgency and importance

For a lot of companies, it can feel really hard to undertake transformation. Part of it comes down to the fact that the term itself, ‘digital transformation,’ sounds like such a buzzword. It sounds overwhelming and like, potentially, a really long and complicated journey. That’s one of the two things that we’ve heard typically holds businesses back: the feeling of the urgency versus importance – especially in the pandemic era, when we have to be making really crucial, urgent business decisions that might feel more attainable or less expensive than this kind of big, overwhelming transformation. So that’s one of the first things we hear that holds businesses back, this mismatch between urgency and importance.

The second one is internal silos, because it’s critical to achieve buy-in across the C-suite. The chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and chief information officer all need to really be onboard, so that they can do things like adopt fluid budget planning and really be working together.

The three steps for long-term digital transformation

We’ve seen that [focusing on quick fixes rather than a long-term transformation] is actually really short-sighted. Because when you think of transformation as more of an ongoing value-added process, it can drive impact today while also building that long-term resilience. [It’s] about transformation – not about the destination, not a one-time, giant project and process, but rather as a journey.

There are three ways that we’ve seen marketers approach this journey, depending on where they are in the transformation and what their organization’s goals are:

1. Rethinking planning and budgeting. With incredibly dynamic consumer behavior, marketing strategies and budgets need to be more responsive than ever. That means you need an experimental mindset and flexible budget. In fact, some research that we’ve just completed shows that marketers from companies that are at the forefront of digital transformation are more likely to revisit their budgets every month per quarter, compared to marketers from companies that aren’t leading who do more annual budget-setting. And that just doesn’t allow them to keep pace with changing consumer behavior.

2. Rethinking organizational skills and collapsing organizational silos. In that research that we’ve just completed [for instance], we’ve seen that for most companies that are at the forefront of digital transformation, their senior marketing leaders already have built a collaborative relationship with their chief financial officer. Really, the chief financial officer and the chief marketer are like the new power couple – approaching decisions together rather than from a siloed perspective.

This is a place where [snack and confectionary company] Mondelēz has really been an incredible leader. It started with breaking down silos, ensuring that teams from marketing, finance, customer service, information and business were all aligned on shared goals. And [Mondelēz] adopted an agile approach that it calls ‘empathy at scale,’ which is really leaning into personalization at scale. So, it broke down the silos, then it used real-time insights to change its approach. There was a great example that it shared with us, where in the middle of the pandemic it changed one of its creatives from talking about eating lunch in the school library to something about chewing quietly when your microphone is on. It immediately pivoted as our collective experiences as consumers changed. Then it took a more agile approach to how it thought about media and budget strategy in real-time so that it could maximize effectiveness. It is having double-digit growth year-over-year, and it’s moving more money to digital – it has committed a 50% allocation of marketing spend to digital to help it fuel this strategy and digital transformation going forward.

3. Rethinking consumer experiences. Lean into meeting their consumers where they are. The research that we’ve done has showed that 40% of marketers say they’ve been able to convince senior leadership to invest in digital transformation because of that desire to be more consumer-centric.

The good news ... is that marketers and chief marketers are uniquely situated to champion this transformation, because obviously they’re the voice of the customer, the voice of insights. And when they do so they can really show how marketing can be a driver of business results.

Where we see marketers really being able to lead is in bringing the voice of the customer to bear, bringing those insights to bear to help fuel that desire for transformation. But the marketer – the chief marketer [in particular] – really can’t do it alone. You need the buy-in from across the C-suite. You need the chief financial officer to understand the value that marketing can provide as a revenue-driver and not just a cost. You need the chief information officer partnering and thinking about a stronger first-party data strategy. If [you] do it [alone], you’re reimagining some of your digital marketing approach, but you won’t be able to achieve a broader digital business transformation.

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