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How not to be the Wile E. Coyote of digital transformation

By Lee Woodard | managing partner

August 26, 2015 | 6 min read

Digital Transformation – two words that we have seen a lot of over the last couple of years. Depending on your job and company you work for, it can have many different meanings. My fine colleagues and I on the IPA Brand Technology Group, it is fair to say, have discussed it. A lot.

Lee Woodard

We discuss it because for agencies like ours (collectively) it is both an opportunity and a threat. The key word you should take out of that last sentence is agency. I’ll come back to why that word is important.

Many established brands are labouring under what has been a long triple whammy. Firstly, those dastardly consumers went and got themselves all digitally empowered. Where’s the loyalty huh?

Secondly, the small matter of the crash happened in 2007. You remember, a couple of brothers called Lehmann came out from round the curtain and we found out Arfur Daley had been running our banks.

Lastly, companies that on paper aren’t even proper companies sprang up and frightened the bejesus out of everyone.

Two of the three above trends were put at the door of that word ‘digital’. Pixels. Who could have thought that little squares that turn on and off could wreak such havoc? In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte, in his seminal book, Being Digital, claimed that ‘Every thing that can be digital, will be digital’. He wasn’t wrong.

The transformation challenge is when your brand, like the vast majority, was not digital from birth.

Personally, the definition of ‘digital transformation’ I stick to is ‘the historical analogue brand getting its digital shit together, continually’. This is a great opportunity. CTOs and CIOs everywhere, Wile E. Coyote like, have been ordering boxes from Acme Digital Transformation. Box after box arrives. Month upon month is spent assembling the ingenious contraption. A giant project is undertaken. The one you ordered is the Acme Digital Transformation Rocket. You strap yourself to it only to realise that the roadrunner is still ahead of you, only now your arse is on fire and you’re heading for a cliff wall.

We are now seeing marketing and advertising becoming heavily involved in transformation to help better understand which direction the Roadrunner is going in (and whether charred buttocks is a trend that would play well on the company YouTube channel).

Moreover, they are having a significant say in how technology budgets are spent. There is even talk of a chief marketing technology officer (ask your consultant, they’ll have a white paper on it). What is true is that marketing has more power than ever when it comes to technology. And now that they have influence, companies that only ever spoke to IT budget holders are now wearing jeans and difficult glasses trying to be the CMO’s offshored best friend.

Meanwhile back to our perpetually challenged brand. Technology and process has been blamed for being the drag – hence why transformation is needed. At the same time, the marketing department has never been overly concerned with the gnarly issues that drive consumers spare when they interact with a brand. In this instance what you say and what you do are so unrelated they may as well be on a Jeremy Kyle show. On a transformation agenda, technology is being put in the gap.

Too many agencies are not really thought to have a part to play in digital transformation. Creative (at heart) agencies, like ours, who have a technology backbone, start from the right place. They don’t assume technology will fix it all. They start from the premise that an idea will fix it. The art is to be open to the fact that the idea could be anything – a new experience enabled by technology, a new service, a new process, a different incentive. Hell, it may even need an ad to be made.

Transformation is not the goal; it’s a byproduct of getting creative about how to keep pace with the connected consumer.

Five things to remember to avoid being Wile E. Coyote:

  1. Technology is never the only answer, on most days, is never the answer.
  2. If you are creating anything, whether it be, technology, process, experience or incentive that will not be loved by its audience then stop making it.
  3. If your lead transformation partner is divorced from knowing how to understand your brand and your consumer any outcomes will only be half full.
  4. Roadrunner is always ahead, not because he is smarter or spends more, but because he is more creative. Put creative at the heart of your transformation.
  5. Digital Transformation is small everyday projects all heading in a general direction. Not a black hole event horizon of a multi-year program.

Oh, wait. it’s not five. Sorry.

‘Best practice’ will only ever get you level with everyone else who is doing it. Being creative to your transformed core will get you in front.

Beep Beep!!

Lee Woodard is managing partner and head of account management at Tribal Worldwide. He is a member of the IPA Brand Technology Group.

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