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How to implement a successful marketing organisation digital transformation programme

Digital transformation is not easy. An estimated 85% of digital transformation projects end up failing to match the promises predicted at the start.

We've reviewed hundreds of detailed articles on digital transformation and talked to senior marketers around the world.  This combined with our consultancy support to Clients around the world wrestling with their own digital transformation projects has given us an in-depth insight into the issues faced.  A few consistent themes emerge…

Digital transformation should not be undertaken lightly – it takes some time to deliver.  Most transformations will have several stages and last between five and 10 years. The process needs to be broken down and assessed at every stage to ensure that everything remains on the right track.

There is no single template. Company structure, strategy and complexity will all determine how each marketing organisation approaches this challenge. Centralised or decentralised organisations will each require a different approach, for example.

Fundamentally, it is about a change of attitude and approach. It means switching from following a plan to reacting as the world changes, shifting from big campaigns to rapid iterations and from a few large bets to many small experiments.

It requires an openness internally and the removal of silos and hierarchy in favour of a more collaborative approach. And it needs to be underpinned by data, backed up by continuous testing and learning.

Alongside this are five key elements of functional change:

  1. New structures, empowerment and ways of working to go to market faster and more efficiently
  2. Customer experience management across all touchpoints and channels
  3. Data-driven optimised marketing with direct ownership of data.
  4. Agile and measurable dynamic content/creative development and distribution
  5. A clear governance approach for a single-minded digital strategy

Making it happen

The bedrock of any digital transformation is a vision, an idea of what it can do for the business. It should be linked to the business strategy and be non-technical.

The vision should be backed up by two things: a robust methodology that defines the changes required to deliver and senior leadership support. Developing the methodology will require an analysis of the current organisational capability, identifying what’s working as well as having clear and agreed outcomes for success and criteria to enable the choice between different options.

Senior leadership support is essential. The process of digital transformation will require businesses to break silos and rejig the internal skill set. The C-suite will need to be involved to the extent of potentially even having a member of the board sponsoring the project and actively participating.

The next stage is to have the structures in place to manage the process. Digital transformation is no picnic and companies need to apply proper project management what’s going on. These are huge and complex technology driven projects that impact on marketing but also have huge data and legal ramifications as well. Robust project management is critical.

Transformation is also a human process. Leaders need to remember to support teams through the process. There will be restructuring and change and that’s disruptive and challenging. A clear vision helps team members understand how the business is evolving and what the goal is, while practical capabilities training helps take them on the journey too. It’s an emotional process that needs to be handled sensitively.

Such management also needs to involve agency partners, who may even be able to contribute from their own experience of other clients. More practically they should be part of the discussions around ways of working, communications development and collaboration as well as what needs to be produced and when. Ultimately, any significant changes in these areas will require a review of the external agency model at some point in the process.

Above all this is a long-term process and it needs to be tested at regular intervals to ensure that progress towards the goals and KPIs outlined in the vision are being met. This will act as a regular sense check to ensure that the technology involved in the project isn’t becoming the major driver for it. This can be a particular issue when transformations are led by the IT department.

The final element of the process is a gradual reduction in complexity. You will know when you have truly transformed because the efficiencies in ways of working and having the correct team in place means that everything is not only much smoother but more productive.

With this in place the business is now ready to exploit the opportunities presented by digital, become a leader in category disruption and even develop new business models that are digital only.  It’s a unique opportunity to imagine new ways to do business.

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