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Will your transformation succeed?

Successful marketing transformation projects follow eight key rules. Paul Davies, Managing Partner Asia Pacific at The Observatory International, says too many schemes are failing to do so.

Transformation is big right now. All around the world, in companies small and large there are transformation projects. Some are business wide, some just cover marketing. Everyone knows they have to adapt to the digital revolution, which is changing not just how we advertise but also how we discover and buy goods and services.

But if everyone can agree on the need for transformation, it’s also clear that not every company is going to be successful. In fact, Forbes estimated that 85% of digital transformation projects would fail to deliver the expected impact.

We’ve just spend the last six months looking at how marketers are addressing the impact of transformation. As well as reviewing more than 100 detailed articles around Digital and Marketing Transformation, we’ve also conducted more than 30 interviews with senior marketers around the world. That includes executives at multinationals or large local enterprises in every continent except Latin America, across sectors as diverse as telecoms, retail, automotive, food and beverage and financial services.

Project Ready is designed to help marketers ensure they get this challenging task right, applying the lessons from transformation projects of all types to the needs of Marketing Transformation be it building their own MarTech/AdTech capability, redesigning their agency model or refining their marketing organisation.

Our work has allowed us to identify eight key elements that have a significant impact on whether transformation programmes are likely to be successful.

Determine transitional or transformational. Not all the projects or research we reviewed were truly transformational, although many are being labelled as such. This occurred for a variety of reasons, but the end result was confusion and ultimately dissatisfaction at the outcome of the project.

Don’t oversell. Some projects were hugely oversold. The tendency (or sometimes the need) to gazump other internal initiatives for budget or resources, however, will only encourage scepticism about future projects that are truly transformational. For example, we looked at a small content unit within a large media and entertainment business that was hugely successful. However, it was having little impact on the core traditional business.

Have a strategy.  Successful projects start with the development of a strategy that is founded in thought-through and thorough marketing processes to generate clear objectives. A regional pharmaceutical firm, for example, started a company-wide digital transformation process that allowed each division to create their own plans, subject to CEO approval, to allow everyone to focus on their opportunities. The marketing team targeted improving customer experience and adding value to consumer relationships.

Ensure it has senior marketing input. A significant number of the projects we looked at were part of a wider company transformation. Although a significant driver for this work is the change of consumer buying and purchasing processes, decisions and actions, it was often hard to assess how much of what was proposed was being driven by the specific disruption to marketing. Despite hugely relevant consumer changes, all too often there was limited involvement from marketing leaders at the early stages and very rarely a senior marketing owner involved.
Apply proper project management. The depth and breadth of the changes required for transformation were rarely understood (and even fewer understood the need to consider the data and legal issues). These are hugely complex, technology-driven projects, which run for a longer project period than normal and will often go through a number of phases/iterations. Transformation projects need very robust project management approach and discipline to minimise risk and underpin success.

Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. A significant number of projects were being driven by a focus on technology not the business objectives. Often when projects are led by the IT department, they can become focussed on technology solutions rather than business objectives. Companies have not learned the lessons of the past as this was a common issue with many marketing databases or CRM solutions. The high-profile projects that failed in the 1990s and early 2000s were just the tip of the iceberg.

Transformation is people too. Change management is frequently overlooked as an essential part of the process. Training (or re-skilling) of the in-house team alone isn’t sufficient to deliver success because large projects require significant change in people’s roles, responsibilities and the associated business processes. True transformation encompasses everything from the restructure of marketing organisations to implementing new technology to changes to a team’s role and responsibilities and their associated ways of working (processes).

Talk to your partners. Marketing projects need to include a significant focus on agency partners. You need to talk to them about how they will need to adapt in terms of both their skills and the services they offer. This critical aspect was missing in a significant number of the projects we examined, leading to a lack of alignment.

Ultimately, all companies will have to transition or transform both their business operations and their marketing (although these areas will also overlap much more than in the past). It’s early days in the process for many and there are a host of factors that will affect whether a project is successful or not.

What we can say already is that failure to address each of these eight areas will make a project much more likely to fail. The success rate for transformation is already abysmally low. Ultimately those companies that apply clear planning and process to their Marketing Transformation are most likely to make the journey a profitable one.

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