Brands’ Digital Transformations Are Leading to More Collaboration and New Business Models

Foursquare and Dell mix up how they operate

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Foursquare made its buzzy launch at the 2009 South by Southwest as a check-in app allowing users to share their current location with their friends. Even though the app faded in popularity over time, the New York-based firm still spends plenty of time focused on its consumer-facing apps. However, watching Foursquare’s move into the business-to-business world has been particularly fascinating. Indeed, Foursquare now bills itself as a “location intelligence” company, essentially offering marketers and developers heaps of data to gleam insights about where people are and what they’re doing.

Foursquare’s pivot from a business-to-consumer to business-to-business facing company serves as a mini case study for marketers going through so-called digital transformations to overhaul their business to become faster, agile and more efficient companies. Today more than 90 percent of Foursquare’s revenue comes from the B2B side of the business and 2016 revenue was up 74 percent year over year.

“The idea was always to be the leader in location technology,” said Steven Rosenblatt, Foursquare’s president, who joined Foursquare in 2012 after working on Apple’s iAd mobile ad business. “That hasn’t changed but the application of our technology became much broader and our ambitions much grander.”

“At the outset, our location powered our apps and we still have over 50 million monthly active users who check in to our apps. But for me, the evolution was about this idea that we were sitting on something that was proprietary and unique.”

Mapping out locations based on millions of data points turned out to be crucial in shifting the talk about Foursquare as a consumer app to a spigot of data. Rosenblatt offered similar advice for other companies trying to shift gears.

“There’s got to be big opportunity—to evolve the way that we have, you have to have something that’s differentiated,” he said. “It’s working and it’s working because there is this giant market out there to go after.”

In terms of culture, Foursquare still holds weekly all-hands meetings about what’s going on at the company, which is a longstanding tradition. And engineers have taken the company’s core location technology from its apps to build new enterprise products.

That said, the consumer side of Foursquare hasn’t disappeared. “The core of who we are hadn’t changed but the products and services around it have,” Rosenblatt said. “I think that’s critically important versus companies that are just 100 percent ad tech, 100 percent data. They don’t think about the consumer. They’re just thinking about, ‘How do I make sure that my business isn’t commoditized?’”

Collaborative creative

Dell is another example of a brand going through a digital transformation to bring the B2B and B2C businesses closer together. Last year, Dell and EMC Corporation merged to create Dell Technologies, the umbrella company that houses Dell, Dell EMC, VMware, Virtustream, RSA, Pivotal Software and SecureWorks.

Now, Dell works on products across multiple teams—like IT and business, said Liz Matthews, svp of global brand and creative at Dell. As one example, the company has integrated its marketing teams and is using a single campaign-management process.

“This enabled a change in our culture and the move from large, monolithic, never-ending projects to constant innovation and nimbleness,” said Matthews. “Every two weeks we launch enhancements that get us closer to this vision [and] by the end of the year we hope to be operating in a single environment.”

Dell also meshes its mobile, campaign and CRM data together to more efficiently manage budgets and fine-tune campaign targeting. And with creative, assets are planned, created and shared, giving all global teams access to creative.

“Technology helps streamline process and share across agency teams, global and regional marketers,” Matthews said. “This leads to more effective marketing communication processes and higher discoverability of available creative assets.”

Defining different goals

Business-to-business brands have analyzed reams of data for years to improve performance marketing and now business-to-consumer companies are doing the same too, said Jon Suarez-Davis, chief strategy officer at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

“You see a lot of B2C companies trying to understand how they use data at scale to increase the effectiveness of their marketing investment,” he said.

B2B marketers have an advantage over B2C brands when it comes to selling because of closed-loop systems. “When I’m selling [B2B], my marketing function is enabling the sales process, he said. “They have a higher fidelity of signals coming back—they know the actions that he or she took.”

For direct marketing company Valpak, Salesforce is helping the brand manage its CRM data. And while Valpak has built an Apple Watch app, beacons and augmented reality, CEO Mike Davis said the company is still laser-focused on getting offers and coupons into consumers’ hands from brands.

“As companies scramble to digitally transform their companies, they often neglect traditional core products and services while trying grab a share of new and emerging technologies, business models and consumer groups,” Davis said.

Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive of Accenture Digital added that B2B digital transformations can be tricky because they often include more multichannel interactions, meaning that companies may not want to sell things online in a marketplace. “The B2B space may be more complex because you may need to have that multichannel experience as part of the original design—not assuming that someone can start and end the transaction in the same space,” he said.

“Most of the difference between a B2C and B2B is that the B2B companies start thinking about this as a multichannel experience from the moment that they’re thinking about it.”

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.