5 Dos and Don’ts of Digital Transformation

What marketers need to do to position their companies for success

Creating a small, trusted group to properly vet ideas can help move better ideas forward faster. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Over the past two years, businesses have put increased focus on digitally transforming their brands from the inside out. That’s led not only to taking new risks with emerging tech, but also implementing changes to company culture and organizational structures.

To better understand what works and what doesn’t, Adweek spoke with a number of brands, analysts and agencies.

Here’s what marketers need to do to position their companies for a customer-focused future:

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Build a strong relationship between the CIO and CMO

Last year, Gartner predicted that a company’s chief marketing officer will spend more on tech than the chief information officer by 2017. And that’s a good reason for the two to work hand in hand. According to Forrester analyst Nigel Fenwick, companies that maintain a good relationship between the CIO and CMO are better performing than those that don’t. He said sometimes a company will even hire a chief digital officer just to fix a broken relationship between the two.

“If they’re both customer-focused and customer-obsessed and joined at the hip in terms of a partnership, they can do great things,” Fenwick said.

Create an innovation steering committee

Creating a small, trusted group to properly vet ideas can help move better ideas forward faster and put the brakes on those that shouldn’t, said iCrossing chief strategy officer Anne Bologna.

“One of our clients recently said that with the degree of complexity that exists today, you need your shortlist of partners that can sit around a table with you and help figure things out,” she said. Saneel Radia, evp and global head of consulting at R/GA, agreed: “The more voices involved in innovation decision-making, the less successful it will be.”

Integrate teams more often

Cross-pollinating teams can lead to better understanding and better idea creation between departments. For example, Levi’s has begun integrating its tech and business teams for projects, while Marriott has brought processes from global strategy into marketing. “It’s been really great over the last few months to not just workshop that, but even change up our organization to set up internally to better optimize for that performance,” said Marriott CMO Karin Timpone.

Take time to think about your internal story

If you’re going to make digital transformation work, you have to understand the narrative to help people understand why something should change. According to a 2015 survey of nearly 400 executives conducted by Forrester, most didn’t feel confident in their CEO’s vision or in their company’s ability to define or enact a successful digital strategy. (In fact, only 14 percent said they felt they had the “necessary processes” in place.)

“The thing about change when it’s happening behind the door is it’s super scary when it’s unclear how it’s going to impact the employees,” Radia said.

Create customer-facing metrics to change culture

While companies are often judged by their financial performance, failing with consumers will lead to failing numbers overall. According to Fenwick, the No. 1 barrier to change is culture, and most people get their cultural signals from how they’re measured. And while marketing might have customer-facing metrics, other units like business and technology often don’t.

“If you look across metrics and you don’t see customer-facing metrics—metrics that indicate the value a customer is getting from the business—in every employee’s metrics, then we’re not communicating to the employee that we need to focus on the right things for the customer,” Fenwick said.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 30, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.