5 Steps for Digitally Transforming Your Marketing to Be More Responsive to Customer Needs

From rethinking team organization to finding inspiration outside the industry

Digital transformation isn’t a one-time thing—it’s the new operating model. Getty Images

If you really want to get closer to your customers, you need to rethink nearly everything you’re doing. Here’s how to start.

Lose the org chart

Transforming your organization to be more agile and responsive to customer needs means rethinking how you organize internal teams and deploy talent.

The first step is to decouple projects from organizational units and build ad hoc teams to tackle specific challenges, says Christopher Ross, research director at Gartner’s digital marketing group.

Companies need to revisit the basic premises of their organizational design, adds Noam Paransky, svp of digital at Gap Inc.

“Each organization needs to think about the first premise of how they’re organized, and then about their key talent, and how these transformations can plug into the key members of the organization who are able to bring these efforts to life,” he says.

Prune your portfolio

A typical barrier to going all-in on transformation is that agencies and marketing teams already have more on their plates than they can reasonably handle. But that’s a lame excuse, says Ross.

“One of the common complaints we hear from marketing organizations is that they’re massively overwhelmed with work,” he says. “But they never take the time to circle back and kill all those marginal or mediocre programs. Get rid of those things.”

Look outside your own industry

Companies that have enjoyed the greatest success in transforming usually look for inspiration and innovation outside their core business, notes Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter.

“The companies I’m most impressed by are those that have looked outside for innovation, like Starbucks and Domino’s,” he says. “Starbucks considers itself a mobile technology company; Domino’s wants to be the Amazon of Pizza. They realize that have to think like those kinds of companies to compete at that speed.”

Get ready to rumble

Organizations don’t really like to be reorganized, and moving people out of their comfort zones tends to make them uncomfortable. So expect pushback from the rank and file, says Monotype CMO Brett Zucker.

“There are always antibodies fighting off the change,” he says. “You’ve got to keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it. You never want to be in the position where you don’t have a choice. If you’re not being your own advocate for change, somebody will come in and make those hard decisions for you.”

Stop dallying and just do it

Digital transformation is not like a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) system, where you deploy it once and not think about it again for 10 years; it’s the new operating model moving forward. So don’t waste time on prolonged planning and systems engineering cycles, says Andy Peebler, general manager at CloudCraze, which creates Salesforce-based ecommerce platforms for brands like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s.

“The reality of digital transformation is that it’s never going to be done,” he says. “So figure out which set of customers you want to work with, and identify a simple set of transactions and types of interactions that you want to move to digital first, and get started. That’s the most important thing.”

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.