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In case you thought the world couldn’t move faster, we just witnessed 10 years of digital acceleration in 10 months which has advanced some businesses and resulted in the demise of others. Fueled by the unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19, consumers and businesses across industries leaned heavily into digital commerce with their personal devices to interact with, research, and purchase goods and services in ways they hadn’t before — greater home delivery, more streaming, increased video chats.  While this has resulted in reduced foot traffic into physical storefronts, it has also created an overwhelming increase in the volume of data streaming into organizations, many of which don’t have the resources or infrastructure to properly collect, manage and use the data to their advantage.

In the very early days of COVID (March, 2020), we saw several global brand organizations shift into “war time operations” mode where they focused their attention only on those efforts that delivered positive and attributable business results.  In most cases, they broke down barriers and navigated around structural and political obstacles that previously slowed their progress towards becoming a digitally-led business.   In doing so, it opened up their eyes to the potential opportunities to be cultivated with digital commerce as well as the unfortunate realities of their poor data quality, disparate systems  and operational inefficiency.

A View Through The Clouds:

The 2020 COVID pandemic has sparked a new level of inspiration and confidence from business leaders.   Some historically non-digital brands were actually prepared for this dramatic digital shift — WalmartCVSWalgreens, to cite a few notable ones –and they are now reaping the benefits of increased customer loyalty and growth (click on brand links to see results). The real lesson learned is that  they actually planned their transformation journey 3+ years ago which put them in a position to have the right capabilities in place to quickly and successfully accommodate the rapid digital adoption and shift in customer behavior.   But it’s not only about the investments in technology and data they had made.  They successfully invested in and activated these new capabilities under a profound confidence gained throughout their journey.  They brought on a set of disciplined digitally-minded talent, established a more collaborative operating structure and modernized business models supported by revitalized cultural values.

The early successes they achieved did not come easy.  It required commitment, curiosity and change.  And as an industry renowned innovation leader, Rishad Tobaccowala, recently stated “Change is nothing but questions seeking and pointing the way to the answer”.  As we have experienced with many of our clients, success is realized by 1) understanding what you are working with, 2) having a strategic vision, and 3) making a commitment to resilient execution.   Knowing the right questions to ask will guide your journey, uncovering obstacles early in the process and informing decisions through an objective lens.

Every company is in a different starting position or current state of their data driven digital transformation. However, there is a common set of three key themes and subsequent actions we have seen successful companies take in order to mitigate risks and accelerate their digital customer engagement:.

Common Understanding

  1. Transparency – Uncover the issues that have been preventing you from making progress.  These could be operational, technical or cultural.
  2. Honesty – Be brutally honest about your experience and where you see potential opportunities and risks to the business, the customers or you.
  3. Fearlessness – Take a leap of faith to share ideas, opportunities and paths that may not have been possible in the past.
  4. Empathy – Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and how they would react to the ways you communicate with them today.
  5. Prioritization – Identify what’s most important for your business and how to maintain it.   At the same time, surface areas that may no longer contribute value.

Strategic Vision

  1. Objectivity – Take the opportunity to get perspective from outside peers or experts that inform.  Dig into internal teams to surface tangible obstacles and opportunities that can inform your future path.
  2. Customer Focus – Make the pivot from product or channel to a customer-centric lens.  Understand and prioritize high-value customer use cases.  This will allow you to better understand the value of customer segments and how to invest in them.
  3. Holistic Customer Communications – Don’t think of marketing as only sales enablement, rather, the ability to build a relationship with your customers across all potential touch points (website, call center, kiosk, app, email, paid media, in-store, etc)
  4. Data First Philosophy – Data is your most valuable asset and must accurately reflect your customer and your business.   Take early steps to understand the quality of your customer data, how it’s connected and how it is creates value for your business.
  5. Automation & Precision – Leverage new tools to automate data connectivity and facilitate faster stewardship of better customer insights, relevant activation and consistent reporting

Resilient Execution

  1. Diligent Project Management – Establish a process that assigns ownership, accountability and deliverables to key stakeholders.
  2. Create a “Transformation” Committee – Establish a group of cross-functional leaders to set the tone and ensure principles are adhered to and commitments achieved.  This committee should use the future state vision and cultural values to empower the organization to drive change and support decision making.
  3. Trusted Expert Guidance – Employ the right skill sets, both internally and externally, to safely navigate the complexities of data connectivity and orchestration as well as systems integration and even organizational change management.  Leverage short-term external expertise to establish trust and confidence in new capabilities.
  4. Outcome Based Accountability – Every work stream should tie to an outcome that improves the business (i.e. operational efficiency, incremental growth, or improved performance).
  5. Diligent First Party Data Governance – Transparent and documented methods to control and maintain privacy of all customer data as well as resolve customer identities in a safe and secure manner that complies with industry standards and customer expectations.

Across industries, companies are now getting a clear view through the clouds into their very real data driven digital growth opportunities.    However, many organizations are still hindered by the obstacles that have been plaguing them for years.  In our observations, 9 out of 10 times their data is disconnected, systems are outdated, and the processes require a lot of manual work-arounds.  Most of them also lack confidence in making these big changes due to a lack of understanding.   A recent series of studies of Marketing Executives have publicly stated some major limitations:

  • Only 3% of companies meet basic data quality standards, limiting their ability to generate valuable insights (HBR – Cork University Business School).
  • Only 14% of marketers claim they understand the value that technology contributes towards the value chain (ID Comms).
  • Only 9% trust the tech suppliers and 11% trust the agency on advising them on technology solutions to deploy for marketing (ID Comms).
  • While 95% of US companies say they have confidence in their ability to identify customers, but 55% of customers DON’T feel recognized by the business (Experian 2020 Global Identity & Fraud Report)

Simply put, most companies indicated they have poor data quality, they don’t understand their technology and they have very limited trust in the partners that make up their infrastructure.  Compounding this issue is the limited availability of expertise and resources that know how to operationalize these tools and get the most from them.  Yet, companies state they still plan to invest 10.4% more into what the industry calls “digital transformation”, leading to a total of $1.3T in 2020 alone (Statista).   That’s a lot of money with very little confidence behind it!

Achieving Clarity, Delivering Growth:

We know that change doesn’t come easy, however, from our experience there are clear steps that can be taken to bring functional teams together, breakdown political barriers, and ensure confidence in positive outcomes throughout the journey.   With objectivity and foresight, trusted collaboration, diligent execution and a long-term commitment to your cause you can deliver greater value to your company, clients and customers.  Change is imperative and never-ending.  Your next move will define what you want to stand for and how you plan to thrive in the future.

Transparent Partners