Transformation has become just a word. Does that seem like an odd thing to say? How can I say that, given all the excitement, the passion, the intensity of discussion running through the business world regarding strategies for digital transformation? I say that because I think we see so much of that word that it’s become a victim of our public discourse, everyone’s favorite eye-catcher. It’s become the vanilla ice cream of the tech world.
So, let’s remember that transformation is more than just a word. Like any other repetitive motion, seeing a word with your eyes so often inevitably lessens the degree to which your brain assigns to it some level of importance. It might even go so far as to stick it into the brain stem, that part of us that regulates all the autonomous and unconscious activities of our bodies. Think of it as our way of coping with too much information, too much stimulus. The brain relegates the repetitive object to the category of everyday things. When you as a business person sees tweets, blog posts, internal company announcements, and conference agendas with the word transformation, does the word carry less impact now? Does it cause any sort of anxiety at all, anymore? I bet it once did. That understandable skimming over of the meaning of the word is actually dangerous. It’s dangerous because it unconsciously reduces the importance of the transformative activities that underpin the word, transformation. So while it’s just a word, we need to remember that transformation is also a word that should represent something of significance.
Don’t confuse transformation with the word hype, though. Transformation is definitely not hype. It’s real. Or at least the need for it is real. I would even say the need for some companies to think and act on transformation more quickly is now in a state I would call grave. See this article from Information Age to understand the metrics behind that last statement I wrote, like this one: “91% of executives are aligned on what digital transformation means, only 4% realise half of their digital investment in under one year.”
So in this environment where a word is having its moment of fame, where a word is commonly used across boundaries of business, politics, and nation-states, how does one talk about it without sounding derivative, trite, and boring?
We talk about it with simplicity and humility. That’s how. Simplicity because at its essence, transformation is about doing something differently and in a way that is a marked improvement over the old way. And humility because despite all the articles, speeches, conferences, and blog posts, no one has all the answers. There’s expert guidance, seasoned advisors (like, yours truly), and a raft of documentation from industry that present roadmaps to digital transformation but ultimately, it boils down to you and your situation.
Take, for example, the businesses we work with. Their Marketing organizations are trying to understand what it will take for them to transform, to evolve, from doing marketing the old-fashioned way:
- Design a messaging campaign in the absence of any real data (because assumptions are how things have always been built)
- Use contrived audiences
- Schedule the communications
- Assess whether the campaigns caught the interest of people
- Pass those interested people, if there were any, to Sales
- Meet with Sales to learn why they didn’t see value in the leads that were passed
To doing it the modern way:
- Strategize and work with Sales and Services to understand the market and the existing customer community and marry that information with the corporate goals
- Gather real market data (1st, 2nd, and 3rd party data)
- Monitor and engage over a variety of channels; integrate into marketing processes
- Identify patterns
- Identify real people
- Target audiences with specific and personalized messages
- Dynamically test
- Nurture with even more personalized messages
- Pass qualified, interested people to Sales
- Be seen as a peer and partner in the business
It requires, first of all, a new way of considering customers, a new and authentic focus on them, an admission that without them there is no you as a business, and a new heightened always-on awareness of the customer’s wants and needs. It isn’t just the Marketing leaders and the architects of processes that need to consider customers that way. It’s everyone from the CEO to the analyst, and it’s every internal organization understanding that they have to work horizontally now. The customer sees you, the company, as a single entity. It’s your job to figure out how that becomes true, to learn to operate as a single entity. It’s what we mean when we say customer-centric and because it forces organizational boundaries to fall, it’s what we mean when we say that culture is probably your largest hurdle.
Transformation is a word but pause a second when you see it. Take a breath. See into it and pull it up from the brain stem.
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