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Anders Lange has worked in digital transformation at luxury brand Gucci for close to ten years, beginning in 2010 as Senior Omnichannel Manager.

He currently holds the slightly unusual title of Head of Strategic Gamification at Gucci, and also consults on digital transformation for major brands like Warner Bros and Google. He is due to speak at the Festival of Marketing in October about how marketers can turn gamification into a competitive strategy.

Ahead of his appearance at the Festival, he spoke to Econsultancy about how gamification came to play a key role in the strategy of a 100-year-old luxury brand, his approach to digital transformation, and why it’s vital for businesses to ‘budget for failure’.

How Gucci became gamified

Anders Lange describes his role as the Head of Strategic Gamification at Gucci as “complicated”. “I do everything, and I have a lot of responsibility,” he says. “I’m the one that pulls the strings to keep the strategy together. We adopted gamification as a business strategy around ten years ago, and I pull the departments together and keep everyone informed, making sure that every step we agreed upon is taken. I also have the power to hire and fire people.

“It’s not just a strategic role,” Lange continues. “It’s about keeping focus on the business strategy, and keeping focus on the information everyone needs, and communicating it across departments. It’s also a technological role – I have to be constantly focused on what the next steps are, and that means looking ahead to what’s next for technology, what’s next for consumers, and what’s next for brands.”

How Gucci – a 100-year-old luxury brand – came to adopt a gamified business strategy in the first place is an interesting story. Ten years ago, the company was undergoing a crisis about how to adapt its strategy and way of thinking to a digital environment. “We looked at the normal business frameworks, but we didn’t think they were agile enough,” Lange explains. “So, we started to look beyond that.”

Lange and his manager started to look at ways that they could move Gucci customers “from a story to a storyline”. Both of them had a background in playing the fantasy tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, and it was from there that they took their inspiration for how to approach business strategy.

The two saw an analogy between businesses and Dungeon Masters, the architects and storytellers of D&D roleplaying games, who “spend hours designing the games, designing the people you are interacting with, the components of the game… They’re thinking about, ‘Who are we? What are we doing and what are we going to tell the world?’” Meanwhile, consumers are the players, who think about “how to build their characters and who they are, what they want to spend their time on, and what they want to display.”

This might seem like an unusual strategic approach for a world-renowned luxury brand, and in the beginning, Lange and his manager “didn’t call it gamification – we just presented it as a framework we wanted to work with.” However, later on the gaming elements began to make an appearance in strategy meetings: “When we talked about our consumer profiles, we would actually show them a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet. And when we talked about our competitors, we’d use a monster sheet!”

A Dungeons and Dragons character sheet with six translucent turquoise dice on top
Dungeons & Dragons character sheet and dice

Lange and his manager didn’t meet with much internal resistance over their approach to strategy, largely because they concealed the fact that it originated from tabletop gaming. “If you said ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ it was seen as this weird thing that people did in the basement,” says Lange.

“But if you just looked at the framework we used, it was actually pretty simple to understand, and simple to communicate. The thing about it is that children as young as seven or eight are able to play this game – so why should a grown man or woman at the age of thirty, forty or fifty not understand it?”

This framework has been refined and developed over the years and can now be found on the website of Lange’s consultancy, EnterName, which applies lessons from the world of gaming to business strategy. Lange explains that at the base of everything is a brand’s identity and purpose – “Who are we, what do we want, and what makes up the brand?” One level above that are the ‘agents’: people, technology and culture. These three things create the other “components” of the company like design, ecommerce, PR and social media. Finally, at the top is the user experience of the brand and its KPIs – which ultimately lead back to the brand’s purpose and identity. “We need to keep focusing on who we are, if we’re going to be an authentic brand,” he concludes.

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Has Lange experienced any other particular challenges with carrying out digital transformation for a luxury brand – particularly one as world-renowned as Gucci? “There are a lot of cultural challenges, just because it’s an old brand,” says Lange. “It’s the same challenge you see in every industry – it’s a hundred years old, and hundred-year-old companies do not like to change! But if companies aren’t changing, however slowly, then they’ll find themselves being forced to change.”

anders lange

Digital transformation: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

When Lange joined Gucci in his initial role as Senior Omnichannel Manager in 2010, it was relatively early days for digital transformation, and companies were only just beginning to grapple with the concept. I ask if Lange has observed a significant change in the landscape of digital transformation between then and now. Was it a very different undertaking nine years ago?

“I don’t think there’s much of a difference between now and then – we just have new technology now,” says Lange. “It was still a question of fitting that [technology] with who you are.”

The biggest difference that he pinpoints is in the way that the company made decisions: previously, they would be made based on experience, whereas they are now made based on context. “We have a lot more data points, a lot more research, so our decisions are a lot more context-based. We are creating a culture that bases its decisions more in context.”

He encourages companies to draw on a wide range of research when making their decisions, not just on internal data: “If you only use data from within the company, you’re going to fail in the long term, because you’re just following your competitors – you’re using the same data, and you’re not predicting what’s going to happen. You still need that traditional research, because that’s where you can do something different from your competitors – you can look at different data points from different sources. If you follow data, you can create sales; if you follow the market research, you can increase engagement. So, combining those two is a good idea.”

Getting to Grips with Market Research

Looking ahead to the next five years, Lange doesn’t expect to see much of a change in companies’ business strategies or their priorities. “I think that we’ll hear words like “agile”, “digital transformation” more, and we’ll see a growing trend towards creating a minimum viable product,” he says. “But I don’t think we’ll see that much of a difference when it comes to business strategy, just because we’re not willing to make those changes yet. The young people sneak in change – but we still have old people at the top, no matter what industry you look at. We’re still working in the same models that we did fifty years ago.

“We see companies adopting new tools and new channels and so on – but not new ways of thinking. That’s still not going to happen any time soon, because we’re not being forced to do it yet. The big companies are still growing, so why should they change what they’re doing? They’re still not looking forward because that’s not needed. Most change comes by force. Just look at social media – companies only adopted it once it had already been on the market for five or ten years.”

Illustration of a caterpillar and a butterfly

I ask whether he thinks that Gucci has been more successful in taking advantage of new channels like social media. “Yes, but we still have a long way to go, and we have a lot of companies out there that are creating a competitive environment that we, as a big company, can’t operate in.”

Lange is candid in acknowledging Gucci’s limitations as a large, legacy organisation. “We are not a small start-up – we can be agile in a lot of ways, we can be authentic in a lot of ways; but if you look at a lot of smaller brands, they can still be more authentic, they can still be more personal. We as consumers like personalisation, so if you can connect to people on a very personal level – they have something we can’t do.”

With that said, Gucci has still made authenticity one of its biggest goals as a brand. “One of our goals is to be one of the most authentic brands out there. We are true to who we are, and we’re true to our customers.”

The importance of ‘budgeting to fail’

When it comes to digital transformation, Lange is adamant that “failure” should not be seen as a failure, but as a learning process. “We should do that no matter the size of the company,” he says. Failing to accept failure perpetuates more failure – Lange estimates that “about forty percent” of digital transformation projects will fail “just because they don’t have a learning curve”.

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“If you look at the history of almost every brand, we still don’t focus on budgeting to fail,” he says. This is meant both literally and figuratively – allowing room in the budget financially for projects to fail, but also being prepared mentally to accept when things don’t work out as planned. “I think we should adopt a culture that says it’s okay to fail. We can learn a lot from other people, but those are not learning processes that are adapted to your culture, your set of KPIs, your management, your people. You can’t just copy others – you need to have your own learning process.

“Of course, you can go some way towards minimising failure by learning from others, but there are limits to that. The unique lessons, you have to learn first-hand.”

Lange is pleased to be able to say that in his time at Gucci, the company has created a budget for failure, both figurative and literal. “We have a lot of projects that fail, but because we have set it aside and said, ‘These projects might fail, or at least this part of the budget might fail’, we can look at how to learn from that. I think a lot of companies need to do that – whether it’s with an investment of 100 dollars, or a million dollars, it doesn’t matter. You can learn from everything.”

In the technology and business world, the notion of “failing forward” is bandied around a lot – is this an idea that Lange subscribes to personally? “Yes – I believe that failure is just an engine for going forward,” Lange says. “We all know that when a powerful engine fails, we just switch it out for a new and better one, because we learned that that part didn’t work.

“Failure is just a process of growth – you can’t have a company that has never failed in its entire history.”

I think we should adopt a culture that says it’s okay to fail. Failure is a process of growth – you can’t have a company that has never failed in its entire history.”

– Anders Lange, Head of Strategic Gamification, Gucci

Failure is a possibility that looms large in the context of digital transformation particularly, with headlines regularly proclaiming the overwhelming percentage of companies whose digital transformation projects fail. I ask Lange whether he thinks that it’s productive to focus on the negative in this way – should the message for companies instead be one about pivoting and trying new approaches?

“I actually think we should focus on the negative stuff, as long as we combine it with learning,” he says. “For example, not just saying, ‘We failed at this because our culture wasn’t fit for it’, but also saying, ‘We need a slower process because it fits our culture, and we need to do it this way instead.’ If you focus only on the negative, you’ll have a negative environment; but if you combine it with a learning process, you have a learning environment instead.

“Just look at the number of companies that started at one thing and pivoted to another. Failure can be a good thing, as long as you move on from it.”

Is it more difficult to make that kind of change if you’re a 100-year-old company like Gucci, compared to a newer start-up? “I think it depends on how your company is structured,” Lange says. “It’s a matter of looking to the CEO and seeing who they are hiring – are they people who want change, people who look beyond the silos in organisations and are prepared to make changes? We need other ways of doing things, and that starts with management.

“This is true no matter whether you’re a big company, or a small company – you can have worked fifty years in an industry, and go on to start your own company, and work in the same framework as you did in a big company. And you’ll be doing the same things. So, it’s a matter of mindset, and it’s a matter of how management adjusts for this, and how supportive they are.”

To hear more from Gucci’s Anders Lange and a host of other speakers, check out the Festival of Marketing 2019 agenda and book your ticket.

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