“At this point, what isn’t digital?” said Jennifer Fey, the senior vice president of digital media for Firewood when asked how her global digital marketing agency works with clients undergoing digital transformation. “It’s easy to be glib about this, but really, everything we touch that may seem like an ‘old school program’ or be structured as ‘offline’ still has a digital component.”
Fey points to events, as an example of this digital shift. “They’re communicated on social. Audience engagement is managed in real-time. Mail-outs have QR codes. Everything ties together digitally — not just because that’s where everyone is, but because the investment has been made for this to make sense for business over the past 20 years.”
But what does a true digital transformation strategy look like? And if you’re leading your brand’s marketing initiatives, how do you integrate digital transformation into every aspect of your efforts — while still staying focused on driving business?
Digital transformation: The agency’s role
“You kind of need to build the plane while you’re flying,” said Razorfish President Josh Campo. He sees his agency as the glue that helps bind together the different silos within the client’s business, connecting the different parts of the organization across categories and between different functional groups.
Campo says its rare that a client comes to Razorfish asking for help with digital transformation. Instead, more often than not, brands come to the agency because they are facing challenges with being consistent across channels or have a specific problem that needs to be addressed, such as sales or conversion challenges.
“Generally, we see a point of engagement that is around a problem, and then, depending on how far in we go, you start to see an opportunity to really drive transformation,” said Campo, “It’s not something that happens overnight.”
Fey says Firewood’s job is to work with businesses to help them think more creatively, more strategically and more proactively through a digital mindset. “We are seeing incredible examples of audience response and impact to brand equity,” said Fey about the digital transformation efforts her agency has helped facilitate.
Agencies making their own transformative moves
Razorfish, part of Publicis Groupe, has experienced its own transformation recently with the Razorfish brand re-emerging from four years under the Sapient side of the business. According to Campo, Razorfish’s combined marketing technology, creative, strategy and data capabilities have always been oriented toward helping deliver digital transformation programs — bringing the Razorfish brand back to life was a way to make those capabilities more visible and a bit more focused.
Daniel Gilbert, founder and CEO of Brainlabs, is another marketing leader whose agency is undergoing its own transformation to meet the digital needs of its clients. Already this year, Brainlabs has acquired two other agencies: Distilled and Hanapin.
“Businesses undergoing digital transformation don’t want to have to navigate disparate network agencies,” said Gilbert, “They want access to broad functional expertise with a unified strategy and a single point of contact.”
Gilbert’s experience with clients in need of digital transformation strategies echos Campo’s. “Some clients might not come to us for support in starting a transformation, but are instead looking for advanced project ideas using tech to really take their marketing to the next level,” said Gilbert. He says his agency challenges clients when it thinks clients are focusing on the wrong area, “They think they need one thing, but in actuality our experiences suggest they need something different.”
Digital transformation is ‘a mindset’
According to Gilbert, most businesses are aware that advanced “digitization” is necessary, but the amount of internal restructuring needed makes it hard for brands to execute on their own. “From a business perspective, digital transformation starts within company culture,” said Gilbert, “You need a future-proofed culture designed for adaptability and enabled by tech.”
Rajan Kohli, president of Wipro Digital, the digital business unit of the global IT company Wipro, says the main issues his clients face when tackling digital transformation are centered on internal structure — the ways they go about their work and their culture.
“Companies recognize the importance of digital transformation, but they often struggle with where to begin, how to identify what’s driving the change and how to determine ROI,” said Kohli, “If there’s a blind spot we help clients identify, it’s making them realize that the ‘digital’ in ‘digital transformation’ is not a technology, but a mindset.”
Fey and her colleague Kris Belau, Firewood’s VP of digital marketing, equate digital transformation to learning a new new language. “You start with the basics like vocabulary and build up your comfort level over time until you can read and even converse to some degree,” said Belau who believes true digital transformation is about reaching digital fluency.
“You can now think in that language by default because it is natural and an integral part of who you are,” said Belau, “While it’s possible for this process to happen without help, having a tutor is always a great way to learn any new language. Agencies and consultants are the native speakers that can help bridge the gap to fluency and guide an organization forward more quickly and without less missteps.”
Campo says the biggest mistake he sees organizations make when undergoing digital transformation initiatives, is wanting to “just put the right technology in place” but not address organizational needs.
“Organizations are just like consumers — they’re made up of people and people have their own biases and they have their own aspirations — and managing to that to make sure that we’re aligning those biases and those aspirations to what’s best for the customer as a driver of what will create a better relationship with that person and the brand is key.”
What this means for the CMO
For the most part, Campo’s team is usually working with the CMO or VP of marketing on digital transformation strategies.
“On occasion, it’s going to be a chief digital officer, or we start to see sometimes a chief customer officer or chief revenue officer type role, but I think, ultimately, those roles are interpretations of where a modern CMO role goes to.”
CMO’s have experienced an evolution in accountability, according to Campo, where previously they were focused on funnels but now must own the full customer journey, broadly expanding their responsibilities to include everything from awareness to consideration, conversion and repurchase.
“We’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of touch points where branding engages with the consumer,” said Campo, “It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a CMO. I think it’s a massive expansion of the role.”
It may be a massive expansion, but the companies that are shifting their focus from product to consumer by gathering feedback across the digital experience, are the ones winning the race, according to Gilbert.
“Advertisers need to really rethink the role of their C-suite, connect their marketing and analytics teams, and work effectively with agencies and tech providers,” said Gilbert, “The end goal is to achieve digital maturity — the ability to reach customer throughout the entire funnel, delivering innovative and personalized customer experiences, with end-to-end measurement and advanced data analysis to predict customer behavior.”