‘Digital’ is an area you may think you have under control.
After all, Google has been around for almost 20 years now and you believe your search team are on top of all the latest algorithm changes. Social media is a newer ‘kid on the block’ but you’ve got strong and stable followings on Facebook, Twitter and the like and you’re achieving respectable levels of engagement. Even mobile no longer has the power to strike fear into your heart – you’ve done the hard yards and your site is now fully responsive.
This year might involve a ‘tweak’ here, a slight adjustment there but, all in all, you’re happy with your digital marketing plans.
But you shouldn’t be. Not according to Microsoft’s former Head of Digital Marketing Strategy and Emarketeers Digital Skills for Leaders course designer, Allister Frost:
“Many businesses work by the mantra: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But Bill Gates had a saying that I think is more apt for the rapidly changing world in which we live: ‘Today, if it works, it’s obsolete.’ What he meant by that is that everything you do as a business right now can – using technology – be done better. And if your business doesn’t realise that, one of your competitors will.”
Reactive approaches a problem
One of the problems is that businesses tend to be reactive rather than strategic in their approach to digital technology. As Frost explains:
“Most businesses have a digital approach derived from iterations – adopting things as and when they come along and then trying to polish them up and make them better. But they don’t necessarily know why they’re doing them, what results they want to get from them and what contribution each of these component parts will make to their success.”
Businesses clearly need to thoroughly appraise their digital approach in light of their customer’s current and future needs, and lay out a clear roadmap for the future.
Marketers’ struggles with digital transformation
But even those that have realised that are struggling, according to a recent survey sponsored by Adobe. Their study found that over half (55%) of a sample of 450 UK said they felt unable to keep up with the pace of digital transformation. This compares with 48% last year. This finding doesn’t surprise Frost:
“The problem with technology is that it’s pervasive – it seeps into our lives without us knowing it. Even when we adopt new technology in our personal lives, we’re often joyfully ignorant as to how it works, so we don’t stop to make the connections as to how it could help our business.”
It’s no wonder that many surveys report a disconnect between what consumers report they want from businesses in terms of digital innovation and what marketers think they want.
The potential of Artificial Intelligence
But it’s not just about having a more strategic approach to the technology that’s already out there, but about planning for what’s coming ‘over the hill.’ Artificial intelligence, in particular, is a technology which excites Frost:
“Artificial intelligence has the ability to mine vast amounts of data, identify patterns and then become a predictive modeller. In businesses, we have to make a lot of educated guesses. In a few years time, artificial intelligence will be able to mine through our data and tell us exactly what’s going wrong and how we can fix it.”
Technology has played a highly disruptive role in many industries – the world of advertising has been transformed by Facebook, mobile has turned the world of gaming on its head. Artificial intelligence has the power to be just as, if not more, disruptive. Frost thinks it will reach into every corner of business – even traditional businesses like estate agency:
“Artificial intelligence will be able to tell you when a property is likely to come onto the market – when someone is likely to move, upside or downsize – based on basic demographic information, economic trends and so on. You wouldn’t need to put a leaflet through every single door, you could target a piece of communication to each particular household to push the right buttons at the right time to get into the consideration set. And then all the best inventory will be flowing towards your business rather than your competitors.”
A strategic approach to digital transformation
So what should you do to ensure your digital efforts are being optimised for the present and to position your business for future success?
You need to invest the time in understanding technological change and the potential it has to make your customers lives better, use that knowledge to create a digital vision for your business, and get your leadership team and investors on board, and then work out what you need to do in terms of resources to support that vision.
Frost thinks that getting your digital vision right is key:
“If you want to secure support from investors or the very highest levels of management; if you want to be able to recruit top digital talent, who can probably find better pay and perks elsewhere, you need to be able to articulate a vision of what this thing can become that they want to be a part of.”
And the consequences if you can’t or won’t articulate this vision and plan for the future?
“There will already be a better, faster, easier, smarter, more enjoyable way to do what you do, and customers will embrace these things. If your business doesn’t, the competitor down the road will, and you’ll be playing catch-up forever more.”
If there’s a marketing career-killer, it’s being associated with the latest business to be labelled a digital dodo, outmanoeuvred by more nimble, innovative rivals.
You’d be best to take your career advice from Bill Gates and assume the way you’re doing it is already obsolete. As one of the richest people on the planet, it’s a mantra that’s served him pretty well.