Last week I had the opportunity to both attend and participate at the Chief Digital Officer Forum in New York. If I had one macro take away from the conversations and topics covered—it was that a Digital Transformation Journey is an infinite loop. There is no destination. There is no summit to be reached. The more things change the more they look the same—and while this sounds simplistic in nature, it's actually the opposite because Digital Ecosystems have only become more complex over time and adoption has exponentially exploded with no signs of slowing down.
One of my favorite speakers from the forum was Melinda Richter who heads up the Johnson and Johnson Innovation Labs (JLABS) function at the company. JLABS is a network of innovation Hubs across multiple geographies that focuses on bringing external innovators into the Johnson and Johnson fold providing a value exchange which offers some of the things a large organization can bring in exchange for the opportunity to learn from or potentially partner with innovators brought into the system. Without using the "D word" (Disruption) it became clear that JLABS was focused on ensuring that the broader organization could future proof itself but needed an operations system to do so.
Melinda's philosophy in dealing with internal stakeholders who grappled with the value of her initiatives is to probe whenever she got a "no" response. "Tell me more about your no" she explained is one of the ways she uses to get deeper insights into what drives resistance to change. She also advocated a three pronged approach to navigating change in a complex organization:
Championship (Find and leverage executive sponsors)
Grit (The most valuable soft skill)
Never Give Up (Change is hard)
Digital Transformation is a Journey: It Never Ends
The panel I facilitated included one of Edelman's clients in the food sector—Barilla. The brand began its Digital Transformation Journey before we starting partnering with them, but in the past few years, decline in the Pasta category (a trend beginning to reverse) acted as something of a catalyst which accelerate Digital Transformation across the organization. Proof points can be found in the form of activations in content and influencer marketing as well as social intelligence—all activities that the brand prioritized as a way to help combat disruptions in marketing and business.
Topics ranged from artificial intelligence, to bots (both the good and bad kinds) to the potential of voice technology to integrating data systems and many more. All have roots in digital whether from a tech perspective or a human usage point of view. And while the technology advances as does human adoption, the discussions had weren't all that different from when business began migrating to the Web or mobile.
What's Next In Digital Transformation?
We shared our broader perspective on Digital Transformation with this group of practitioners in terms of what's likely coming next. From our perspective brands will be grappling with opportunities across three core areas with specific connectivity to marketing and communications:
Apps, automation, artificial intelligence, mobile connectivity and a mature tech infrastructure now allows consumers to get what they want, when and how they want it like never before. These elevated expectations are highly disruptive for brands who are now dealing with loyalty-based responsiveness, convenience and a customer experience that feels frictionless and on-demand.
With ad blockers, false reporting bots, a decline in traditional television viewing, the rise of digital video and influencers—marketing has finally been hit by the meteor it always knew was coming. Media is completely fragmented and programmatic solutions have resulted in unfortunate ad placements that put a brand’s reputation at risk. The benefits of data driven insights have yet to deliver on its potential. Marketers must adapt or die in the pursuit of finding new ways to reach and engage audiences at scale.
On the cultural front—consumers are not only empowered to behave as activists thanks to social media—they are now polarized and motivated to do so and no brand is immune. Millennials in today’s polarized environment are causing brands to anticipate and respond to consumer’s needs in ways that transcend transactions and even emotions. Brands increasingly find themselves associated with societal issues where consumers, employees and even media demand to know their stance. In this economy, brands will be forced to re-examine and re-align their societal values and not just the value proposition of their products.
Digital Transformation runs the risk of being an overused buzzword (it likely already is) but those of us doing the heavy lifting to help our organizations evolve know it's just shorthand for the never ending task of adapting to a dynamic business environment fueled by cultural social and technological shifts. It's an infinite loop and the journey never ends.
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