Digital Transformation Journey: A Brand's Secret Weapon to Combat Marketing Disruption

Digital Transformation Journey: A Brand’s Secret Weapon to Combat Marketing Disruption

Digital Transformation Journey:
Brands’ Secret Weapon to Combat Marketing Disruption

By David Armano, Global Strategy Director

By David Armano, Global Strategy Director

How the Digital Transformation Began

Consumer, customer and employee behaviors continue to evolve along with technology, while marketing remains in the crosshairs of disruption. The evolution started with the internet, but has accelerated due to social, mobile and the promise and perils of automation. To understand where a brand’s Digital Transformation goes next, we must take a moment to review how we got here.

Web: Organizations Grapple with A Worldwide Network

The internet evolved by organizing the Worldwide Web via browsers and search engines. Businesses began migrating services and products online while updating their internal tech infrastructure (CRM, CMS etc.) to compete. As technologies and infrastructure improved, such as WiFi, and friction/barriers were removed via cost, this stage gradually went from experimental (pre-dotcom bust) to mainstream. As new digital behaviors emerged, brands and organizations had to “stake their claim” on the Worldwide Web.

Social: Brands Pivot to Connected Consumers

With the infrastructure and technology of the internet in place, the stage was set for social. Chat rooms expanded beyond early providers such as AOL, and a phenomenon known as the “blogosphere” gained traction allowing anyone to publish. Early social networks such as MySpace and Friendster helped Facebook and Twitter gain traction through the proliferation and acceleration of mobile technology. “Social” proved to be disruptive, as anyone could have a voice and opinion and brands were challenged to be relevant on platforms where people spend their time and attention. Expectations of customer response have also become part of the social era taking place of private e-mail or phone interactions with customers. The result? A revolution of the customer experience and modern communications.

Mobile: The Social Consumer, Customer and Employee

One of the most powerful shifts of our time is the mainstreaming of mobile technologies and behaviors, which take the internet and social media to supercharge connectivity and mobility. As organizations continue to operationalize business functions based on a workforce, changes must be implemented across people, process and technology. Facebook notoriously re-positioned their business functions to operate as a “mobile first” company. Today’s organizations find themselves solving similar problems despite not being a technology company.

The Next Phase of the Digital Transformation

We’re now seeing the next wave of Digital Transformation take shape. Already, companies which have transformed their business models to meet the needs of digitally empowered customers now find themselves in competition with even newer business models. Three new disruptions are forcing brands to undertake the next phase of their Digital Transformation:

The On-Demand Expectations of Consumers

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.

The Complete Fragmentation of Media

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.

The Activist Economy

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 are increasingly finding themselves during a societal issue 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.

Transformation Imperatives: Speed, Personalization and Always On

Consumers now expect immediate response (speed) to customer service requests on social media and they would rather engage digitally as opposed to pick up the phone. While viewing video on “traditional television” is on the decline—digital video viewership and engagement is exploding thanks to social apps and players ranging from YouTube to Netflix. As digital video demand and consumption explodes, the pace for advertisers to monetize has to keep up.

It’s Not a Map, It’s a Journey

To meet today’s newest dynamics with yesterday’s continued evolution, brands must view change as a Digital Transformation Journey (“DTJ”) and understand how it will help them reach tangible goals. There is no one single roadmap. Each organization’s unique culture, goals, hierarchy, technology infrastructure etc. play a role in how it will evolve over time. For some, the transformation will be rapid. For others, gradual. Our experience has been that the most Successful Digital Transformation Journeys are just that—a longer term commitment, driven by a vision and supported by empowered executives across the organization. Viewing Digital Transformation as a journey (in some cases never-ending) mirrors the pace of change caused by digital itself. Every organization navigates that change differently.

Fig 1.1: An example of how a Digital Transformation Journey evolves an organization’s marketing and communications responsiveness.

Navigating the Journey:  People, Process and Platforms

At Edelman, we see our clients grapple with Digital Transformation in a variety of ways, from new marketing processes due to shifting ad dollars, to operations optimized for influencer marketing at scale, to the social customer experience. We advocate for a “three Ps” model that puts people at the center, whether those people are consumers or employees. Our assessment is that large marketing operations often look to new technology before understanding the needs of the people. With them at the center—Digital Transformation can take root in ways that evolve across the organization.

Fig 1.2: Putting people at the center of Digital Transformation Initiatives helps build a strategic foundation
Fig 1.2: Putting people at the center of Digital Transformation Initiatives helps build a strategic foundation


Digital Transformation from The Inside Out

Digital Transformation is as much an internal initiative as it is external. While Digital Transformation is hot on the minds of CMOs, it often involves the participation, if not co-leadership, of CIOs and CCOs. From intranets, to solutions aimed at targeting the limitations of e-mail—we see signs of Digital Transformation accelerating at both the employee and even front line worker part of the organization. As organizations evolve and begin to operate at the speed of digital, the way employees engage and interact across the organization is, too, evolving. This evolution happens across four key areas:

Fig 1.3: Digital Transformation from the inside-out: education, information, collaboration and distribution
Fig 1.3: Digital Transformation from the inside-out: education, information, collaboration and distribution

To fully engage in the digital transformation journey, employees need to be educated on the change, access information seamlessly, and collaborate across silos. Organizations must find new ways to distribute key content across the workforce as it evolves.

Executive Sponsorship and Buy-in are Key

Digital Transformation is everyone’s job in the organization. It takes evaluating roles and responsibilities. It requires both an executive champion in the organization to navigate internal dynamics and a driver who coordinates resources to get it done. In Altimeter’s 2016 State of Digital Transformation Survey—34% of participants stated that it was CMO that largely leads Digital Transformation efforts. A recent article in The Harvard Business Review stressed that CEOs must prioritize Digital Transformation. Our experience has been that actionable Digital Transformation initiatives reflect the support of the CEO, the sponsorship of the C-Suite and the empowerment of multiple teams across the organization to realize tangible progress.


Fig 1.4: Operations model for influencer marketing workflow

Process and Structure to Support the Customer Experience

New processes and internal organizational re-structuring may be required to move the organization closer to align with how their customers want to engage. A solid grasp of the customers’ non-linear journey is a fundamental starting point for operationalizing Digital Transformation in this area.

Use Data to Inform Actionable Insights

Increasingly, organizations must decipher real time data from search and social channels as part of its broader data ecosystem (CRM, Shopper Marketing, etc.) Data displays, dashboards and algorithms must also be deciphered by human beings who can surface meaningful insights. These insights inform activations in order to validate hypothesis. The activations then should be looked at and optimized based on performance. This cycle becomes the operating system for the marketing organization which can evolve over time.

Fig 1.5:* Barilla’s “Listening Room” is a global network of specialists who analyze brand and category trend across search, social and media data and work with data specialists through organization to inform decisions.
Fig 1.5:* Barilla’s “Listening Room” is a global network of specialists who analyze brand and category trend across search, social and media data and work with data specialists through organization to inform decisions.


Technology platforms should enable change, not drive it. They must be aligned with the goals, culture and needs of the people who use and benefit from them. Some brands will need to prioritize technology platforms based on legacy systems and compatibility or contracts while others are able to mix, match and build custom solutions. In our work with the U.S. Dairy Industry, it was imperative to develop a social intranet solution built on multiple enterprise technologies. We customized the solution and ensured it could integrate with other platforms to both display data and have the ability to share content outside the system. It not only met technical needs but also combined best in breed functionality and features based on user needs. For example, the solution for supporting both social-threaded interactions as well as searching and archiving documents had to work in both desktop and mobile environments.

Fig 1.6:** Dynamic Signal’s Voicestorm App allows large organizations to manage employee communications internally or social sharing externally even if employees don’t have access to e-mail
Fig 1.6:** Dynamic Signal’s Voicestorm App allows large organizations to manage employee communications internally or social sharing externally even if employees don’t have access to e-mail

How to Accelerate Your Digital Transformation Journey

As mentioned above, each Digital Transformation Journey is specific to the organization, culture, industry and needs. However there are some common ways we’ve found that are effective in reinvigorating and prioritizing the DTJ across a business:

Create a Common Vision

If your company has not outlined its Digital Transformation Journey —it’s time to put pen to paper. Even if it’s a rough sketch, it’s important to document your company’s path to transformation. Look at how you should apply the “Three P’s” in a way that’s unique to your business.  Once you have this sketch, use it to create and refine one common vision with your stakeholders. Talking about DTJ is great, but it starts with documenting then iterating to create consensus and alignment.

Make it Tangible:  Identify Key Pilots

Nothing beats action and tangible progress.  DTJ pilot initiatives should be identified, prioritized and measured with clear outcomes in mind. There should come learnings that expose gaps, validate/invalidate assumptions and identify areas of improvement to inform a full rollout strategy.  Successes from pilots should be used as proof-points to further build consensus, illustrate business impact and obtain any further investment needs.  The Digital Transformation Journey rarely happens in a silo. It requires constant data points generated by strategic bets that the organization prioritizes and measures.

Fig 1.7: Activation pilots informed by data/ insights can help validate hypothesis and align stakeholders

Align Across Organization Through Validation and Iteration

Brands who accelerate their DTJ must align internally to avoid creating special “skunkworks” that are siloed within the organization and do not scale. Activations that are the result of accelerated transformation efforts become tangible proof points which can be shared across the organization, serving as both education and validation that the organization is moving in right direction. Pilot programs for example should not only be analyzed and measured for success, but can also help with internal alignment across the marketing organization and beyond. Alignment supported by activations over time will help build credibility and consensus as the journey progresses.

About Digital Transformation at Edelman

Technology is constantly disrupting how consumers, customers and employees engage with brands.  As brands adapt, they will be forced to look at the operational changes (people, process, technology) necessary to effectively deliver on these new approaches.


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