The Essential Role of Brand In The Success Of Your Digital Transformation

The Essential Role of Brand In The Success Of Your Digital Transformation

A good article by Rob Llewellyn a couple of weeks ago touched on a number of the key issues associated with the transformation challenge.

Among them:
  • Many (maybe most) businesses in a state of change mistakenly believe that they are “transforming” when they are just doing it wrong more efficiently and thereby accelerating their demise.
  • The books we learn our business skills from are out of date.
  • Transformation is expensive, even for a business of the size of Toys R Us. That’s why you have to be smart about it. (Most businesses aren’t, which is why 70% of transformations fail).
  • What is commonly referred to as digital marketing is not digital transformation

It also highlights a couple of areas that are particularly important to anyone involved in transformation.

The first is illustrated in the comment Rob quotes from the CEO of Toys R Us at the appointment of their new Marketing Director.
“I expect to see her immediate positive impact on our marketing programs and ability to connect with today’s consumers and drive traffic into our bricks and mortar stores and our web store”.

I’ve rarely seen a clearer illustration of a CEO hanging his new marketing director out to dry. This statement suggests a serious misunderstanding of what marketing is.

Marketing is the process of aligning an organisation to opportunities it has the best possible chance of exploiting. That’s it! Forget the communication element. Communications are just a tool we use to affect the necessary changes, internal and external. So, as Rob says, the thought that the Toys R Us marketing director together with BBDO might “save” the business with a few choice words, apart from, in this case, demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of who the audience was, is laughable.

Once you get this, it’s clear transformation is part of the alignment and that has to be defined by marketers. It is not, as some seem to believe, an IT project. If you are aligning to opportunities, you are defining and building the structure and processes you need to deliver your brand promise.  That’s “transformation”. Today that happens to mean embracing digital tools, but the role of IT people is to provide the technical infrastructure, not create the processes or decide what platforms are fit for purpose.

All other foggy notions apart, the fundamental difference between commercial success and failure is efficiency. Becoming more efficient in the past may have been a simple matter of streamlining existing processes, but the advent of the digital age provides opportunities for achieving more with less, that any business wishing to stay in the game, simply has to embrace. For most organisations that means a re-build rather than a bit of tinkering, which is why transformation is costly, takes ages and is often painful.


It’s important to understand, transformation isn’t the solution, it just puts you in the game, but you have to be in it to win it, so there’s no escaping any of this. I’ve said before that transformation is a change from an old routine to a point of constant change and it never really ends. You are only ever as good as your next big idea and, ultimately, it’s what you do once you have made the initial step up to a digital model that really counts. What we mean when we talk about an efficient transformation is the good planning that will help you get there with minimum pain and get you to the starting line quicker and less expensively.

You don’t have to make all the changes at once, but you probably will have to move quicker than you imagine. Maybe quicker than you have moved before. That’s the nature of digital transformation. Your transformation schedule is dictated by a number of factors, primarily the state of digitisation within your sector, but also the funding you have available and the preparedness of your internal stakeholders. Making the best play with the hand you are dealt is what your transformation strategy is about, but it is also essential to the efficiency of your transformation process to always have your objective in view. The focus you need is provided by your brand, which is why the first step in any transformation strategy is to define your brand.

The absence of a clearly defined brand is a common failure with all the businesses in Rob’s list of recent failures. The brands of Toys R Us, Maplin, and Claires were insipid. They were non-brands, they didn’t make a promise and there was nothing to engage with. They were just there and, in today’s era of businesses as brand communities, just turning up simply isn’t enough.

In another article the same week of Rob’s, Gen Kobayashi at Ogilvy raises the subject of “alienation” in relation to brands. I’m not sure I agree with all that he says, but I am particularly interested in his view that engaging one audience segment doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to “alienate” another.

Attempting to be all things to all people may result in a brand that offends no one, but the strongest personal relationships we have are with people who are vivid characters and the same applies to brands. Having a large audience that’s there only because you haven’t annoyed them is about as useful these days as having a lot of Facebook friends. When it comes to the crunch, these people aren’t going to save your life.

To achieve relationships that matter with loyal followers who agree with your views and will support you requires you to stand for something. That will inevitably mean there are people out there who don’t share your concerns and therefore don’t want to be your friend – It’s pretty simple really and I guess that’s alienation. You have to live with this. Another important facet of marketing strategy is defining what segments and motivations offer your organisation the greatest potential.

All business these days are about brands. Brands are communities of people with shared values and beliefs. The beauty of a strong brand is that it is “exclusive”. You carry the products and wear the logos of your brand communities as badges of belonging. You are a Manchester United supporter, a Nike person, a Ferrari driver, an Apple user. We combine different brands that represent different aspects of our character to create a unique formula that is “us”. This is the way we define ourselves in today’s world and it isn’t going to change any time soon.

The value of a business isn’t defined purely by the number of members you have in your brand community, but the depth of the relationship they have with you.

This doesn’t mean you should set out to alienate people. Just focus on building relationships with those whose needs you are closest to meeting. If your priority is to not offend anybody, you’ll have weak relationships and end up spending all your time and money on costly tactical offers designed to entice back customers who have left you to join a more compelling brand community, and that’s REALLY expensive. You could be investing that time and money in identifying new segments and building relationships with them and thereby growing your loyal, engaged community and if you want to do that you simply have to start with an organisation whose every component – people, processes and tools – is single-mindedly designed to deliver your brand promise consistently, and efficiently.

Read Rob’s article here:

Read Gen’s article here:

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