Do you recognize yourself in the quote above? Some people admit to it, most people don’t.
It’s easy to keep reading and keep going to seminars and courses, in an effort to understand what to do in the future. If we could only get the hang of this digitalization thingy, we’d know how to change. I get to meet lots of people in the midst of those efforts, but we have no doubt reached a tipping point from ”what should we do” to ”how do we do that”. It is of course not evenly distributed yet, but the macro shift is indisputable.
This means the world now knows a whole lot more about what can be done and what’s possible. We’re familiar with a few “best practices” and cases of successful digital transformation. Now all that remains is to do it. Our Head of Digital has been here a while, maybe even a head of digital innovation. Question is – how do we do something differently in your organization? Not daily operations. Something different. How do you do new things? Here’s the new frustration, bigger than ever. But it’s the right one.
In a pre-workshop interview recently, I read this: ”I will be very impressed if I can walk away with concrete tools for changing things, or actually doing something different.”
This is why Co:LabX – where I spend most of my time since mid 2015 – is about helping companies practice doing things differently. We are an innovation partner and we design innovation processes, but what we really do is help companies practice doing new things, and with new people. The key to really start working on the future is to become more curious, and you become curious simply by doing.
We paint future scenarios, we apply lateral ideation methods to produce vast amounts of ideas and we produce prototypes to test in quick ways. But the most important thing is to foster new ways of collaborating in organizations. New types of personal relationships. That takes creativity. And like another workshop participant said: ”…but then it feels like we all have to be change change agents nowadays”. That’s exactly it, isn’t it?
I’ve experienced it, you’ve experienced it. Everyone has. To some extent, we know what’s not working for us, but often we don’t act on it. Some times, in many organisations (if I extrapolate on my own and colleagues’ experiences) it’s even hard to get acceptance when fixing the problem.
The problem of working effectively. With concentration. Focused.
I believe that industries in which you live by people, their minds, creativity and collaboration – how we work is going to be the primary competitive advantage. It’s organizational culture of course. Orgs can get really good people. Many of them can. Some are more attractive and have more traction (HR and employer branding being more and more important). But over all, they get good people.
Is it better to have 50% better people or an organization in which people can be 50% more effective and just work better?
This is the second part of a few, deconstructing and highlighting some important aspects of the concept of digital strategy and what to consider when approaching it. You’ll find part 1 here.
Part 1 was much about the power of words and definitions, and the need to actively reflect on this with the group responsible for thinking “digital strategy”. It also highlighted the power of using a networked perspective for understanding the integration, organisation wide implications as well as stakeholder alignment.
In this second part I’d like to touch on how brand culture and purpose matters greatly, and how reframing this, and ones market, creates a vantage point that fuels the thinking. I use two fairly well known examples to do this.
Ford manufactures cars, but a while back they redefined themselves as a mobility brand (actually, the original mission was to make America mobile, so not that drastic change…). What does that do? Obviously that depends. But there’s a number of things that fit very nicely together in business strategy, but I’d like to include it in digital strategy as we define that as broadly as strategic thinking in a digital (networked) world.
The mobility brand Ford saw the number of 16 year olds who get their first car drop considerably. More numbers are showing the same changes in demand. But if you’re not in the business of selling cars, but rather mobility, there’s another side to that.
Ford partnered with Zipcar which offers a subscription based model for access to mobility, in the form of cars. This could have been done without Zipcar. It is now done in different shapes and forms by many car manufacturers (I recently saw that Audi pushes micro-sharing experience, collective access to Audi cars)
Zipcar bought by Avis, but what if Ford bought it? Making money from providing mobility services in Volvos, BMWs etc? Competitors become collaborators. The revenue model drastically different. Not switching, complementing. All facilitated by new, networked, technology. But, more importantly: new self perception on behalf of the brand. The organisation, and how everyone sees value creation.
Product development vs business development. A networked perspective can dramatically fuel the thinking in business development. Looking at the brand, its purpose and meaning in peoples lives, is an important part of digital strategy. It might make it inseparable from business strategy, that’s fine. That’s actually just right. And here’s also where it becomes something bigger than a digital thing. That’s important, because when it’s a business matter, and even a cultural matter, you (still) have a better shot at getting more people excited and onboard.
The vast majority still don’t feel ”digitally savvy” and hence exclude themselves from ”digital” projects. Many are literally scared of it. But cultural transformation, processes, thinking about markets and business – there’s where you might find those people.
I’ve jotted down some thinking on meaning markets before. In the case with Uber, on slide 6, they think of themselves in a number of ways appart from ”taxi company”. One is as a logistics platform. What makes sense when you’re a logistics platform? Partnership with destinations. An open API. Revenue sharing between company and private drivers carrying out the transportation. All of the things that any taxi company could have done, but didn’t. Because their culture, self-perception and view on value creation, doesn’t allow for it. That’s right, it doesn’t allow for it. That’s how strong impact culture has on ideas. It’s back to definitions in a sense.
Always include, and even describe, your digital project/initiative as a (organizational) cultural one. You benefit from appealing to people who dislikes and even fear digital.
Rethink your market. Do the product vs. meaning exercise. What is your product? What is the meaning of you, and that product/service, in peoples’ lives? Then think about what your market really is. I’ve heard Unilever is very much in ”home care”, aiming to ”free up family time”. So how about a global platform for subscription based home-cleaning, laundry service, laundry pickup etc?
See also a method called Jobs To Be Done. This is not equating an initiative around digital strategy with innovation, but it is highlighting the perfect occasion for truly taking a stab at preemptively exploring ”how the business might change”.
OK. So two posts in and still no focus on media channels, social platforms and communication. I don’t think the next one will be either.
A good reminder of a few things. There’s not offline and online. Connectivity is simply a new dimension and mobile is hence about mobility. Which means there’s confusion to be experienced when/if working on mobile strategy and digital strategy and social strategy. Maybe it’s best to just talk about strategic planning and thinking for being real world ready…
The holistic approach to digital strategy is simply about the real world
In the article Why Nordstrom’s Digital Strategy Works (and Yours Probably Doesn’t), from Harvard Business Review, the three authors (from MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research and University of Texas at Austin) stress the fact that although a great number of respondents (in their research) expect competitive advantage from SMACIT technologies (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, IoT) – it’s unlikely to happen. Those technologies are rather minimum requirements, and highly available to boot.
The trick lies in how you combine, deploy and use them. Yes, that’s when you add a strategy behind it all. But as is often the case with strategy – it’s mostly a word used (bantered) and rarely a concept well practiced. Reasons being lack of a true aim, a real problem to overcome, no sober discussion around strengths to focus on and weaknesses to accept, overly unrealistic expectation (feels good and looks good, but doesn’t help with crafting strategy that actually helps) etc. So it’s unlikely to happen not because it can’t happen, but because the concept of strategy is so poorly practiced.
The Nordstrom example they use highlights the difference between disparate initiatives in different parts of an organisation – masquerading as digital strategy – versus a coherent and holistic approach that realizes that a powerful digital strategy that actually accomplishes something has to take the full picture into account. Not mobile. Not social. But how everything fits together in the real world, and in real situations, with the business in the center.
This is not a matter of having the best apps, analytics, or social media tools. Instead, it’s a matter of tending to the details of building integrated digital capabilities, one at a time, making the right data accessible, and simplifying processes. Most retailers will struggle to do this because they haven’t architected their product or customer data for easy access by the new digital capabilities. Without those core capabilities, integration with and among new digital capabilities is virtually impossible.
Notice how all of that has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how people are going to work with it. And that demands understanding why it’s needed at all (what can we do better, i.e. what problem do we have today). These aspects revolve around the business, they highlight the importance of stakeholder alignment, cross departmental understanding, processes etc.
The authors sign off by suggesting that we Develop a strategy for succeeding in the digital economy—a purpose that leverages your unique capabilities and responds to market opportunities. Then grab every technology that takes you there.
And thinking about how to succeed in the digital economy is, of course, equally thinking about how to be real world ready. So if strategy is a word that sets the wrong tone and triggers the wrong associations – just make it about the real world.
It’s always interesting to hear how Google think and does things. I guess anybody in a business where smart and creative people matter – which is in increasingly so as we move beyond the need for mere knowledge workers – would be wise to listen and reflect.
Another management issue with regards to people being able to think up brilliant stuff and producing wonderful ideas, products and services, is that of time, focus and effectiveness. I’m increasingly sure that handling constant interruption, time theft and other sources and reasons responsible for disturbing our cognitive abilities, bandwidth for thinking – basically our time to focus and get things done. One at the time. I really love this piece about his students and multi-tasking, by the brilliant Clay Shirky. He recognises the fact that what the situation calls for, is really protecting people from what they don’t realise. That is a key responsibility and future (present) competitive advantage.
For quite a while, I’ve been using Ford as an example of a brand that’s redefined itself (or rather refocused) from car manufacturer to what they refer to as a mobility brand. I think it makes all the difference.
What they did early on was team up with ZipCar on US campuses, getting young drivers (note; drivers, not car owners) to get into Ford cars. Stats on that car selling challenge here. Now, of course the meaning with owning a car is transportation and mobility (not taking into account the, to be honest, not so small addition of signalling something about you as a person, which I think sits equally much in what you choose to drive and not just what you own). Hence a new business model. You may come from manufacturing and selling Ford cars, but that’s not necessarily the business for ever after. If Ford viewed their meaning market like Avis do (Avis bought ZipCar), they’d step past the competition by way of a business focused on getting people transportation – whether that’s a BMW, Volvo, Ford or whatever car brand. Potentially pretty drastic from a scaled up business model perspective .
Envisioning freely what Ford could be doing and what the larger meaning market could be, and what offers and services fit in, you touch on selecting models and vehicles. So I’m always thinking why not be able to buy the sporty one – but get 5 free rentals a year for when the family needs a larger vehicle for soccer games or something like that. You know, bake that in as the augmented product. Relieving difficult choices, in a way. Because it’s not about buying a car, it’s about transportation, mobility – even family logistics, when you think about it.
The exercise of thinking Product (category) vs. Meaning (value of the (bigger/multiple) market(s)) is one that I stress every brand and organisation to do in a recurring manner. It sits in the project/process/challenge of figuring out the digital strategy, mind you. It’s because technology and digital, if we allow ourselves to refer to it as loosely as that, is driving societal changes. That means what you do, who you are and how you do things – can, and will, drastically change. Meaning your basic existence is the topic. That’s a cultural question, not a technical one. And that, dear reader, is the most importan distinction to be made when getting an organisation of not-so-tech-interested people to start pulling in the same direction. To feel ownership in a question that they, hence, understand and grasp (culture and meaning as opposed to that “digital stuff”).
I use meaning* and not purpose. I might seem like semantics but I think the two are distinctively different. With brands defining their purpose, I think often we see an inside/out perspective still lurking there. It’s our purpose (for us) vs. the meaning (for users). Meaning is about the new markets (and business ideas, models and revenue models) that can be identified and that may not resemble anything your used to from before (scary). The value they provide and generate. Purpose is centered too much around a statement about the brand and doesn’t get “verbified” as well.
Have you phrased, framed and begun the cultural transformation that is the result of technological change yet?
* I am aware that if you are looking at the word meaning in the context of brands and consumption, we also have another definition in the consumer culture research discipline. I use meaning markets more in a business development sense, where function/utility takes precedence over the development of signaling powers of brands, although the two are intertwined.
A Ted Talk where Bill Ford Jr shares some thinking on the future of transportation and mobility (2011).
“When you use Buycott to scan a product, it will look up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum). It will then cross-check the product owners against the companies and brands included in the campaigns you’ve joined, in order to tell you if the scanned product conflicts with one of your campaign commitments.”
We want to do good, make the right decisions. Eat green, wear helmet, give to the needy. What we say and want to do doesn’t always (almost never?) equal what we actually do. Attitudes and intentions might be there (I said I’d start wearing a helmet, and really meant to, for about a year) but behaviour is held back by barriers often ridiculous in nature.
The Buycott app, covered here in Springwise, is an example of a phenomena where those barriers, standing between intentions and behaviour, are lowered. When intentions are enforced and supported effortlessly, things can get interesting. Users/consumers tend to forget, but if forgetting gets harder, there’s even more pressure on brands.
Brands need to think harder (and try harder) to operate in a world where active and intentional (strategic) brand building more frequently is done through operational actions, decisions, etc, and less so through intentional brand communication.
Doing bad stuff has always risked ending up in the news or search results, but it (generally) demands momentum, a high “shittiness level” and a collective outrage. We’re alerted (and reinforce) though common sentiment and mass behaviour in a connected society. Connected information like this, which helps our intentions by becoming connected intentions, doesn’t. It becomes as individual as the wine suggestion app in a bottle store.
That doesn’t mean groups and social pressure doesn’t exert power on brand choice/decisions, but an added – again comparably effortless – nudge and reminder is potentially big. In a way it’s what connected and quantified self is/will be for daily health decisions in general.
For a very long time, Hyper Island have been using the #himc tag, which stands for hyper island master class, to share think pieces, concrete advice, brain food and absolute must-reads.
Many organisations need help and advice on how to make better (business) sense of emerging technologies and possibilities – and more importantly subsequent behaviours and implications for business and brand strategy – and I, personally, do a lot of work in that area (both as occasional hyper island collaborator, but primarily under the funny you should ask flag).
In all honesty, just by following the #himc tag (which cost nothing but a few minutes of attention), as they live by the sharing is caring rule of thumb, any company looking to better navigate an increasingly complex reality would benefit greatly. It doesn’t have to take much, but what is a required first step, is to start letting new perspectives, inspiration, opinions and realities through that filter called business as usual.
MITSloan presented some results from a survey about the need for digital transformation (companies face an imperative: adopt new technologies effectively or face competitive obsolescence as the study states). Results include an interesting, but not so strange, paradox:
78% say achieving digital transformation will become critical to their organisations within the next two years
Only 38% of respondents said that digital transformation was a permanent fixture on their CEO’s agenda
I think this circles the most pressing issue and bottleneck; the interchangable use of digital transformation and business transformation.
Looking at digital technology (in whatever shape or form) from the level you stand, will not help you transform the business. Albert Einstein said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. If you are expecting business transformation, you need to work on where that transformation might be going before you look at digital technology. Multiple answers will do too, scenario planning and future creation are exercises in plurality, but you simply cannot view things like you used to.
Despite growing acknowledgment of the need for digital transformation, most companies struggle to get clear business benefits from new digital technologies. They lack both the management temperament and relevant experience to know how to effectively drive transformation through technology.
Brand therapy in order to aim business transformation
So It’s backwards. Technology won’t give you the new future and reveal possible business benefits, it helps reach it and to an extent anticipate it. Companies need to revisit their entire reason for being, the meaning of them in peoples’ lives. Turn it inside out, because whatever you are now was created in a reality which is no longer. You need to go to brand therapy. Looking at yourself through the same old eyes simply cannot reflect a transformed image. You need a new level of self consciousness which means you have to have the guts (and realise the scope of a transformational process like this) to question old truths. You have to be prepared to redefine what you do (the business) as opposed to how you do things (the tools).
What I say is missing from this is the lack of a clear purpose and new self consciousness. The pieces that help give change a clear direction, reason and fundamental meaning.
There are product categories and then there are meaning markets. Well, to me there is. I keep coming back to the importance of brands thinking about themselves as having meaning in a greater context. What is the meaning with us? Of course viewed from the other side it’s about what value do I (user) get out of them (brand). And when corporations can ask themselves that question from the perspective of a consumer (customer centricity) is when you start seeing opportunities within a/your meaning market.
Product categories are limiting. Ford as a car brand? Then go ahead and invent better cars (and product innovation is of course needed). Ford as mobility brand? Then it makes perfect sense to team up with (hell they could have started it) Zip Car and help sell transportation by the hour to consumers used to buying music by the song, as Gretchen Effgen, of Zipcar, put it a while back. Joint miles program with air line? Why not.
In digital transformation (i.e. business transformation, mind you) – definitions, perspectives and self perceptions makes all the difference. This, by super smart Deborah Mills-Scofield, I liked:
“There is a balance between using the past to understand the present and guide the future, on the one hand, and on the other, creating something fresh that leaves the old behind. We need analogies to understand the new (eg, horseless carriage) yet they also hold us back by it constraining our thinking (eg, horseless carriage).”
And if you think that’s only about semantics and words, here’s the knock-you-straight business version from Peter Drucker.
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
Almost all clients I’ve come in contact with and in any way consulted in digital transformation, whether tactical or strategic, the issue has sat there. Definitions. Definitions reinforced by legacy. This keeps you distanced from the future. Regardless of how evenly or unevenly distributed it might be…