Doing digital right

When it comes to going digital, companies often make three big mistakes

whats your digital story
Wesley Fryer via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

If analysts are right, worldwide technology spending will total $3.8 trillion this year. A significant chunk of that money will be devoted to re-engineering business processes and customer experiences for the digital world. And unfortunately much of it will be wasted.

When it comes to going digital, companies often make three big mistakes. First, they try to just “become more digital” and start without a real strategy. That’s a killer. It’s almost impossible to get where you need to be without knowing where that is or having a clear map or plan to guide you. Next, they fail to put the customer or user squarely at the center of what they’re doing. That won’t work now that everyone has seen what truly customer-centric businesses can deliver. (Think Amazon, Starbucks and Google.) Finally, they are too slow. We’re operating in an age of digital disruption, a time when innovators can leverage fast-changing technology and user preferences to upend traditional business models. (Think Apple’s new Apple Pay.) In this game, speed absolutely matters.

So if you want to make sure your company’s investment in digital actually brings more dollars in the door, start by crafting a clear strategy and iterating against it. Make sure every facet of it has the end goal of making a positive impact, direct or indirect, on your customers. And do it now. In our digitally disruptive world, you need to act with the urgency of a startup, and with the same big ambitions. Your aim can’t be to just re-engineer your business and improve on the margins. You want to reimagine how you participate in your category. You want to move beyond where your company is today, to a place where your customers aren’t just satisfied but delighted. And you need to accelerate well past incremental growth to achieve real transformation, the game-changing kind that propels your company into a more profitable and sustainable future.

While you’re at it, here are three things to keep in mind. They’re the three biggest digital trends shaping the future of business, and they should be an integral part of your digital strategy:

Mobile. As they say in the angling game, you want to fish where the fish are. Today your customers are anywhere they want or need to be thanks to mobile technology. Mobile is central to connecting with them not only in the digital world but also in the physical world, since just about everybody now carries a mobile device. In many industries, mobile also is crucial to connecting with your workforce and your external partners. It has to be thought of as your “first screen” — not an afterthought.

Personalization. Remember what I said about having a customer-focused strategy? It’s vitally important that your company create experiences that feel highly engaging and personal to the users of your products or services. This is a form of personalization. It’s a matter of giving someone a solution they’re not getting from anyone else. Personalization drives adoption of your products and services, it drives heavy repeat use of those products and services, and ultimately it drives customer advocacy — advertising you can’t buy at any price.

Big data. Businesses today have access to seemingly endless streams of data — from enterprise systems, from social media sites, from point-of-purchase and point-of-use sensors and more. Data offers a massive opportunity to drive decision-making and growth and to customize the customer experience across your entire operation. Make sure your systems are equipped to allow you — and every employee in your company who has the ability to influence its success — to take advantage of big data.

If you think you can afford to do less — to simply re-engineer rather than reimagine, to move slower rather than faster, to focus inward rather than starting with your customer’s point of view — you’re taking a big risk. Your most dangerous competitors, including the startup down the street and the company in a neighboring industry that’s looking for new areas of growth, aren’t moving slowly. They sense opportunity. They have a bias for action. They know exactly where they want to go. And they create expectations for behavior and culture that inform and motivate all levels of their digital-first organizations. You want — and need — to get there first.

Christopher Vollmer is the global managing director of Strategy& Digital Services and the leader of Strategy&’s Global Media and Entertainment Practice.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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