The Challenges Marketers Face Becoming Digital

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Study after study suggests that firms and marketers are having difficulty “becoming digital”. To better understand the nature of the challenge and what leading marketing organizations are doing to rapidly increase their digital sophistication, I turned to Peggy Chen, CMO at SDL. The language and content management company  works with 78 of the top 100 global brands, like Unilever, Phillips, Lexus and others, to create relevant digital experiences for consumers. Below is Chen’s insight on the digital revolution.

Kimberly Whitler: Before we start, I want to ask a basic question. How do you define “digital”? The term is thrown around regularly and with a great degree of looseness, so getting your perspective on what this means would be terrific.

Peggy Chen: It is a key buzzword that is used differently depending on who you talk to. Digital has become the medium through which people communicate—it’s table stakes. It’s how we understand, relate to, and communicate with everyone. Consumers today spend upwards of eight hours a day on any one of their three connected devices. That’s an incredible shift when you think about it.

In our business, we see a lot of people going from print to digital. And even when you are printing, you are still using digital technology. And so, the whole world now is digital. The challenge is that when it comes to communication, in the digital sphere, you tend to lose that personal connection. Consumers are inundated with meaningless messages, and making your brand stand out – in any language, or device, is a major challenge. We are at a turning point. The question is no longer, “how do we get everything on the digital channel”. Instead it’s “how you bring the human elements into digital—bring back the human interaction?” Digital is a means to an end. Now we have to make it more meaningful.

Whitler: What are the top challenges you see firms/marketers face as they attempt to become more digital (i.e., technology, organization, talent, etc.)?

Chen: Because digital is the primary channel of communication, the primary challenge is how to connect with your customers in a meaningful and relevant way (e.g., consumer experience). So now, it’s converting digital into a more effective vehicle. The first stage was to get everything on digital. Now, most companies have accomplished this. Next is to figure out how to integrate the digital experience and engage with consumers before, during and after a sale. This means how to structure the organization, how to change and train the talent, and how to use technology to engage in exciting new ways.

One of the biggest challenges marketers have is in creating the amount of content needed to deliver this level of engagement. How do you create more customized, relevant content across languages, devices, and channels for each and every person? One of our airline customers does just that – giving 100 million passengers (in nine languages) their own individual digital experience. If you want to reach millions of customers, then you’re going to need more content that humans are capable of creating. That’s where technology steps in. Advances in AI and Machine Learning are changing the game, and automating the way content is created, organized, and delivered to global audiences.

Whitler: Do these challenges vary by industry (for example, are there challenges that are unique to CPG or banking or retailing)? Why and in what ways?

Chen: Companies fall into different buckets. B2C companies (like retail and banking), where there is more competition, have been more at the forefront of figuring out how to leverage digital to deliver that integrated experience. If you look at the big high-tech, software companies, where you have lower volume, higher price, and longer relationship development cycles, they have been slower to adopt personalization and become more digitally sophisticated. This is because they have personal relationships with the buyers and so the digital sophistication hasn’t been as critical as retailers, for example, who have millions of customers (rather than hundreds). Another factor that is affecting industry development is regulation—life sciences, pharma, banking, etc. Regulation will push these companies to become more digitally sophisticated faster.

Whitler: What advice would you give to a CMO who wants to become more digitally sophisticated (themselves)?

Chen: There are a couple of pieces of advice I’d provide. First, I’d suggest that CMOs continuously monitor the entire marketing-technology landscape. The way they can do this is by following Gartner, Forrester, and Scott Brinker’s MarTech Landscape (see here). Another piece of advice is to spend time speaking with other CMOs. There are plenty of CMO events and these conferences represent a great opportunity to learn what peers are doing. The key is to find out what others are doing, and to gain insight about what is working, and what isn’t.

Whitler: What advice would you give to a CMO who wants to create a more digitally-capable organization/firm/culture?

Chen: First, understand your firm’s level of development. The key is to understand how the landscape is changing, understand the options, and then do an evaluation on where your company is in the transformation process. Before figuring out what to change, it’s critical to understand where the company stands. Of course, the pace of growth at every company is different, and technology can support whatever pace you choose – but a big part of becoming more sophisticated requires understanding the human transformation piece. You have to understand how the people, training, culture need to change to ensure that the digital transformation is effective. This is another part of transformation that is often ignored, and yet so crucial.

Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler @pbc88 @SDL

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