Harnessing digital disruption in a shrinking world

The definition of digital in marketing has been cast too narrowly, writes the EMEA and Asia-Pacific chief executive for Publicis.Sapient

Today I will be chairing the Marketing Society Annual Conference, where the world of marketing will come together to discuss how brands influence consumer decisions, stay relevant and harness digital disruption for the good.

Digital is continuously dismantling what we thought we knew about the world; constructing a new set of truths and rules. This year, a Facebook algorithm burst open the century-old theory that there are six degrees of separation between any two people. You are now connected to everyone on the planet by an average of just 3.57 degrees.

This Facebook finding is proof that digital is interwoven into every aspect of our daily lives. It not only connects us to a huge pool of diverse people and places, but also transforms the way we think and behave, and changes what we believe is possible.

Digital companies are providing advanced services that raise the expectations of today’s customers, who now have greater expectations of their brand interactions. This has fundamentally challenged legacy organisations across the globe. Such organisations need to become customer-obsessed, identifying unmet needs and ensuring that the pursuit of a superior customer experience is a company-wide imperative.

This imperative is about more than staying in front of the competition. It is the reimagining of business and how it impacts the world, society and the connected population.

Whether new and digitally native, or established and highly adaptive, many organisations are keeping up pace with this profound digital shift. They are reinventing their business models and re-orienting their people around the technologies that define how, where and when they interact with customers. 

Up until now, the definition of digital in marketing has been cast too narrowly – perceived as the resizing of banners, the design of web pages and at best an additional channel. We are now moving far beyond this, ‘digital’ is known as the force driving the rise of experience and the broader digital transformation of business in a customer-centric age. 

During the conference, we will explore four key issues that all marketers and businesses as a whole must turn their attention to the necessity of digital transformation.

Globalisation and competition

The rapid growth of digital and customer expectations mean that legacy brands are now contending against a global set of competitors who are disrupting the playing field. With ‘experiential competitors’ such as Uber or Airbnb resetting consumer expectations globally, traditional organisations need to redefine what their business is and what they offer to consumers.

Collaboration and transformation  

To drive this change within legacy organisations, collaboration between different business units who have traditionally not worked together is necessary. As chief marketing officers are the voice of the customer, chief technology officers drive technology strategy and chief financial officers own purchasing decisions – they should work together to transform the business so that it can compete with naturally agile and integrated competitors. 

Changing established ways of working and breaking down silos isn’t a simple process. It requires buy in from all levels, and an understanding of how to change the culture of business without damaging staff morale.

Equality and access

Whilst disruption has improved the life of young urbanites, those leading the charge of disruption need to ensure that other key customers aren’t isolated by the digital world. This isn’t a purely altruistic view – there are sound business and economic reasons for ensuring that digital transformation leaves no one behind. It should be used to create a new generation of enfranchised customers, employees and innovators. 

Ethics and transparency

The digitally connected world brings with it new opportunities and a need to be transparent in how businesses operate, and an honest account of their impact on people and society. This becomes particularly important as consumers seek credible, authentic and personal communication with brands that foster values similar to their own. 

There are undeniably a multitude of ways that digital is impacting the marketing and broader world. And as it starts to shrink, becoming more digitally interconnected, those organisations that make necessary changes today will be the ones that thrive.

Nigel Vaz is EMEA and Asia-Pacific chief executive of Publicis.Sapient

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