Lessons from Exterion Media's transition to a digital media business

Exterion Media's transformation to a digital media business involved setting clear business objectives and obsessing about the customer journey.

Digital transformation can be a dangerous game to play, but it is brilliant when done right.

As MediaCom’s Sue Unerman correctly wrote in Campaign last week, "The media industry as we know it is the result of media departments challenging the status quo". It’s true. We wouldn’t be in half as good a shape if we’d all been sheep, ignoring the opportunities to evolve.

But if today’s status quo is to "go digital", it worries me to see so many companies charging, blinkers firmly on, into the digital revolution.

To be clear, by embracing digital and data we have the opportunity to make better-informed decisions based on a deeper understanding of both our own businesses and, most importantly, our customers.

What’s the reason for wanting to digitise your business? And how does that vision play out across different teams and divisions within the company?

But digital transformation for digital’s sake is obviously not smart.

Here are a few things we’ve learned at Exterion Media through our own transition to a digital media business.

Have a purpose

I know this sounds like an obvious one, but it’s possibly the most important.

What’s the reason for wanting to digitise your business? And how does that vision play out across different teams and divisions within the company? If you’re struggling to answer those questions, you’re probably not ready to digitise your business.

Decide on clear business objectives ("because I’ve read that all my competitors are doing it" does not qualify as a business objective) and back this up with an informed strategy that will allow you to reach those goals.

Think like your customers

Listen to them, and keep a dialogue with them. Give your customers what they want. When you’re introducing new products or ways of selling, make sure you have their support.

Think about what they want now, but also take the time to understand what they will need down the line. At Exterion we’re investing not only in digital but in our classic estate, too. We know our customers value our traditional channels – such as wrapped buses – just as much as our digital screens, and we’re using our data to optimise both to deliver to the right audiences, at the right time, in the right places, with standout creative work.

Any strategy needs to be agile in its approach and geared around your customers – the media and advertising landscapes are transforming at pace, so it’s vital you’re planning ahead, looking at how you can make your customers’ lives easier.

Look under the bonnet

Warning – this is a boring one. But that’s part of the problem. We’re all transfixed on the "sexy" aspects of digital transformation and too many are forgetting the stuff under the hood that keeps everything moving.

For us, it’s not just about the things you can actually see, but improving our back-end systems and processes to keep us agile and responsive. It’s daunting, and it’s no fun, but it’s vital and makes everything more efficient in the long run.

We are digitising end-to-end for good reason. We fixated on delivering an enhanced customer journey with our partners at TfL, and a better experience for our customers, specialists and agencies.

Take everyone on the journey

You have to have buy in across your business. Cohesion throughout the entire company is essential – make sure everyone, top to bottom, is bought into the idea. Get people at different levels involved in the process. Make them feel a part of it and embed it in company culture. That "change" culture, which is very much part of Exterion’s DNA.

We’re in a hugely exciting period of change and growth, and we’re trying to bring everyone along with us on that journey. Once everyone is on the same page about where they think the business is at and where it’s going, it gets much easier to push boundaries and break benchmarks set by competitors.

Don’t transform - transition

At Campaign’s recent Media 360 conference, I was asked if I considered myself to be more Che Guevara or Charles Darwin.

Revolution or evolution? I believe in both. So I guess that makes me Che Darwin or Charles Guevara.

The digitised world is not one to enter half-heartedly, or with a lack of clarity around what exactly it is you’re trying to do.

The ongoing transformation of advertising and media needs to go right to the heart of our businesses, our company culture and our people – far beyond simply investing in the systems and the tools that we use.

The digitised world is not one to enter half-heartedly, or with a lack of clarity around what exactly it is you’re trying to do. Brands and the media industry need to transform how we operate, what we offer clients, partners and customers, and how we work as businesses.

Those of us that truly embrace digital, challenging the status quo without losing sight of what our customers want, will be the ones who continue to thrive.

Instead of focusing on "transformation" think more along the lines of a digital "transition". It’s not about ripping up everything you do and starting again, it’s about evolving to meet your customers’ needs and maintaining a position at the forefront of the industry.

Dave King is the managing director, Exterion Media.

Picture (top): Pride digital campaign at Westfield London, featuring Sir Ian McKellen.

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