Forget digital transformation: Companies must evaluate digital maturity instead
It is time we removed “digital transformation” from our vernacular. The term originated to describe a company’s adoption of technology to achieve business goals. A transformation has a start and an endpoint, but if you are a business still in existence today, you are in a perpetual state of evolution. It is the only way to keep up with nonstop technology advancements and customers’ changing expectations.
This transformation concept has come up in nearly every client meeting I’ve had in the last two years. And yet, it means something different to nearly every organization. To an enterprise, digital transformation might mean using artificial intelligence to optimize marketing decision-making. To a small business, it could mean establishing the ability to measure its marketing in the first place.
The vagueness of the term leads to internal misunderstandings. It is also causing problems with external communication. Business-to-business companies are quick to latch on to the buzzword in their messaging — and it appears in conflict with their core messaging and dilutes their true differentiators.
It is time to reframe the conversation and to talk, instead, about digital maturity, particularly as it pertains to marketing. Digital maturity is a company’s ability to understand, find, engage, respond to and serve its customers. In other words, it is an evaluation of the customer experience (CX).
Customer experience is the primary differentiator in the digital economy today. Your ability to understand, find, and connect with your customers is THE driving factor. In fact, Forrester found that CX leaders grow revenue faster than CX laggards. And according to another Forrester research report, 41% of business stakeholders believe that the marketing team is the key owner of the customer experience.
Marketing needs to be front and center in any digital maturity discussion. This will be a departure for many companies who have IT or Operations leading the digital transformation charge. Certainly, IT and Operations have a big seat at the table, but the evaluation of the current state of the organization’s CX must come from marketing.
How to assess digital maturity
Whereas transformation talks spur discussions of lofty outcomes, a customer experience assessment forces companies to take an honest look at their ability to build customer relationships at scale. To evaluate digital maturity, consider:
1. Your experience touchpoints
A touchpoint is any interaction a prospect or customer has with your brand. With each touchpoint, you should be nudging them down the path to purchase, and even brand evangelism. So, consider when and how you engage your audience, as well as the content you are delivering at each interaction. Companies who deliver relevant content to consumers at multiple touchpoints across the path to purchase report cost savings up to 30% and revenue increases as much as 20%, according to recent research. But to be effective, this content has to reflect an audience’s needs and mindset, otherwise, it won’t feel authentic.
Digitally mature organizations have an in-depth understanding of their audience—with insights that are more nuanced than your typical audience persona. Mature companies also know what channels to use to reach prospects and customers, and they have a robust content library to draw from.
2. Your marketing platforms
Since IT is spearheading many companies’ “transformation” efforts, they are usually the ones making purchasing decisions about sales and marketing platforms, such as a CRM or CMS. They are not the ones using these tools, though. To assess digital maturity, evaluate the technology you are using, and challenge yourself to consider if you are tapping its fullest potential.
Mature companies have an integrated suite of platforms to support their CX, and they know how to glean meaningful insights from them. They also know where to turn should they need support using these platforms.
3. Your data and measurement capabilities
Mature organizations can quantify the value of each customer touchpoint and link content engagement to conversions, sales and even profit. So, assess your company’s ability to measure the impact of its marketing, and to improve your strategy, in near real-time, based on data.
This last point is intimidating for many businesses. They are routinely pushing out content with a “set it and forget it” deployment strategy. But mature organizations monitor performance and optimize that content or experience to get more value from it.
Of course, you can only do so much within the four walls of your organization. To evaluate digital maturity, it is often worth seeking an outside perspective — someone who can come in and objectively audit your customer touchpoints and the content you are putting out into the market. Once you understand your starting point, you can then build a realistic plan for growth based on incremental changes, as opposed to overnight “transformation.”
A systematic assessment of your ability to create lasting relationships with your customers at scale will reap far more value than an abstract conversation about transformation. And as CX is one of the hallmarks of sustainable, profitable business, your company’s livelihood just may depend on it.
Kristen Powers is vice president of Client Services at Centerline Digital, where she drives overall performance, growth, client satisfaction and retention. She serves as a partner to VP and C-level executives across multiple Fortune 100 accounts. The creative mindset is what keeps her motivated: collaboration, brainstorming and completely out-of-the-box thinking. Connect with Kristen on LinkedIn.