Nearly every company today understands the strategic importance and business impact of digital marketing. To hear the talk of senior leadership, most companies sound like they know what they are doing. But there’s a rather large gap between knowing the right buzz words to use and mastering the more advanced and mature aspects of digital marketing.
This is the difference between dabbling in digital marketing (with minimal bottom- and top-line impact) and fully embracing the seismic shifts that data-driven, real-time decision-making delivers. Mastering the more mature aspects of digital marketing is hard and not always intuitive work, which is why few companies have yet to achieve it. But mature digital marketing is where the biggest payoffs for any business exist, which is why getting there is worth the struggle your company is certain to experience.
If mastering digital marketing were easy, there would be substantially less talk about the benefits and significantly more companies achieving digital marketing maturity. In order to explore this gap further, Google teamed up with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and produced an insightful report detailing the six digital success factors required to reach maturity. Of these six, three are technical and three are organizational.
Interestingly, these six digital success factors are closely aligned to a previous article I wrote, called “The 6 Ps of Digital Analytics Transformation.” You’ll notice that of my six points, only one is technology-related (platforms). The rest are all designed to deliver organizational change: purpose, people, process, pace and payoff.
The Google/BCG research also found that it wasn’t enough to just have technology enablers. For true mastery of mature digital marketing, significant organizational shifts are required. So while many companies understand and even embrace the top three technical enablers, the struggle becomes apparent when we take a closer look at the organizational changes that are necessary in order to master digital marketing maturity.
The Big Three Organizational Enablers
What I have observed is that many businesses are quick to purchase and launch technology as a means to get an edge, but most are slow to make the organizational changes necessary to reap the full benefit of the technology investments. That’s because it may be easy to find the money for a technology that will improve your bottom line, but much more difficult to make the significant process and organizational changes that are required to fully master digital marketing maturity.
According to the Google/BCG report, these are the three organizational enablers required: 1) strategic partnerships, 2) specialist skills, 3) agile teaming and establishing a fail-fast culture.
When it comes to strategic partnerships, it’s about ensuring that your company maintains ownership of the technology and especially the data. But outside of that, there are very few companies (even the most advanced in digital) that choose to implement advanced technology internally without getting external support. Outside expertise is needed in order to achieve the strategic importance and business benefits of the technology ecosystem.
When it comes to developing these strategic partnerships, what works is being clear on what you, as a company, do best and then look to outsource the rest. I find that far too many companies feel that they must become a jack-of-all-trades when the speed of digital marketing today requires that you pick a lane and focus on mastering what you are capable of doing the best.
Where specialist skills get jammed up is when outside experts are hired into a company, but not integrated into cross-functional teams that include the core marketing functions. What good is a data scientist who is unclear what patterns to look for or an analytics expert who is measuring the wrong things? Sounds obvious, but more often than not, experts are hired without the discipline of building and growing cross-functional teams.
The best practice here, in my experience, is for senior leadership to be clear on the end-to-end customer journey and bring in specialists who augment the needs of the core marketing functions. In that way, the marketers can oversee the end-to-end engagement and overall brand experience so that the digital marketing efforts are not negatively impacted by experts who don’t have the necessary campaign knowledge or customer journey expertise.
The final organizational hurdle is perhaps the most difficult. Building agile teams is easier said than done, and establishing a fail-fast culture can easily be the biggest gap that prevents the mastery of digital marketing maturity. For all the talk of innovation, the deeply ingrained “fear of failure” culture is still one of the biggest inhibitors to unlocking the full potential of mature digital marketing. If you want to know how innovative your company truly is, then take a hard, objective look at how executive leadership deals with failure. Are failures perceived as opportunities for growth and learning, or shunned as things to be avoided at all cost?
If that sounds like your culture, it’s time to reframe — and only the executive leadership team can make that shift. One company I’m familiar with has implemented an “Oops” report. Whenever a big failure happens, the team lead writes up what happened, what didn’t work as expected and the key learning to avoid future blunders. Another innovative company implemented a “Launch and Learn” (think lunch and learn, but embracing failed tests and what was learned). The more creative and public, the better.
In order to master digital marketing maturity, your business must take bold action organizationally and culturally. This includes changing today’s systems, processes and people structures so that digital can be fully integrated into the very fabric of your company. Layering technology on top of your current organizational structure simply won’t get you to where you’d like to be.