I recently presented at and hosted a debate with a group of Marketing Directors and CMOs at an event organised by Squared Online, the digital marketing course developed with Google and at which I am an expert speaker, and EMR, the international marketing recruiters. The subject title was “How to take hi-tech thinking out of the clouds and into your teams.” This is a huge issue for companies of all sizes as they struggle to respond to changing customer behaviour and the new opportunities afforded by digital technology. Here are some of the key outtakes from the event.
We hear a lot about digital trends, from mixed reality to wearable technology and the Internet of Things. And of course the one that alarms people most, Artificial Intelligence. Rarely a week goes by without a new product or service being trialled or launched, from Snapchat Spectacles, to Playstation VR to Google Home to Microsoft HoloLens. But these innovations can often seem rather removed form the day to day struggle we face at promoting our products or services. Business as usual seems to leave precious little time for innovation even though we are all aware that it is key to business success going forward.
So what can we do to introduce digital thinking into our teams. Here are three approaches that we discussed at the event and that I have found to be particularly effective:
Fluency in digital is a real issue. Too often matters ‘digital’ are pushed to the digital natives in our workforce. Digital natives are those people born or brought up during the age of digital technology and so familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age. But intuitively being able to use social media does not qualify people to represent a business’ best interests. Also, someone who is digitally unconsciously competent (fluent) can quickly become unconsciously incompetent in a world of fast technology change. It is necessary that everyone in the business gains fluency. And by fluency I don’t mean mastery of the technologies in terms of coding etc. Instead, I mean the ability to articulate the value of digital technologies to the organization’s future. To achieve that everyone in a business needs a baseline understanding of digital technologies. Starting with the language. Technology is full of initials: from AI to AR, VR to IoT. Understanding what they mean, but more crucially why they are important gives a business a foundation on which to build. Courses like Squared Online can really help with this.
The impact of digital technologies on businesses often involves having to relearn a way of thinking that doesn’t always come naturally. It’s not just about learning techniques, it’s about learning to think differently about processes, about truly interactive and real-time communications, about the utilisation of information and how to draw insight. A core behavior that can help with this process of changing mindset is Curiosity. Curiosity helps us develop empathy, mental flexibility and motivation. So giving teams hands-on access to technology and encouraging a learning culture is key to any digital transformation. For instance, my leaving a few 10x Spex cardboard VR viewers at Student.com's office, lead to a successful campaign distributing them to students and their parents in China so they could walk around student accommodation in London without ever leaving China.
In order to respond to the digital imperative, companies are adopting more agile and lean ways of doing business to increase productivity, experimentation and customer orientation and all at lower cost. The word ‘agile’ in particular has been widely interpreted and applied within organisations with varying impact and effectiveness. Originally introduced as a better way of developing software, Agile represents a wider opportunity for companies to embrace an agile culture in all areas of their business including marketing, product, and innovation teams. But Agile is often used as an excuse to deliver a pre-defined projects faster and at lower cost than reasonable, rather than as a method to help teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and empirical feedback. It can also lead to chaos in larger organisations with individual teams all doing their own thing with no consideration of overall company vision, brand or priorities. So is experimentation wise? Yes it is. Google 20% time that has spawned Gmail and Google Cardboard VR; Coca Cola’s 70/20/10 percent split in marketing budgets has allowed the 10% of budget for experimental campaigns to make it a leader in content marketing with such initiatives as personalised labels; and GE’s adoption of its Fastworks initiative has caused it to describe itself as ’the world’s biggest start-up'. There have indeed been some inspirational adoptions of experimental techniques. And Agile, Lean and other methodologies can play an important role in these. But to have the positive impact you want, you need enough red tape to bind it all together. A Digital Governance Framework can be invaluable (and something I will write about in a future blog post).
Getting hi-tech thinking into teams is above all about creating a learning culture within organisations. A learning culture that increases fluency, curiosity and experimentation. But learning within a framework that enables the delivery of the full impact of new ideas, processes, products and services.