The Top Digital Transformation Priorities For 2016

Is your organization focused on the right things to drive digital transformation? And I mean a deep, meaningful digital transformation — one where the embrace of digital fundamentally changes an aspect of your business model that results in growth and better profits.

Over the past two months, I filtered through hundreds of “top trends and predictions for 2016” which focused on topics like wearables, Internet of Things, and virtual reality. While these technologies are quickly rising over the horizon, they are NOT going to drive the digital transformation and sustained business impact in 2016 for most organizations.

Instead, I’m focused on the five major priorities listed below. I’ll be honest, they don’t necessarily sound new, fresh, and exciting! But if you don’t make headway on these five priorities, then you won’t be able to capitalize on the next five digital trends on the horizon. For this blog post, I’m going to go through the top five priorities first, and in the next post, address areas where most organizations should watch and prepare for now.  [Slide deck of these trends are also available on Slideshare.]


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  1. Customer Experience.

One of the biggest problems with digital transformation is that it spans the entire organization. We’ve found that the key to aligning these disparate interests is to have a common understanding and approach to serving customers. So when internal conflicts emerge around strategy and tactics, you can turn to your customer experience priorities to help with the decision making process.

And to build these customer experiences well, ground it in behavior-based customer data. Collecting and using that data will require a thoughtful approach to ethical data use.

Top priority: map out and actually use the digital customer journey for your organization. Related research: The Customer Experience Cloud, State of Digital Transformation, Ethical Data Use.

  1. Culture & Leadership.

Our research also found that the biggest barrier to digital transformation is culture — and leadership drives culture. The percentage of engaged employees in US companies continues to be in the low 30’s, despite the introduction of enterprise social networks and collaboration tools like Slack (see below). And leadership remains mired in excuses not to use digital channels to extend their leadership, citing “lack of time” or that “it’s marketing’s job.”

Employee advocacy is about to break through, as 45% of organizations have it as one of their top initiatives — but face concerns about giving too much control to employees.

Top priority: determine how your culture will need to shift to support the customer experience. Related research: Strengthening Employee Engagement, The Engaged Leader.

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  1. Content Strategy.

To engage your customers, you’ll need content. While it’s a cliché to say that “every brand is a media company”, the actual fact is that most companies don’t have a coherent, cohesive content strategy. They may engage in content marketing where content is being created on put on different traditional, digital, and social channels, but it’s not clearly tied to business value.

What’s desperately needed is a strategy that not only lays out content touchpoints across the customer journey, but also looks outside of marketing and communications for sources of expertise — areas like customer service, sales, product development, and human resources. Marry content creation with employee advocacy and you’ll get an explosive mix of social selling, employee-led customer service, and social recruitment.

Top priority: a cohesive content strategy that addresses the content needs across the organization. Related research: Culture of Content, Content Marketing Performance.

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  1. Digital Ecosystem Rationalization.

As digital spreads throughout the organization, who “owns” digital strategy and transformation has become muddled. There’s a disconnect — while 82% of organizations wanted to integrate social and digital in 2015, only 36% had a plan.

This isn’t easy — the three major places where digital lives today are in Marketing, Sales, and Service — and all three typically have different platforms, data, content, and metrics. I believe that the three C-Suite level players who need to be in lockstep with each other are the CMO, CIO, and the CHRO. Yes, human resources. Because digital transformation is at its core a people problem — and having the CHRO play a strategic role is essential to digital transformation success.

Top priority: Break down digital silos, distribute digital throughout the organization and leadership. Related research: Customer Experience Cloud, 2015 State of Social Business, The Engaged Leader.

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  1. Paid Social.

This priority is a little different, but primarily because it exemplifies in so many ways the challenge of digital transformation. My colleague, Ed Terpening, found that social ad spending has doubled over the past two years as channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn become increasingly effective at delivering reach and frequency. This puts social channels at the center of digital transformation — what role will it play in the customer experience?

For example, as organic social engagement diminishes in effectiveness, will brands shift traditional community engagement in social channels to customer care, and use paid social instead for reach? Or will employee advocacy grow in effectiveness and obviate the need for paid social? And will paid social ads themselves be used to drive awareness at the top of the funnel — or drive commerce with offers?

To answer this question, organizations will have to answer the four questions above — alignment on the customer journey, culture and leadership, content strategy, and a rationalized digital ecosystem. Think of it as the canary in the coal mine — if paid social is a silo or organizational mess, it’s likely your digital transformation is too.

Top priority: Take a measured, cohesive approach to paid social’s place in the strategy — and budget. Related research: State of Social Business, Trends for 2016.

In my next post, I’ll focus on areas where areas where you need to watch and prepare in 2016 — but where most organizations won’t need to take immediate action on yet.