There’s more to digital than marketing

team building with cogsMuch has been written about the importance of the CMO role in the digital era. This is not surprising given that many organisations start their digital journeys with marketing-led initiatives using social media or a mobile app. But if you believe some of the headlines you might be thinking that being a digital business is all about marketing.

There is no doubt that the CMO and the marketing function have key roles to play in the digital transformation of the organisation. CMOs are leading digital initiatives in areas such as developing the online customer experience, using analytics to understand customer preferences and behaviour, and using social media to engage customers and build brand awareness. All of which are essential to success in the customer-led and dynamic markets that digital has created.

But there is more to digital than marketing and there will be many digital initiatives that may not necessarily need the CMO to be involved to any significant extent, if at all. And even where the CMO is a key player, there will be other members of the C-suite who will also have significant roles in shaping and leading digital projects.

Lego recently announced that is was launching a new product line that will allow children to build structures in the real world and then transfer them to games in the virtual world by photographing them with a smartphone. So, for example, they can build a car using real Lego bricks, upload a photo of the car and then race it round a virtual track online. Taking this product and its associated digital service from the initial idea through to the launch and ongoing support would have involved many functions of the business in addition to marketing.

The fashion retailer Zara has developed the capability to take items from the catwalk to the shop in a matter of weeks. This involves predicting fashion trends and then manufacturing and shipping adequate volumes to each outlet in a short period of time. Zara also monitors sales by store and can use this data to analyse and understand customer preferences and how these vary by outlet. It then uses this information to run promotions on certain lines at certain locations to maximise sales. This combination of traditional manufacturing and retail processes combined with data collection and analytics requires collaboration across Zara’s supply chain, finance, pricing, IT and marketing functions.

Coca Cola has developed a mobile app that provides its sales staff with advice on how to configure a store display based on photos they take of the shop’s refrigerator, shelves and storeroom. The app also estimates stock levels from photos of the storeroom, which can be fed into the ERP system for replenishment planning. And GE has developed a wind turbine that constantly monitors data from its neighbouring turbines and uses that data to pitch its blades for highest efficiency.

These examples demonstrate the real potential of digital. They stretch far beyond social media initiatives, interactive websites and targeted online marketing campaigns. Designing, building and launching digital products and services usually involves multiple areas of the organisation working together to create something new and innovative. Being a digital business means being a joined-up business.

So it is not surprising therefore that IBM’s recently published study into how members of the C-suite are working together to prepare for the digital era found that collaboration across the organisation’s senior team was the attribute that CEOs think is most for important for success. Board members need to work together to identify and exploit opportunities in the digital world. Much has been written about the need for the organisation’s CIO and CMO to work together to ensure digital success. The same applies to all members of the C-suite as the next game-changing idea could come from any part of the organisation and through a previously untried combination of products, services, partners, suppliers, systems and/or data. The C-suite needs to have a collaborative culture; they need to be comfortable working together across functional and organisational boundaries.

Digital does not stop at functional boundaries; it flows through the organisation to create integrated offerings and a seamless customer experience. But some business functions have not traditionally been involved with activities such as product development and support, service delivery and customer experience. But that is what being a truly digital business requires; functions, roles, processes, systems, data, etc. that previously were never exposed to the customer may form part of a new offering that creates value for the customer and the organisation.

Becoming a truly digital business therefore requires change in how internal functions work, the skills they require and the way in which they interact with other functions. Taken to the extreme this could mean there is no such thing as an internal function in a digital business; all functions (and their people, processes and systems) could form part of the customer experience now or in the future.

As well as enabling new products and services, digital is also about creating new ways of working with the organisation, and with partners and suppliers. This goes beyond simply automating existing processes or enabling staff to perform tasks on a mobile device. It is about creating new processes, new tasks and activities that were previously not possible before technologies such as social, mobile, cloud and big data became available. Digital is as much about transforming what activities the company does and how it does them as it is about transforming the products and services it offers its customers.

Successful digital businesses create digitally enabled products and services and they also transform the organisation to create entirely new business models and ways of working. Digital is about reinventing the organisation, looking at the business from the customer’s perspective and building an operating model, capabilities, processes and systems that are driven by customer needs. Marketing is without doubt important to this new model but it is only one aspect of being a truly digital business.


  1. […] that there is a lot more to digital than the customer facing elements of a business (see There’s more to digital than marketing). Digital does not stop at functional boundaries; it flows through the organisation to create […]

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