Four signs your digital capability is holding you back – and what to do about it

Darwin could have been talking about today’s business climate when he observed that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, but those that are the most adaptable to change.

About five years ago people came to land on a common name for this challenge: digital transformation. The language has crystalised, but the approach hasn’t. While many organisations have focused on tech as the key to digital transformation, we believe it’s much more about people. Or, to be more specific, digital capability.

Digital capability is the sum of your people’s:

  • mindset – what we think and believe;
  • behaviours – our default behaviours when it comes to work;
  • skills – what we know how to do;
  • experiences – what we’ve done or have seen others do.

Fail to nurture your digital capability, and the organisation simply can’t thrive. So what are the key signs your digital capability is underpowered, and what can you do to improve it?

1. How we do things trumps how we should do things

Marketers have a familiar toolbox of techniques they use to achieve campaign objectives: the slice-of-life TV spot, the viral video, the product demonstration, calendar hijacking, to name a few. As the usefulness of these approaches fades, teams need to routinely challenge what they do and how they do it.

Yet not everyone does.

Why? Mindset – reinforced by culture. Organisations today need to encourage and nurture a mindset rich in critical thinking and growth orientation. A mindset that always asks: ‘How can we do this better? What can we try? And what do we need to learn?’ One that is genuinely open to the answers that generates.

A tall order? Start small. The next time you or the team suspects something is broken, rather than creating another 60-slide presentation start with a simple question: ‘How might we do this better?’ Then radically trim your ideas down to a hypothesis you can quickly test: ‘If we do x, y will happen’. Then try it.

It might not work. But you’ll learn something.

2. Content is born and dies in silos

What volume of content and assets are you creating? What fraction of that gets used in more than one market? The job of creating, managing and measuring the performance of assets is growing by the day. Yet how much of this mega library of creative artefacts actually gets used?

The amount of inefficiency and replication in global marketing organisations is staggering. Brands know it’s happening, but few are doing anything significant about it. Why? Because it’s costly and complex.

But it is possible to start to nurture a more collaborative culture where work and learning is shared between teams. So find ways to get people to efficiently share their successes and insights. And recognise those who actively learn from and build on successes – or learnings – elsewhere in the business. Implementing collaborative content planning and a process for sharing content and assets between markets increased content efficiency by 500% and engagement by 200% for our client American Express.

As we’re talking about capability, why not start with reusing training materials and approaches? One of our clients has, and is already seeing efficiency improvements – as well as kick-starting new conversations between marketing teams that are feeding into other collaborative approaches.

3. Agencies go unchallenged

The problem: you’re not sure you’re getting the best from your agencies, but you don’t know how to challenge them.

It’s no secret that the agency model is under pressure. Transparency and brand safety are two of the biggest issues when it comes to agency/client relationships. As part of a recent capability programme for a global FMCG brand we heard time and time again the nagging sense that the client’s considerable bucks were not getting the bang they deserve. But quite why and how, was a mystery.

As P&G’s marketing boss Mark Pritchard recently wrote: “It would be unfair to paint the transparency issue as being clients getting fucked over by agencies – not because that is not happening – but because it’s so murky and complex out there in media land no client knows whether they are getting fucked or not.”

If you want to be sure your media money is being spent in a manner you are fully cognizant of and in your best interests, it’s about time you gave your people the skills and mindset to boldly ask the right questions – every day – and not rest until they get an answer.

Don’t outsource skills and knowledge. Invest in your people to get the best from your agencies.

4. There’s one great idea – every time

Does your team agree, most of the time, on most things? Do people largely come up with the same ‘creative’ ideas? Is there real diversity in your team – or do you think the same and come up with the same ideas?

Traditional marketing machines are hierarchical and organised by specialty, with communication shared on a need-to-know basis. Yet good ideas can come from anywhere. And the best ideas come when there is genuine diversity in the team.

This includes diversity of race, gender, age etc, and also diversity of experience, background and context. When it comes to digital capability, the fourth element ‘what I’ve done and what I’ve seen others do’ is massively important.

Smart CMOs bring in screenwriters to help marketers tell better stories, data scientists to help better analyse buyer behavior, ethnographers and psychologists to better understand them, and other outlier roles to challenge conventional marketing approaches. Similarly, you want every team stuffed with different backgrounds and experiences. And if you can’t get it, insource it.

At Brilliant Noise we’ve started to include a broader range of people in our planning and creative processes through a regular Think Tank where we explore client challenges through a more divergent lens. This draws on collective intelligence from a diverse a range of minds. Another agency crowdsources ideas asking people across the agency to respond to a client challenge in 100 words.

Weakness in any area of digital capability puts you in the danger zone of digital disruption, rather than the driving seat of digital transformation. If you are leading your digital transformation programme ensure you put all four elements of capability firmly on the table – and keep them there. Capability building is an ongoing quest, not a one-off training experience. And, if you’re seeking to drive capability within your team or function, look for potential quick wins as the best place to start.

To find out more about how to build your digital capability read our white paper Digital capability: the vital ingredient for long-term marketing success.

Our next event, Digital capability building for marketing teams, is on April 18th in central London. If you’re a brand decision maker get in touch to request an invitation.