Organizations continue to deal with digital disruption at this late stage, but they need reminding routinely that all the technology is deployed to engage humans. New tools like artificial intelligence only exist to enable communicating with people, said speakers at the recent CDO Summit New York.
Most chief digital officers and their colleagues in the gathering stressed the digital transformation of business is an ongoing battle and it requires more than investing in technology. It needs a focus on the consumer and an organization willing to adapt, said the executives at the conference, sponsored by the CDO Club.
“In today’s environment where everything is digital, if you’re not moving forward you’re moving back,” said Joe Caserta, president of technology consulting firm Caserta.
But Caserta and many of the speakers warned that AI and other tools don’t work in a vacuum. “This convergence of magical technologies” has to be mediated by people, said Anthony Scriffignano, senior VP and chief data scientist at Dun & Bradstreet.
There have been a number of cases where great ideas were botched in execution in the rush to market products and services. For example, he noted how the Strava fitness app gave away the location of military bases when service personnel used it to track their workouts.
“Beautiful representations that are poorly conceived are still poorly conceived,” said Scriffignano, who was named U.S. Chief Data Officer of the Year.
There is “pervasive destabilization” in an industry in its infancy, but humans need to anticipate it and focus on the use cases, instead of focusing only on writing algorithms, he said: “What we need to protect the machines from the stupid math is more thought.”
New technology isn’t necessarily what can transform a company, said many speakers. The main ingredient is in the focus of the organization and how its people embrace it. Legacy companies can be resistant, said Jon Bond, co-chairman chief tomorroist at agency The Shipyard.
Legacy companies don’t want disruption, they want “anti-disruption,” said Bond. Their culture is set against the experimentation needed for digital innovation, because on average most experiments fail before one sparks innovation.
“It’s not that people don’t like change. It’s that they don’t like being changed—that loss of agency,” said Eric Hellweg, VP of product and news experience at the New York Times Co. One approach is to think about the needs of the end user, he said.
The rules of marketing have not changed, said Kim Canfield, North American media director at Colgate-Palmolive Co. The fundamentals of consumer engagement are the same, and should be the starting point of any digital or data overhaul, she explained.
“Go back to ‘Why do I need it? What’s it going to do for me and my customers?’ and really ground yourself there,” she said. The company’s technology function can bring in the knowledge of tools while the marketers apply them, she said: “It’s about people, and you need the right people who can talk to the technology people—which is not always easy, but they’re out there.”
Most speakers agreed that collaboration and open communication are qualities required for digital transformation. CMOs are traditionally the voice of the consumer at the table and keep teams revolving around that evolution, but today more than ever that role needs to shift to chief marketing scientists, said Michelle Froah, VP of digital transformation at Samsung Electronics North America. CMOs need to have a lot of affinity for technology in order to partner with the CDO to turn technology projects into business-building projects and keep them centered around consumer needs, she said.
“CMOS can be a collaborator and an integrator, but mostly a change agent in how the different functions collaborate,” said Froah. “You need to act like a trusted accelerator.”
“For the same North Star”
Another key partner in that effort has to be the company’s marketing agency or agencies. Several speakers said the relationship with agencies has to continue to evolve as marketers become more data driven and adapt to technology.
Motivating agencies “is a process,” said Ben Jankowski, Group head of Global Media at MasterCard. It includes finding technologies and processes to lighten the agency’s workload as the marketer increases its demands, he said; in todays’ cost-conscious business climate, clients can’t keep asking agencies to do more for less.
“We’re not increasing the cost basis, none of us are,” Jankowski said. “The only way is to take work out of the system.”
Speakers said working closely with agencies does not mean taking their innovation role away. “Being part of our team is motivating, as opposed to being a separate function that does not have a taste in our success,” said Colgate’s Canfield.
Canfield, who came to Colgate from the agency world, noted she prefers to set wide goals but not give the agencies much detail on how to achieve them, so they can get to them any way that works.
“If everyone is working for the same North Star, we’re all in a better place,” she said.
Samsung’s abilities were tested in 2016 when several of its Galaxy Note 7 models were found to have a weakness that made them prone to catch fire. The company had to mobilize everyone to respond, and in the process discovered too many units did not know what the rest were doing. The effort galvanized the organization around one purpose and not only enabled the company to survive the crisis, but aligned it to improve; it posted record results for the last four quarters.
“It takes a crisis sometimes to shine a light across your whole business,” said Froah.
Currently, the efforts to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation are giving many organizations an incentive to rethink their data use, said Jankowski. Many speakers also noted it’s a chance to review the user experience.
“Technology has given us the blessing that the possibilities are endless,” Jankowski said. So while figuring out how to use information in “privacy appropriate ways” marketers should also be focused on user experience.
“If we don’t find ways to find a great experience for consumers—if you don’t hit people with an engaging experience—we’re going to hit that ad blocker,” he said. “It’s an ongoing journey. If somebody has figured it out, God bless them.”
Still, marketers and technologists are going to have continue testing and learning, because the digital disruption is going to continue challenging them. Old-school companies have not trained to deal with “the one big a-ha”—when Amazon disrupts their business, said Darren Herman, partner at Bain Capital. However, he warned: “Seattle will probably come knocking on your door and move in” anyway. Sooner or later, all companies will have to adapt as the marketplace evolves, he said.
“If you wait for it to slow down, it’s not going to slow down,” warned Jankowski. “Don’t let the marketplace paralyze you… Do stuff.”