digital marketing strategyI was recently with a major client and their writing team reviewing content plans for 2016 when the D-word – digital – came up.

Everyone agreed it’s a catch-all buzzword that can mean almost anything to anyone. But one of the participants –former Gartner EVP and Head of Research Bruce J. Rogow — had a new and interesting take which he fleshed out with a presentation of his concept of Digital Enabled Businesses.

His take on “digital” helps clear the air because it focuses not on the technologies that make something “digital” as on what digital means to people and organizations.  Rogow, now Principal at IT Odyssey & Advisory, calls it “old IT” and “new IT”

Brave New Digital World

Think of “old” IT, for example, as directive in that companies dictate which applications their employees can use and how they use them. These applications may be old and ugly, but they’re generally proven, stable and secure.

“New” IT, on the other hand, tends to be more elective and collaborative, with companies having to adapt to employees choosing their own devices and customers sharing buying tips about their products on social media.  The user’s experience with your Web site or applications will often  define your brand for them, making their performance over multiple platforms critical.

In short, “digital” is not so much about technologies (though elements such as software as a service, Big Data and the Internet of Things play major roles) as about ways of thinking and ways of working.

He also had some interesting and sometimes snarky comments on “digital” startups. For example, they tend to run on OPM (other people’s money) without the rigorous need for short-term returns as in a traditional business. They’re also often founded by people who would be run out of traditional organizations for their non-conventional behavior.

His findings ring true with similar comments I’m hearing in recent “digital” messaging work with other clients. When I press them for a definition of “digital” they say things like “The customer is in charge,” “Making transactions easy and even delightful,” “Anticipating the customer’s needs” and “Providing a consistent, smooth experience across channels such as phone, online and in person.”

What does this mean for IT content marketing?

Digital Messaging Tips

  • If you’re putting a big bet on “digital” be ready to invest for the long haul. Rogow says becoming “digital” is so complex it may take many traditional players as long as 15 to 20 years.
  • Going “digital” implies fundamental changes to business models, staffing, financial management, sourcing and corporate culture. Address and even highlight these issues in your marketing collateral. This makes you look smart by alerting prospects to these hidden obstacles.
  • CEOs are, he says, profoundly skeptical about what they see as past bogus promises from IT and want to see real results. Be specific in your digital story and back up your claims with real-world results.

The more your competitors bore the market with airy “digitization” promises the greater an opportunity you have. Sell your digital story not with technology buzzwords, but with compelling stories around how “new” IT enables customized, easy to use products and services that create and dominate entire new markets.

And don’t stint on talking about the messy “people” side of going digital. Based on Bruce’s savvy insights based on conversations with dozens of CIOs, that’s where much of the “digital” battle will be won or lost.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Why “Digital” Means Nothing, and Everything

We're getting wicked digital now.

We’re getting wicked digital now.

The more enthusiastically people use jargon, the less they understand it.

Judging by how often I see “digital” and “digitization” no one has a clue what it means.

Digital means, of course, the representation of information as ones” and “zeros.” A 1959 IBM 7000 series mainframe is just as “digital” as a Nest smart thermostat or an Uber reservation – or a telegraph from the 1830s (think “dots” and “dashes” rather than “ones” and “zeros”.)

Dig a little deeper, such as this definition (on Dictonary.com) and you come closer to what people are trying to say: “,,,pertaining to, noting, or making use of computers and computerized technologies, including the Internet.”

Or try this, from a leading market researcher:  “Digital business is the creation of new business designs reached by blurring the digital and physical worlds. It connects people, businesses and things to drive revenue and efficiency.”

Sorry, none of that is remotely new either. Connecting “…people, businesses and things to drive revenue and efficiency” was why airlines built computerized reservation systems in the 60s, we glommed onto local area networks in the 80s, Web commerce in the 90s and mobile and social applications in the 2000s.

But people will insist on using “digital” and the related “digitize” because it means something to them — actually, multiple things. And that’s where we mess up as marketers.

The Eight Flavors of Digital

From my work with clients, I see “digital” spanning at least eight real, meaningful technology and societal trends:

  • The anywhere, anytime nature of mobile, led by smart phones and mobile apps but extending to wearables.
  • The delivery of applications, data and other services from the cloud rather than internal data centers. (That’s what one research group meant when they referred to “Applications Transformed to Digital” as if all applications aren’t already digital.
  • Social: The creation and sharing of content by customers, which can be tapped to track their needs or product perceptions or encourage their engagement with your brand.
  • The Internet of Things: Ranging from cars and smart homes to industrial equipment to health care and fitness devices.
  • Big Data: Mining insights from mass volumes of data generated by devices and things to uncover hidden trends, customer needs and opportunities for cost reduction and efficiency.
  • Everything as code: Just as VMware abstracts physical servers into code files, using software to present networks and storage as code, making it easier to reconfigure and the scale IT “plumbing” as needed.
  • Skills as a service: Using the Web to tap global talent pools on demand.
  • The consumerization of IT: The need to meet demands from customers and employees for applications and services that are as easy to use as Uber or Facebook.

Color Us Confused

With all these potential game-changers to talk about (and more I’m sure I missed a bunch) it’s no wonder marketers throw up their hands and call it all “digital.” Here’s why that doesn’t work.

Each of these trends pose massively different challenges and massively different opportunities for your customers. If they respond to your “digital” pitch with an “Internet of Things” challenge and you’re really selling social technology, you’ve wasted each other’s time.

Maybe it’s OK to grab prospects with the shiny promise of “digital” this, that, or the other thing, get them talking about their needs and then figure out if you can sell your me-too network management or software testing tool as a “digital transformation solution.”

In the short run, this might work, if you don’t mind spouting nonsense to make a living. In the long run, customers who waste hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on poorly-defined “digital” initiatives will lose their jobs — and remember who misled them.

If you think I’m just being too up-tight about all this, ask your CEO, CMO, CIO and top two sales people to define what makes your solution “digital” in one sentence. Do their answers match? And if they don’t, does it matter?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.