The Relentless March of Digital Transformation

The Relentless March of Digital Transformation

digital transformation

The Relentless March of Digital Transformation

One of the best things about being a dead-center GenXer is that I’ve witnessed and engaged with the most disruptive period of digital transformation in our society. It’s taken on so many forms, due to the ruthless efficiency of innovation in the tech sector. Think about it just from the hardware perspective: we’ve gone from computers the size of large rooms (or even entire floors of buildings) to desktops, laptops, tablets, and even mobile phone and watch-sized devices.

What that hardware revolution has done is open up an ever-changing array of channels–websites, apps, OTT broadcasting–that we all engage with each day. The power of digital has influenced so much, and I’m grateful for playing a leading role at times in an area that’s transformed society in a lot of good ways.

Tech: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Back in my chief marketing officer days, I was part of several major digital initiatives, including building the first e-commerce sites, apps, and CRMs at big box retailers. The great thing about technology is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Just when we thought we’d hit the peak of the mountain, such as with a customer loyalty program that tracked customer shopping patterns, we’d see something else that would at first interest us and then help us become more profitable once we figured out how.

As I’ve mentioned in this space previously, tech begins to really work wonders when you see where a customer-centric mindset can take you. When I was working with the great team at Michaels Stores, the arts & crafts retailer, we liked to focus much of our work on understanding our key customer demographics. Chief among these was working moms.

We were able to get into the mindset of this important group (not only to Michaels, but to society itself!). A typical working mom would be commuting to work, putting in a long day at the office, and then returning home. But upon their return, they would be working again, feeding their families and overseeing the bedtime routine. For those of you who’ve raised children, this is no small feat, and it’s like tacking on two to three hours of overtime to your already stressful workday.

Using Tech to Engage in Profound Ways

As a team, we had a lot of empathy and sympathy for these working moms. We liked to think of Michaels as one of their guilty pleasures. After finally settling down a bit at 7:30-8 o’clock, they might be turning on the TV and logging in to their laptops, phones, or tablets to go to our website and social channels. We thought of ourselves as a place of refuge almost, where working moms could come to us for ideas to make their lives brighter and better.

Another key element to understanding the relentless march of technology is that even when you land on something cool like building Pinterest and Instagram experiences for working moms, generational behaviors will take you to different places. And you need to get packed and ready to go, at a moment’s notice–when the data tells you that your key customers are migrating to different channels.

We’re experiencing this right now as a new group, Generation Z, has firmly entered the workforce and in some cases begun to build families. Gen Z may be our biggest challenge to date in understanding digital behaviors and preferences. Every generation can be a reaction to the previous one.

Heading in New Directions with GenZ

Behaviorally, GenZers are already taking us in some new directions. They’ve largely abandoned the remaining first-wave social networks like Facebook and Twitter, in favor of Instagram and TikTok. They are more visually oriented, as these channel preferences indicate, and innovation is mirroring their preferences to make content even more bite-sized than before (think: Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and of course, TikTok).

As a result of these preferences and behaviors, some revealing data is coming to light. They are accelerating and amplifying the importance of content–and LOTS of it. I read a fascinating article recently, one that contrasted the roles that TikTok and Google play in GenZ search activity. The article was diving into the reported phenomenon that TikTok was now Gen Z’s number one preferred search engine. Yet, their research showed that TikTok’s main purposes for Gen Z reflected the top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel content that’s effective on that platform. Think about how influencers expose their audiences to products and then often offer discount codes to buy them yourself.

So if you’re looking to increase your business with Gen Zers, some of whom are now in their mid-20s and have quite a bit of purchasing power. This TikTok and Instagram-led phenomenon isn’t just dictating purchases. It’s affecting how we’re reaching this generation for other purposes, including job recruiting. You’ve got to go where your targets are, whether you’re trying to sell products or fill jobs.

If the other eras of digital transformation are any indication, it’s going to be a heck of ride in the next 10-15 years, as Xers like me venture into retirement and both the workplace and the coveted 18-49 demographic is comprised completely of Millennials and Gen Z.

Buckle up.

Social and Business Objectives

Social and Business Objectives

Here’s a stat you should know regarding the executive use of social media: somewhere between 61 and 68 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs don’t use it at all. Or, as CIO Magazine has pointed out: “Most CEOs Still Don’t Get Social Media.”

This underscores a major problem with social media in many organizations: its bottom-line value is hard to prove. In some organizations, its bottom-line value might be hard for people to even understand. The CEO stat reflects that: the person with the largest amount of responsibility for the bottom line is, in 7 out of 10 cases, avoiding social media.

It’s a fraught exercise to do anything for a business without tying it to some form of business objective because otherwise, you create a priority vacuum. There, people are just checking boxes and accomplishing tasks — but those tasks may have very little value towards your actual growth and revenue objectives.

For social media to get attention as a powerful force within your company — which it can be — there are a few key rules you need to follow. None of this will be drastically different than what any marketing consultant worth his/her price can tell you. This is about understanding why you need to act certain ways on social media, then figuring out how best to do it within your organization. In short, it’s about aligning understanding, strategy, and execution.

Actually Be Social

Most businesses, upon arriving at a social channel, completely forget the first word of the term, i.e. “social.” To quote Neil Patel in Forbes:

What is social media about, really? It’s about the social. But social with who? Your users. To be effective, you’ve got to understand who they are, what they want, and how to get it to them.

Many orgs think of social this way:

  • Blast out content about yourself
  • Periodically RT or share from a popular person
  • Collect and report on impressions
  • “We have a social strategy!”

In reality, it needs to look more like this:

  • Share content from yourself and others in your vertical/industry, even including competitors periodically
  • Do Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups
  • Respond to conversations
  • Respond directly to customers
  • Constantly read articles about best practices in social and on new channels and tweak what you’re doing

In short, social is about conversations and moving ideas forward. It’s not about everyone rushing in, yelling about their product, and moving on. That’s actually what social ads are for, oftentimes — but that’s a topic for a different post.

Understand the ROI Implications

Even though social media isn’t a ‘traditional’ business channel — i.e. publishing or trade shows — it can be really effective. One study showed that skilled social media users are 6x more likely to exceed their quotas. Visually:


That graphic is from 2014, yes — but similar information exists as recently as July 2016. Sales professionals who use social media are 79% more likely to attain quota than those that don’t, for example.There are numerous examples of people using ‘social selling’ — yes, selling on social — to crush their quotas.

Now let’s do a quick math and probability exercise. (Don’t worry; it won’t be hard.)

Let’s say you predominantly sell your product in the United States. 58 percent of the adult population of the U.S. is on Facebook. Now, that’s not 100 percent, no. But 6 in 10 is a better probability of 4 in 10. And while all the U.S. Facebook users haven’t liked your page and may not see your content, but social media has a huge invisible audience. You may share something and, because someone who has liked your page shares it, a totally new person sees it. If what you shared was cool/interesting (which everything should aspire to be), you may gain a new interested customer via this “invisible audience.”

Organic social use (i.e. not social ads) and ROI is all about customer experience. You’re developing relationships with customers. Maybe they buy a ton from you down the road, or maybe they buy one item or service. It honestly doesn’t matter at the relationship-building stage. What matters is this, visually:


There are hundreds of charts online about customer experience has gained in importance in recent years. The one above, from MarketingSherpa by way of additional research, has a good tie back to the bottom line. Notably, customer experience leaders are outpacing the market (or the S&P 500 Index). Customer experience laggards are falling behind. Those numbers will only grow — in both directions — over time.

Social media is a huge part of that.

Changing how you think about business terms and ideas

This is the hardest part for most organizations, but for social media to matter in your business, this has to happen.

To start, consider this quote from an article done by UPenn’s Wharton School of Business:

Employers also often underestimate the cost of layoffs in immediate financial terms, as well as in the lingering burden it places on remaining resources — both financially and emotionally. “There is definitely a huge problem in HR generally that the stuff that is easy to put on a spreadsheet outweighs the stuff that isn’t,” says Bidwell.

Ignore the word “HR” for the moment and replace it with “marketing” or whatever department you sit in. Would you say the last sentence is still true? “The stuff that is easy to put on a spreadsheet outweighs the stuff that isn’t?”

If that’s true in your business — it’s true in many — then you probably have a hard time getting going with social media as a business advantage. Why? Because you’re probably creating those ‘spreadsheet metrics’ for executives around things like impressions, likes, and shares. That’s typically called “social media engagement.”

Hard truth: it doesn’t really matter that much. The posts on social media with the highest levels of engagement? They still get 99 percent of their traffic from paid, not organic, reach.

If customer experience is relevant to your business, find a metric within social that tracks back to that. Monitor that. Report on that. An example might be: “New customer leads acquired via social,” divided by channel. Another example might be “Customer service issues addressed,” again by channel.

Track, monitor, and report those metrics. Now there’s a tie back to the business.

Baby Steps

Facebook got to 500 million users in six years. By contrast, it took about 35 years to build the highway system in America. Digital tools scale quickly. When something scales quickly, there are a limited number of rules around it and people are rushing in to define best practices and processes at every turn. To an extent, that’s what happened with social media — and that’s why “how to do social media right” and “how to tie social media to business goals” are still major stumbling blocks for companies, even 12 years after the founding of Facebook.

There are a series of steps you can take, some outlined above. You can always call us for more information or ideas, too. We love helping brands find ways to leverage social for growth.

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