Why marketers must know digital's 'place'

Marketers should establish the role and position of digital in all parts of the business to achieve a mature and cohesive digital strategy.

Digital maturity, as many marketers are repeatedly advising their boards, isn’t about building an app or creating a Twitter community. CMOs, CIOs and the newer breed of CDOs (chief digital officers) have to deal with some major challenges if they are to embed digital thinking throughout customer-centred organisations.

There can be a lack of strategic rigour – assuming ‘we have an app for that’ is enough – pursuing an additive strategy that just piles one digital project on top of another, creating a proliferation of ideas and strategies without learning from any of them.

Add the tension of a marketing vs IT mindset (60% of CIOs think digital transformation has nothing to do with marketing) and the siloed thinking that creates standalone digital centres and it’s a wonder that we’re not all still using smoke signals and telegraphs.

But if the endgame is to build a strategic digital organisation, where every function works together, using technology to build customer-centred capabilities, marketers need to know the role and place of ‘digital’ in the business objectives, organisation structure, people, processes, skills and culture – and where each sits on its journey to digital maturity.

Here are some common situations that may arise on this digital journey:

Business objectives

Organisations may begin with business and digital objectives operating independently. Then business plans are established, but still siloed, followed by strategic and co-ordinated planning. Lastly, real-time data and analytics are embedded throughout and used to drive constant evolution.


Ad hoc resources and expertise may start dispersed, with organisations then tending to move to a ‘hub and spoke’ model with some digital expertise at the centre and some in departments. After this comes a ‘honeycomb’ structure, with vertical discipline experts. Eventually these become fluid with transient teams formed around customer opportunities.


Organisations often begin with passionate ‘hobbyists’ rather than digital specialists. Then come the specialists, digital-minded senior employees, followed by the agile, passionate change agents who embrace both technology and its role in creating customer value.


Early on, organisations may rely on individuals and external agencies for basic digital services. Following this, some best-practice technologies and methodologies feed through and these morph into mature digital processes and best-in-class tech platforms. At the top end, organisations display constant real-time iteration of technological capabilities.


At a basic level, there may be no defined digital skillset. Then organisations see fragmented deployment of skills based on current activities, followed by identification of required capabilities and more ‘in-housing’. Finally, they evolve to constant learning and development to identify skill needs in real time.


They begin with a traditional mindset, followed by ad hoc pockets of digital behaviours. Then a new culture emerges integrating the company heritage with appropriate digital behaviours, with the willingness to change ahead of disruption. The most mature are ‘learning organisations’, constantly adapting and evolving, while remaining true to their mission and values.

Marketers need to ask themselves a lot of questions to determine their organisation’s digital maturity, such as what is their vision for digital? What are their key capability gaps? What does ‘digital’ mean to them? Only by assessing where they honestly are now can they set a vision to get to where they need to be.

Originally published in Marketing Magazine's Masterclass column.

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