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Stein IAS Chairman Shares Why Post-Modern Marketing Requires Digital Transformation

leadership tom stein

Transformation and evolution are vital to continued success in the B2B world. While many businesses have been discussing digital transformation at length for some time now, very little has been done in digital marketing transformation within enterprise-level organizations.

While there has been little movement in digital marketing transformation, the value and benefits are well understood. According to research from Stein IAS, 81% of B2B companies think that pursuing digital marketing transformation is important for their businesses. However, more than three-quarters also said they think that it is a complex process. But companies understand that this initiative will greatly impact a business’ view of marketing as a function — the same survey showed that more than a third of all companies said the ability for marketing to directly contribute to revenue growth is the greatest opportunity uncovered from digital marketing transformation.

In an interview with Demand Gen Report, Tom Stein, Chairman and Chief Client Officer at Stein IAS, discussed the company’s Digital Marketing Transformation Framework and how it is designed to help brands understand their current marketing maturity levels and develop a roadmap for success. He also discussed how aspects of today’s post-modern marketing strategy impact this roadmap differently depending on the organization, and shared best practices for utilizing this framework to its fullest.

Demand Gen Report: It’d be great to get your perspective of this Digital Marketing Transformation Framework and how Stein IAS facilitates it with clients.

Tom Stein: A buddy of mine shared an article in the journal with me with a column about a new McKinsey study. It was stating that, on average, only about 20% of companies are achieving their total digital transformation potential. Now, that's not marketing … that's overall digital transformation. The thesis and what's borne out by the McKinsey research is that there's only a finite amount of progress made against full digital transformation potential. We would say that there's an analog with marketing, digital marketing transformation, and so digital transformation at the enterprise has been at the top of the business agenda for quite a while. There's been progress made, but there's a lot of progress yet to be made in terms of digital businesses and we think that carries over to digital marketing transformation. I think a lot of enterprises have barely started their journey, or they've only realized a finite percentage of the potential. So, as we engage with clients and work with them on their digital transformation roadmap, we see that there are a number of challenges that companies face in terms of developing roadmaps that align with business strategy and marketing strategy, and align with their current and anticipated levels of marketing, maturity and competency. So, our digital marketing transformation vision and the framework were really born out of all of this.

So, we actually undertook the first large scale quantitative study to understand how global organizations approach digital marketing transformation and we conducted it across major B2B sectors. It was both to help us gain insight into where people sit in terms of developing the ultimate digital marketing transformation roadmaps and activating those roadmaps. Also, what are the opportunities and barriers that people see at this point in time for digital marketing? But I really think that we're at the end of the beginning at this particular point in time, and that the findings from our research certainly support that the way the McKinsey findings do regarding a digital business transformation.

The framework is really designed to help people prioritize and focus. So, amid the myriad of things that they might do, the myriad of ways that they might invest and the myriad of approaches that they might take, what actually is the roadmap that's going to best align with what the business is trying to achieve? And that's what the marketing organization needs to achieve in the context of the business. So the way that the framework is organized is really to, by virtue of work sessions and a collaborative process, understand the digital marketing priorities and also optimizations, and then being able to really walk through a process of absolute focus, in terms of what kind of customer experience companies are trying to achieve, and what they need to really achieve from a digital marketing standpoint around customer experience.

DGR: How does this framework differ from others that can be found circulating in the industry?

Stein: The digital transformation frameworks that exist out there are not necessarily marketing specific. Ours is also all about B2B digital marketing transformation since we're a B2B specialist agency and we know how B2B marketing organizations work and are wired. So, this is what's near and dear to the heart of a B2B CMO and his or her team. 

Our feeling with a lot of framework-type things is that they look great, but they can be over-engineered and very hard to actually realize. Digital marketing is complex enough without a framework that makes it harder, not easier. This is designed to make things easier, and so I would point to all of those as differentiators.

None of it is that easy. As a matter of fact, our research shows that the two biggest obstacles to digital marketing transformation are cost and complexity. So, we're trying to help solve complexity and help manage costs by optimizing and helping people truly understand their priorities, how to invest accordingly, get the most out of their existing people and processes and technology, and optimize where they need to. It's that laser focus on priorities, and your key use cases that are going to realize value for you quickly. That's what we're trying to achieve with this and that's why it's different.

DGR: For the clients that have gone through this process of utilizing this framework, how are you seeing them offer a genuine, relevant customer experience, while being able to optimize go-to-market initiatives and continue to transform?

Stein: The companies that do this best realize that it's a process of building and laying out foundations, and then you build and optimize, and then you build, etc. Over the course of time, amazing things can actually come out of this.

So, one of the areas that I think is really interesting and important is that if you think about those four tenants, and you think about customer experience and customer centricity, you nailed it right on the head, that's exactly what this is about. That by going through the process of reach, attract and then analyze and optimize, and then nurture and convert, and then analyze, you reach a point where we have pretty much ringfenced the total addressable market for a given client — whether it's the business unit within the client, whether it's for a particular set of solutions, and so on.

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By doing the kinds of marketing that we would advocate, we can actually get to a point where we're so efficient with our marketing and we're so relevant, it's almost not marketing anymore. Of course, it is, but it's really this ongoing relationship building and relevant conversations at all the right times and places. That's really what the digital marketing transformation framework is helping clients do. It's really flipping to a much more intimate form of marketing and that intimate form of marketing is, because you have thought through from a digital standpoint, what are the best ways to reach and attract customers and prospects? What are the best ways to engage and inspire? What are the best ways to nurture and convert and to analyze and optimize? What's the best way to connect that tech and martech together, so that so that your approaches are so spot on, that they feel organic to everybody, to the people that you most want to reach?

DGR: You mentioned this roadmap for digital transformation can take three years. Are there any key milestones for those three years?

Stein: There can be milestones around implementation, and then milestones around activation, and then milestones around having your points in time when you begin to demonstrate value back to the business. Then, based on that, you tweak, optimize and ramp up. So, there would be milestones in all those areas. So certainly rapid implementation along with any integrations that are necessary, as well as making sure that the teams are trained up, and that the alignments are made internally. Those are all essential aspects and milestones. Then when you have your first use case in play, what are the expectations at point A, point B and point C? Make sure that you're reporting back to stakeholders.

Across all of those milestones, I would say that communication is so essential. So, the marketeers involved need to be incredibly communicative in what those milestones are with other stakeholders, and then communicating progress against the milestones. I think being dead honest about it, and I’m not suggesting that anyone wouldn't be but, you can't get too involved in trying to over-spin something if it's not brilliant. You need to be dead honest with yourself and you need to be that honest with your peers and other groups within the company about the progress you're making. When you're honest and transparent across all of those milestones, and all of those touch points, you give yourself the greater likelihood of success and support to be successful.