Thoughts from DMEXCO: Fusing digital transformation with human potential

How can businesses make sense of digital transformation? Start with this formula…

September 14, 2017


With one simple formula, shared at the end of a discussion at DMEXCO yesterday morning, Allen Blue summed up precisely what businesses need to do, in order to make digital transformation work for them.

“During this event, everything you see will be about data, technology and new mechanisms for getting things done,” said LinkedIn’s co-founder. “And I can tell you with complete confidence that those solutions are so beguiling; you will be so excited about data and you will get lost in it. My recommendation is: spend 80% of your time on the data; spend 20% of your time on making sure that you never forget that providing value to your customer is what matters most.”

How marketers can keep digital transformation customer-centric
Allen was speaking to Nigel Morris of Dentsu Aegis and Alisée de Tonnac of the emerging markets startup network SeedStars, about the mindset required to thrive in an era of rapid change. And his quote captures one of the key themes of that discussion. The use that organisations make of digital technology is at its most purposeful and valuable when it leverages the understanding those organisations already have. They have earned the right to build successful businesses based on their understanding of their customers and their needs. It’s this instinct and empathy that can animate digital technology in a way that drives real competitive advantage. Recognising your business’s existing human potential is the key to leveraging the potential of digital technology.

It strikes me that marketers have a vital role to play in this process. We can lead the customer-centric interpretation of data that keeps a business focused on that overriding need to provide value to the customer. We can be the custodians of market knowledge and market expertise that ensure our businesses don’t wield technology wildly or randomly, but use it to enhance their competitive advantage. To play this role though, we need confidence in the value that our existing skills and experience can bring to the table.

That was the other aspect of Allen’s conversation that really resonated with me. He’s one of the architects of the Economic Graph, LinkedIn’s vision for connecting talent and opportunity on a global scale and unlocking economic opportunity for everyone. One aspect of this involves helping people evolve their skills and adapt to the fact that jobs they once counted on are now disappearing. This isn’t just about connecting talent with appropriate opportunities; it’s about empowering people to stay in control of their choices in life – and take their career in the direction that they want.

Growing the marketing skills that businesses are hungry for
There’s another aspect of the Economic Graph that Allen believes will become increasingly important as the digital transformation of the economy accelerates. “Every company will be battling for relevant tech talent,” as he put it. “And we need to be creative about the solutions.”

We’ve been primed to think of digital transformation as taking away jobs, reducing headcount and constraining people’s opportunities. That’s the source of much of the fear that surrounds the use of AI in marketing or media buying, for example. Allen’s perspective, which comes from LinkedIn’s own experience competing for talent within Silicon Valley, is very different. Companies can’t assume they’ll always be able to source the skills they need from outside. A far more sustainable solution is to analyse the potential of the people already on your team.

“That’s where the data in the Economic Graph becomes really valuable,” he explained. “Using it you can make sure you deeply understand what’s actually happening. Who works for you? What skills do they have? What new skills do they need? Then you can work on training people.”

Focus on the development of talent in this way, and the opportunities for marketers in an age of digital transformation start to look very exciting.

Creative solutions to the marketing skills gap
Let’s say you’re a CMO looking to build the machine learning, data mining or programmatic media buying skills that your strategy requires. Recruiting specialist marketers who are already well-versed in these skills is one solution to the problem – but it’s far from the only one. Businesses could work with the educational institutions that are most effective at producing these skills (a key feature of the Economic Graph is the way it brings educators into partnership with employers and government planners). They could reach out for help developing the skills of their existing team, creating the types of hybrid marketers that are designed to thrive in the digital economy, and maintaining the brand and customer knowledge that’s at the heart of their competitive advantage. They could partner with schools to develop apprenticeships, introducing young people with valuable skills into an environment where they can quickly learn other marketing techniques, as well as a company’s values and culture. Digital transformation will involve a range of different career paths for marketers, but it won’t invalidate the skills they already have.

Getting the human aspect of digital transformation right is the greatest challenge that businesses face as they adapt for a new era. As Allen said, the technology involved is exciting – and will command a lot of business leaders’ attention. However, it’s the human aspects of the process that help to preserve the unique competitive advantages of brands and businesses. Allen’s formula is a great way to ensure you don’t devalue the expertise you already have.