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For Digital Innovation Success: Focus on the Customer, not “Digital” Shiny Objects

By Carlos Guerrero | June 15, 2021 | 0 Comments

MarketingCustomer Acquisition and RetentionDigital Marketing Strategy and ExecutionMarketing Leadership and Strategy

One of the results of the pandemic has been an imperative for Marketing to drive new digital business.  A recent Gartner Board of Directors survey found that nearly 70% of board members believe their organizations must accelerate their new digital business initiatives in 2021.  This significantly implicates marketing.  In fact, nearly two-thirds of marketing leaders say they are more involved in their company’s digital business initiatives this year (compared to 2020).  While this focus on digital innovation and new investments is good news, this also puts Marketing in a perilous position.  They can either be seen as “orchestrators”  in leading their organization’s digital transformation efforts, or as reactive “order takers”.

Digital Order Takers: Bad for Marketing and Bad for Business 

Marketing leaders as digital order takers is a no-win situation.   Here, marketing is often brought in late in the planning process.  Their role is largely to “market” a new digital innovation (for example, a new app feature).  And, they get all of the blame (if it fails), but none of the credit (if it succeeds).   More concerning, the current state of digital innovations (where Marketing is an order taker) is “mixed” at best.  A recent Gartner survey found that nearly half of customers can’t tell the difference between most brand’s digital experiences.  Moreover, 58% of customers believe that most digital experiences don’t impact what they end up buying, and only 14% of customers did something different after a digital experience.

Beyond these internal dynamics, digital order takers are often chasing the latest shiny digital object.  While having some understanding of emerging digital trends or new technologies is good, this alone won’t elevate your position in your organization or improve the performance of your digital innovation efforts.

Digital Orchestrators: The Right Mix of Digital and Customer Understanding 

By contrast, digital orchestrators understand  that an essential element of digital innovation is deep customer understanding.  Moreover, they recognize that no one understands the customer better than Marketing and they leverage this to get “the right seat” at the table.  This means that they are brought in early in the planning process and shape strategy.  In addition, they not only provide insight on customer-facing elements but also drive strategic organizational drivers.

Graphic shows the CMO at the center of a network of customer-facing experiences and operational enablers.

For example, marketing leaders at TD Bank use their position as a digital orchestrators to push the organization for greater differentiation in their digital efforts.  Instead of waiting for the Product team to come up with an app feature and told to “sell it”, they use their access to customers to identify a tightly scoped, high-potential customer need  – is this important enough for our customers?  Then, they convene a diverse group of internal stakeholders (e.g., marketing, sales and product) to pressure-test the customer need and potential solutions for differentiation – are we providing support in a unique way? (See, Redefining Marketing’s Role in Digital Experience Innovation, G00740553) 

TD listens for four signals to evaluate whether the proposed customer need and potential solution are truly innovative. TD Bank reports a substantial increase in the use of the digital tools it has built using this process. This successful digital innovation is not the result of new-to-world technology or flashy digital engagement, but instead, good old-fashioned customer understanding practices.

Marketing’s role in digital innovation efforts tracks closely with a broader marketing challenge.  Demonstrating we should be a strategic, leading force and not a reactive player.  Marketing’s ability to be a digital orchestrator (and not an order taker), is not dependent solely on their digital/MarTech savviness, but instead, on their deep knowledge of customer needs.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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