Digital Essays 2023: Transformed but authentic

OMD MENA’s George Achkouty and Terry Mo explain the three transformation principles that separate success from failure

As we move from the third to the fourth industrial revolution, companies find themselves at a crucial crossroads when it comes to redefining their business strategies and operations.

The journey toward true digital transformation is certainly no leisurely stroll—it demands substantial investments, both in cutting-edge technology and the expertise to navigate its intricacies.

Too often, companies embark on this transformative journey with hefty budgets and little direction, only to find themselves grappling with unclear objectives and disappointing returns on investment.  

The International Data Corporation forecasts a monumental $74 billion will be invested in digital transformation across the META region by 2026, double the investment made since 2021.

This growth is fuelled, in part, by robust government initiatives aiming to propel the digital capabilities of the region. However, McKinsey’s research delivers a sobering reality check—69 per cent of digital transformation projects end in failure.

Here are three fundamental transformation principles, which could help prevent from making your business part of that percentage. 

Mindsets, not technology  

The essence of transformation is not about upgrading outdated systems or the recruitment of data scientists. It’s not about replicating the feats of tech giants like Google, Meta or Amazon.

True digital transformation is about becoming a data-driven organisation, where every decision is guided by data-driven insights, rather than a human intuition. This pivotal shift in mindset within organisations is the catalyst for genuine transformation. 

It’s not just about upgrading technology but instilling a digital mindset across all facets of the organisation. Leaders must inspire a culture that values experimentation, embraces agility and places data at the core of decision-making. 

Insights, not data 

At the heart of every successful organisation lies accessible data, the key to unlocking future customer interactions. Technology plays a pivotal role in digitising and making this data accessible.

Cleaning, refining and harnessing its potential are the first steps to conceive impactful campaigns. With the right blend of people and technology, data translates into actionable insights, inspires informed strategies and leads to meaningful results. 

Yes, investing in data infrastructure is not just important; it’s a strategic must. Beyond collecting data, organisations must cultivate an environment that promotes data literacy and understanding.

Every team member across the board should be equipped to leverage data for informed decision-making. This democratisation of data ensures that insights are not confined to a select few, but empower the entire organisation.

It also improves the quality of its decision-making, basing it on the neutral analysis of facts and figures, and balancing this evidence with feelings, emotions and intuition. 

Equity, not numbers 

Enhancing transparency through technology is a positive step towards digital transformation. Yet, even with top-tier technology and talent, certain aspects of marketing remain ambiguous.

While the case for reallocating marketing spends to easily quantifiable bottom-of-the-funnel results is tempting for many, two of 2023’s Fortune 500 newcomers make another case.

Airbnb’s shift to brand marketing and Lululemon’s strategic Covid response both underline the importance of protecting brand equity for sustained success.

Both businesses – already very digitally savvy – recognised that their ongoing success was not underpinned by hyper-personalisation or an extreme focus on the lower funnel, but by delivering better execution in the upper funnel. 

The industry loves to talk about high profile collapses of companies that failed to recognise the need for digital transformation.

What we don’t talk about enough are those companies who attempted digital transformation but failed because they tried to become something completely disconnected from their own DNA – often sacrificing their existing brand equity in the process.

They lost their authenticity and, with it, consumer trust. It’s important that your digital transformation needs are an extension of your existing, successful marketing strategy, rather than a disruptive lower-funnel focused replacement. 

Digital transformation is not about adopting the latest technologies for modernity’s sake, and much more about fostering a customer-centric ecosystem where innovation thrives, adaptability reigns, and employees are equipped with the skills to navigate the evolving landscape.

Importantly, this transformation shouldn’t be limited to stakeholders directly managing the transformation – a well-executed transformation will impact each and every aspect of the business.

With that said, the aim is not to turn into a carbon copy of the industry’s digital leaders overnight, but to use these new capabilities to turn organisations into a more inter-connected, more adaptable version of themselves. 

The digital revolution is not a storm to weather but a wave to ride. True transformation goes beyond the surface-level adoption of technologies; it’s about preserving organisational DNA while reshaping consumer and employee experiences to meet modern expectations.

As your company ventures into the uncharted waters of digital evolution, let these principles serve as a compass, guiding organisations toward a future where innovation is not a choice but a way of being.

George Achkouty is Head of Acceleration and Terry Mo is Head of Digital at OMD MENA