There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind now that to survive the new normal every business has to transform. From now on it’s business as un-usual!

Why transformation is unavoidable

The arrival of disrupters in just about every sector was already making transformation essential, but Covid19 has accelerated the already rapid pace of change and placed beyond any doubt the realisation that any business not prepared for business as un-usual will fail, probably within the next twelve months.

Faced with this inescapable new reality, business leaders have two stark choices. On one hand, they can sit back and wait for their inevitable demise and maybe plan a little to try to make the process a little less painful (good luck with that!).

Or they can take action to get ready for business as un-usual and, hopefully, save their businesses. The trouble with that is, having left it so long to respond to the challenges of disruption or prepare their organisations for the process of transformation, the hill they have to climb will be far too steep for many.

To add a little perspective to this, MIT Sloan have just published research that tells us businesses that aren’t “digitally savvy” deliver only 48% of the revenue and profit of a digital business, which in today’s marketplace is not only unsustainable it spells an even earlier demise for traditional businesses.

The need for speed

However, it’s not even that simple, because transformation isn’t a switch to be thrown that brings-about an over-night transformation from a traditional business model to one ready to make it’s way in the digital marketplace. Transformation has and always will take time. In fact, transformation marks a shift from a routine state to one of constant change and until now it has taken around three years for an average sized business to even get to the starting blocks. 

We already know that, for all kinds of reasons, more than 70% of transformations fail and the businesses concerned usually crash as a consequence, partly because they remain traditional businesses, but also because they will probably have blown their bank balance on the unsuccessful transformation and pissed-off their stakeholders in the process.

Obviously, if you are only trying now to gear-up for business as un-usual the approach to transformation that has failed so many times is not an option. Businesses only now embarking on their transformation journey have to be so much faster and smarter with their projects than their predecessors. More importantly still, the fact that any traditional business that has survived Covid will now be strapped for cash means that whatever approach they take has to be cheap, something that doesn’t equate with speed.

New model, new skills

We need a different approach, which is why Brand-Led Business Transformation is probably the only hope for surviving legacy businesses. This is “business as unusual”.

When I embark on transformation projects with businesses one of the first issues we encounter is the absence of the skills we need to operate a digital business. If the leaders of these businesses had been doing their jobs correctly for the past few years, they would have introduced training programmes for their workforce that would have prepared them. In fact even recently I had a CEO tell me that he would not invest in training his employees in skills that were not directly related to their current job. I’m sure we are all familiar with this mind-set and because of this, lack of skills is reality we have to face.

Given the need for speed, there’s no time now to train existing personnel into the roles they need to play in a digital business, so the solution is to hire new employees, with the necessary skills. Unfortunately demand has made this a candidates’ market and would-be employers can find themselves facing an inflated wage bill. 

The irony of this is that digital businesses are supposed to triumph over their traditional competitors, in large part, because their overhead is much lower. It’s therefore understandable that when business leaders who are new to transformation get to this point many complain “I thought this was supposed to make my business more efficient, but it’s costing more to run now than it did before”.

However, that doesn’t have to be the case …

When automation is self-defeating

For the past few years I’ve been talking about Artificial Intelligence as the component of digital transformation that makes sense of all the rest. In 2016 Russell Scherwin, then at IBM Watson, told delegates to a conference in London that something over 55% of a workforce’s time on average was devoted to managing the platforms that were supposed to be creating efficiency. He explained how AI, even at that time, was already eliminating this need. 

In it’s simplest of incarnations, what we are talking about here is the kind of autonomous business processes that can run a business pipeline. One of the fundamentals of my Brand-Led Business Transformation concerns the creation of automated business pipelines. These frequently involve a complex array of responses to actions that lead prospects from a point of first contact to the point of sale.  These aren’t plug-and-play, but evolve from a relatively simple set of obvious customer journeys to an increasingly sophisticated and sensitive repertoire of scenarios that ultimately culminate in the legendary “segment of one”.

The trouble with this is, given our present circumstances, the cost of installing and setting up AI puts any business leader in an understandable spin. It’s bloody expensive for one thing, but it is also a different planet from the one they have been existing on until now!

That’s why I’ve been particularly excited to see the recent emergence of platforms that make AI technology accessible to pretty well any business.

Making sense of Artificial Intelligence

If AI makes sense of digital technology, what is becoming known as Autonomous Marketing makes sense of AI. Platforms can be subscription based, cancel-any-time solutions. They can be self-managed, or with training and support, or you can just hand the entire process over to experts who personalise, develop and run the entire pipeline. And with a starting price of a little over €1,000 a month, these solutions are ridiculously affordable. 

In the past week I’ve had half a dozen calls from people proffering various kinds of process automation, but many of these fall short because they continue to rely on manpower. So, how do you decide which platform is right for you? I find the best solutions … 

  • … don’t require the jump-in-with-both-feet commitment that intimidates many reluctant CEOs.
  • … are pretty plug and play so it has an immediate impact
  • … are scalable
  • … don’t require you to employ expensive operators because the set-up, on-going management and any necessary interventions can be handled by the platform team.
  • … Allow you, when you are ready, to hire and train your own people to take over the management of the platform.
  • … don’t have an up-front purchase or licensing cost
  • … provide an opt-out at any time.

Make no mistake, Autonomous Marketing is for any business that wants to succeed in the digital economy, although the extent of its role will vary from one business to another.  If you need help applying it to your organisation, I’d be happy to help.

Phil Darby
April 19, 2021

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