It takes no more than a glance at today’s headlines to realise we are going to loose many of our well-known businesses, very soon. It’s not just retailers who are suffering. In fact, current estimates are that as many as a third of the companies we know today, across all sectors, will be gone within three years.

There’s no denying it, traditional businesses simply can’t compete with digital organisations, but the old guard have been and continue to be too slow to respond.  In an extensive UK survey last year 62% of businesses stated that they knew they had to transform, yet only 21% of these actually had a plan. The scary thing though, is they have pretty well run out of time.

Transformation isn’t, as many business leaders think, a matter of digitising your existing processes, it’s far more fundamental that than, it’s about re-building your business from scratch. Many organisations going through transformations quickly realise even their products or proposition won’t cut it in the digital economy.

Changes like these take time. An average-sized concern should allow three years to get ready to trade as a genuinely digital business. It’s also expensive and, for many, it can be painful. As if all this wasn’t enough we know that currently as many as 80% of transformation projects fail, meaning the organisations concerned have to go through it all again – assuming they have the money and the time. If they don’t, they go bust. With digital disrupters arriving now in every sector and the clock ticking it’s clear we need to take a different approach.

I’ve always believed passionately that brands are the very core of successful businesses and marketing is their driving force. For thirty years, I’ve worked with senior executive teams around the world helping them build brands that align their organisations to new opportunities. Together, we’ve built word-class marketing teams, developed integrated strategies and created new products and propositions that have unlocked new potential for organisations in every sector and I have learned from all this that brands provide the focus you need to achieve efficiency that you won’t realise any other way. The primary differentiator of business success and failure has always been efficiency and this is very much the case in the digital economy. Above all, digitisation provides a level of efficiency traditional businesses simply can’t match. There are no options. You have to transform and quickly.

When you drill down into the reasons for the failure of most transformations you find lack of senior level commitment, unclear objectives, ill-defined approaches and loose strategies are all contributing. However, these and other factors are only symptoms of a far more fundamental problem – lack of focus.

Brands are communities of people who share values and beliefs and once you see them this way you will understand how they provide the focus you need not just to add efficiency to the running of a business, but to deliver your transformation. In fact, my “brand-led business transformation” approach starts, as it suggests by defining and developing the brand and continues by using that as the point of reference for everything that happens thereafter.

Real brand development isn’t just a matter of designing a logo. This is hard-core business strategy for the new commercial world where the value of a business is the value of its brand community and marketing is firmly in the driving seat.

If you have left it this late to start your transformation the only way you are going to catch up is by first defining your brand. Once defined in a brand model, the process of brand development engages integrated internal marketing to introduce the strategy and engage stakeholders, in particular investors and employees. It is essential to get your workforce behind the brand and committed to playing their part in the delivery of the promise that is at its heart.

Every effort from that point on will be aimed at ensuring you deliver that promise consistently, at every level and every corner of your organisation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your C-suite will be making this happen. They won’t. Their job is to facilitate, the real transformation will be undertaken by employees, which is another reason for making sure everyone knows what’s going on. You’ll need to provide them with the expertise and tools to tackle the task of re-inventing their jobs, designing new processes and developing new solutions, services and products.

The centre of your internal marketing campaign will be an intranet, which, if you don’t have one already, you’ll have to build. You’ll need to understand the basics of social media, on-line training and digital development to do this, but the cost and complexity can be minimised if you adopt a platform like Oak. You’ll also need someone to manage this asset. For anything but a small business this represents the primary communication with stakeholders and will have social, business asset and training areas.

You also need to have an engagement strategy. Start by connecting with the internal teams who will create the assets and programmes that others depend on. Your HR department will be top of this list as you start to identify where your business opportunities lie and pin-point where you need new skills and experience. It will be their job to design on-line training and development programmes that will be delivered via the Intranet. They will also need to learn to use digital assets for recruitment and HR management. Your IT department will be another priority. Transformation isn’t, as some businesses believe, an IT project, but your IT team plays a critical role by providing the infrastructure that will facilitate your digital business.

This much is just the start though. There is a long road ahead for any transforming business, which is why it takes so long, but it is also a gradual process and you will benefit with every change you make. This will become evident as soon as you go through the initial process of brand modelling. The initial focus a brand model alone will give you an opportunity to improve efficiency, so you can up your game from day one if you are smart about it.

Every day I see businesses with potential that will never be realised because they haven’t transformed. Tackled in the way most transformations have been to date they have already missed the boat, but if they move quickly and in an orderly and organised way they can catch up and could even be winners in the transformation race.

Phil Darby
September 12, 2018

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