There’s no escaping digital transformation, we all have to do it sooner or later and time is already running out for organisations that haven’t brought theirs over the line.

We’ve witnessed retailers falling like flies, but it won’t end there. The same fate awaits organisations in every other sector if they don’t transform and latest estimates suggest one in three of today’s businesses will disappear within three years. What’s more, 70 – 90% of transformation projects fail to deliver the required outcome, so the chances of you getting it right are slim.

However, you can improve your odds if you approach it the right way, so, here are my top ten tips to make your transform a success.

1 Be clear why you are transforming

It may sound obvious, but so many business leaders I talk to aren’t that clear.  The primary differentiator of business success and failure is efficiency. That hasn’t changed, it’s always been so. The difference is that while most businesses are inefficient to some degree, we’ve been able to get away with it because our competitors haven’t been much better. What’s changed is that digital businesses by definition are more efficient than a traditional business could ever be. They set a new bar and if you can’t compete at their level your business will fail.

2 Listen to your audience

More than 60% of consumers are digital natives. They want more for less and know they can get it. Digital is part of their DNA and it’s also the key to meeting their demands, but you aren’t going to fool them with a digital facade. That’s why digitising existing processes isn’t the answer. The good news is that the same proportion of your employees are digital natives too, so they understand all of this . The lesson here is – LISTEN!

3 Understand the urgency

New digital businesses are emerging daily. They are either start-ups or traditional businesses that grasped the nettle and shifted to a digital model early. Whatever their origins their inherent efficiency allows them to move quickly and they will take your sector over in months, but the really bad news is, theoretically at least, because they are automated they can satisfy every customer in the sector.

Transformation also takes a while. M&S have a five year plan, most businesses take at least three to get to a point where they are trading as a digital business and in that time someone who is already on the path to transformation could have beaten you to it. You simply can’t afford to wait.

4 Start at the top

One of the most popularly quoted reasons for transformation is the absence of support from business leaders, so make the boardroom your first stop on your transformation journey. Until your board are unanimously behind your transformation initiative you won’t get very far.

5 Appreciate the difference between change and transformation

While change may speed up your internal processes, if those processes aren’t the right ones it’s only going to speed up the demise of the business concerned.  So many businesses forge ahead with the digitisation of an existing business model, feeling very pleased with themselves only to discover, when it’s too late, the action is elsewhere.

Transformation is about understanding the needs of the market and responding to them with a totally different approach, different processes, even different products. Until you understand that you’ll continue to struggle.

6 Start at the beginning

Most transformations fail because they lack focus and the thing that provides the focus for today’s successful organisations is brand. If you want to avoid becoming one of the long list of failed transformations start by creating a brand model.

Whatever you do don’t dive into the middle of the transformation process by trying to kick off with an IT project. There’s an order to this that’s enshrined in Brand-Led Business Transformation.

7 Don’t wait for the transformation fairy

Traditional business leaders aren’t expected to know everything about transformation. For one thing, it’s complex and involves innumerable disciplines that require genuine in-depth knowledge. Nobody could possibly know it all. Furthermore, the rules of the digital management are in many cases the antithesis of those that traditional managers have been employing for generations.  As a manager or business leader your skills and experience now have to be applied in a different way, to compliment the understanding and flexibility of a digital native workforce. Your new role has to be facilitator.

Transformation is also expensive, painful and takes ages, but you can’t bury your head in the sand and hope the need passes – it won’t! Nor will the transformation fairy turn up with her magic wand. Start now, make a plan, bring in experts.

8 Acknowledge your resources

Transformation is a long and complex process, but it is easier to manage if you break it into individual projects. As some point in your planning phase you’ll identify numerous key projects that you’ll need to launch in order to get through, but you can’t tackle them all at once.

How many you can juggle at one time depends on three things. Firstly key resources – people, expertise, investment. Then there is know-how. As I have already said a it’s unlikely a traditional business will have all the expertise it needs to transform in-house so you’ll have to bring it in, either by hiring new employees or, for the sake of speed, bringing in consultants. It is also determined by time. If you can see the whites of your competitors’ eyes you need to speed things up. You can make some ground by being more efficient, but when you are pressed for time there’s usually no escaping the need to up your investment.

You need an organised approach to determining your priorities and a consultant can help with that too.

9 Leverage your greatest resource

Transformation isn’t achieved in the boardroom. The people who will make this happen are your employees. That’s why internal marketing is a critical component of Brand-led Businesss Transformation. It’s essential that everyone on your payroll understands, buys into and commits to playing their part in the delivery of your brand promise. Once they are on your side your chances of success will increase dramatically.

10 don’t make promises you can’t deliver

Although your brand promise is the cornerstone of your transformation it’s no use making promises you can’t deliver. Disappointing customers is a sure way to business failure so don’t raise expectations and then dash them. The solution to this is partly down to the commitment of your stakeholders, in particular your employees, but even that won’t work if your promise is unrealistic. My Brand Discovery programme, itself the first component of Brand-led Business Transformation incorporates steps to ensure you don’t get this wrong.


Remember transformation is a four-stage process and you can’t change that. The four stages are:

  1. Defining your brand and its promise. – Brand Development
  2. Gaining the commitment of your internal stakeholders. – Internal Marketing
  3. Building the organisation that will deliver your brand promise. – Business re-engineering
  4. Introducing it to your wider (consumer) community. – Marketing Communication

You can learn more about the process of Brand-Led Business Transformation from my new lecture series. Visit to find out how to become the agent of change in your organisation.

Phil Darby
November 13, 2018

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