I’m Phil Darby and I work with senior executives around the world, helping them build brands that align their organisations to the opportunities of the digital economy with my “Brand-Led Business Transformation” approach.

Today I hope to bring some perspective to the subject of digital transformation. Transformation is the buzz in every boardroom around the world right now and so it should be. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s understood. In fact it’s estimated that one ion three of the brands we know and maybe even love right now, will disappear within three years because they don’t get it.

So, if you are struggling with the notion of transformation I’m going to try to give you three things.

  • I want to put transformation in perspective by summarising the events that led us to this point
  • I hope to explain why every business has to transform to survive
  • And, if you are still watching, I’ll then introduce you to the right way to set about your own transformation.

So, let’s get started.


It’s actually nothing new. We’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. All it is, is us humans adapting to learning. We learn new stuff, then we apply it to our lives. 

In the beginning it was things like the discovery of fire. That enabled us to cook meat, which changed our diets. Then there was early technology the invention of the wheel, which facilitated a massive change in many areas of our lives. There’s more – the discovery of magnetism, electricity, penicillin, the internal combustion engine and Henry Ford’s production line. Each of these brought about transformations of one scale or another.

Did they spark debate and argument? – I’m sure they did. Was it anything like the intensity we have today – probably not. So what’s different?

The answer to that is digital technology is having a bigger influence than any previous innovation. Yes pretty well every advance we’ve made in the past has been exponential, but digital broke the pattern. It’s a bigger step than any we’ve seen before and impacts on every area of everyone’s lives. 

What this means to business. 

Digital technology enables us to do things we’ve never been able to do before. It’s infinitely scalable, so we can accomplish things in a fraction of a second that would, in the past, have taken years. It’s accurate – once you set it up right it doesn’t make mistakes.  It is tireless – literally – technology doesn’t stop for lunch, toilet breaks or even to sleep.

What this means is digital organisations are considerably more efficient than traditional businesses could ever be and as the primary determinant of business success and failure is efficiency it’s clear that in a shoot-out between a trad business and a digital one, the digital business will always win.

But this digital impact is amplified by another factor

That is the generational transmutation. People born into the digital age – we call them digital natives – think differently.

Experts have tried to define this new paradigm – they talk in terms of values, beliefs, priorities, but in all honesty, those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth are just going to have to accept we can never really relate to the new world order. 

We do know that we all have access to boundless information and digital natives access his instinctively. This makes them, as consumers, more demanding, less tolerant and far less patient. They want the very best – whatever that may mean – they want it now and they want it cheap.

The efficiencies typical of a digital business make them able to deliver this. A traditional business, on the other hand, can’t even get close.

That’s why the survival of every business in every sector is dependent on them becoming digital.

Transformation isn’t a one-off

However, it’s not that simple. Transformation is expensive. It can be very painful and it takes – literally – forever. Transformation isn’t a one-off thing. Transformation is the process of shifting from an orderly existence to a state of constant change. Nothing is ever going to be the same again!

What that means is the old approaches, traditional business skills, in fact many of the fundamental business principles today’s business leaders learned and have operated by to this point in time, simply won’t work anymore. That’s why so many businesses will fail to transform and will die as a consequence – their leadership is resisting change because by supporting transformation, they feel they will be turkeys voting for Xmas.

In fact that doesn’t have to be the case. I firmly believe there’s an important role for those of us who have been brought up in the old paradigm, but it demands we adopt a management philosophy that is alien to many of us. Brand-Led Business Transformation liberates senior executives, allowing them to contribute where they can most. Command and control no longer works. Today business leaders have to be primarily facilitators and – in the words of Harvard professor Ronald Heifetz “Adaptive Managers”.

There are also a few other factors adding to the challenges facing traditional businesses.

The first is the pace that disrupters operate at is like nothing you will have seen before, Consider it took FaceBook years to achieve one million subscribers. Kickstarter took 30 months and Tumblr 24 months. You may think that was fast, but it’s history. Today new disrupters like Path are doing that in two weeks!

In fact a disrupter can take a market in much less than a year. Compare that with the three years it takes a traditional business to gear up to compete in the digital economy – Even adopting an approach similar to Brand-Led Business Transformation, Marks and Spencer have a five-year plan and John Lewis, who were the first UK retailer to really understand and leverage e-commerce and who have been working on their brand development – which is their first step towards transformation – for two years, already, believe they have another three years before they are functioning as a digital business. – and you can see the problem.

You can’t wait until you see the whites of your disrupter’s eyes, by then it’s far too late. But it gets worse.

Disrupters rarely come from the ranks of your traditional competitors.

If you are watching the landscape for movement from familiar businesses, you’ll undoubtedly be taken by surprise. Disrupters creep up on you, unseen and by the time you know they are there it’s far too late to do anything.

The really scary thing though is, at the moment, upward of 70% of transformation projects fail and for those that do, there’s little hope of survival. Even if you could afford to do it all again – that three years, on average, of pain – you simply won’t have the time. If disrupters aren’t already in your space they certainly will be by the time you go-around for a second time.  

Transformations fail for all kinds of reasons. People like McKinsey, Forrester and Harvard have all produced heat maps of the many reasons for transformation failure, but there is a single common denominator and that’s a lack of focus.

Organisations often don’t know why they are transforming, they rarely know what they are transforming into and they frequently mistake transformation for an IT project – that, by the way, is a sure-fire route to failure. 

Transformation isn’t about digitising existing processes.

It’s about re-inventing your business, re-building it from the ground up, leveraging the benefits of digital tools to deliver the solution that maybe you should have been delivering all along.

A transformed organisation has new purpose, different structure, fresh processes and often completely different products. In fact a few even switch to operating in an entirely different sector, but getting there involves a vast number of projects and it’s vital every one of these contributes to the same objective. Brand-Led Business Transformation ensures this.

When you take all the influencing factors into account, it’s clear any business that isn’t already at least in the process of transformation is late to the party. Because of this they are horribly vulnerable.

In fact, the only way they will have a chance of survival is if they start moving now, but they also have to approach transformation in some way differently to the approach firms have taken to date. 

To succeed you will have to be faster, more efficient and get it right first time. You simply can’t afford to waste a moment or a penny of your investment – you have to be focussed.

For longer than I care to recall I’ve been involved in brand development. We’ve long understood that brands are where the value of an organisation resides. In fact, brands are at the heart of all today’s successful businesses. Managed as they should be, they align your people and your resources, giving you the scope to drive your organisation forward in the most efficient way.

This makes brands essential to the delivery of a quick and successful transformation

But more than that, they are the key to running any kind of business in the digital economy.

Since way back I’ve worked with transformation consultants and witnessed the high failure rate they were experiencing.  A couple of years ago I looked into the reasons for the failure, studying as much of the researches undertaken by as many of the global consultancies as I could lay my hands on and I discovered, although there are almost as many reasons quoted as there have been failures, there has been a common denominator and that is lack of focus.

In response I developed a new approach to transformation that positions brand as the point of focus.

Brand-Led Business Transformation. 

Brand-Led Business Transformation follows a logical four-part process, incorporating brand creation, Brand development, the internal marketing that ensures all your stakeholders are aligned, the re-engineering or the organisation and finally taking your new proposition to market.

Brand-Led Business Transformation offers organisations the opportunity to transform faster, more cheaply and with minimum pain. Everything that’s required in fact, if you want to have a chance of success.

I’ve introduced the programme to organisations in a number of countries. Some of them have cherry-picked and tackled some of the phases on their own, but the initial brand development has proven the anchor for all.

You can find out more about Brand-Led Business Transformation at Alternatively, you can connect with me on LinkedIn or just drop me an email and schedule a conversation either on-line or in person.

I’ll be waiting to hear from you, but for now that’s all from me. I hope I’ve given you food for thought and you’ll stay in touch.

Thanks for watching and goodbye for now.

Phil Darby
April 1, 2019

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