Digital Business — not so ready for the 20s

Sandip Maiti

Sandip Maiti answers some pertinent & perpetual questions on whether the industry is ‘digital-ready’ on the Road to 2020.

Three years & three months back I wrote a piece on Medium, speculating on how the “marketing function” was likely to get transformed. As the explosion of digital technology and media-on-demand changed the game, the question on everyone’s mind in the board room — are we prepared?

Like many others, I felt that since human brains were being re-wired with this new format of consuming media, traditional decision journey models would be rendered obsolete. Brand Experience, I posited, was likely to play a disproportionately larger role in creating desire.

Understanding the consumer’s state of mind could unlock untapped opportunities. Deep knowledge of changing consumer attitudes in categories would certainly drive GTM strategies. Making a brand interaction memorable at every touch-point could work the funnel. And ‘staying in touch’ could do with some healthy innovation by brands opting to provide a service.

I did not attempt to write a forecast then; chose to just give a few pointers and ask questions. Now as I look back over the years, and basis my personal experience with C-level execs at few leading businesses, I have mixed feelings about the state of readiness.

Ten observations in no particular order. Starting with the not-so-good to the good.

  • Most organizations missed the boat on people. They were unable to translate the promise of digital media (& related marketing) into hard business benefits and SELL it within. Passion for digital thus largely remained trapped within silos of individual enthusiasts. Adoption of tools and resulting insights remained poor, and cross-team synergy was hard to find. Many organizations launched competing initiatives.
  • Few businesses dared to look beyond the ability to target customers. In-market, re-target, geo-locate — there was no dearth of technologies to deliver a message supposedly to the right person in the most opportune time. More targeting led to more auto-filtering; but even when the consumer clicked, the experience was sadly broken. The message reached but failed to elicit the desired response. In almost all cases digital advertising failed to build desire.
  • Nothing stuck. The waves came and went. Web experiences made way for social experiences. For a while platforms touted engagement. Then conveniently shifted to exposure. Long format video stories made way for Live, then Insta-stories then thumb-stoppers. Vernacular became the new cool thing as the bottom of the pyramid got online. What next? Keep guessing. Tik Tok, Tik Tok. Your 15 seconds is up.
  • IT organizations could not figure what to do with MarTech. AI & ML were trending topics, sure, but within the walls of the same organization, it was tough to find a repository of their own customers. Barring some exceptions in the personal finance space (where profiled customer data is key to doing business) most businesses lived in La-La land. Some with large platform investments hid behind their deployment stories. Few hacked their own stack, cobbling powerful web-services with be-spoke mobility solutions.
  • Few organizations even went back in time. As leadership teams changed, the school of thought changed. The lack of continuity meant abandoning investments in teams, technologies and processes, all in the name of going back to ‘proven things’. Very few companies held on to their core principles around digital while remaining flexible on the solution blueprint.
  • Customer Experience received lip service barring few leading e-commerce and service providers. Audits were done and problems diagnosed, but without concomitant investments to improve CX. The problems were far too many to realize effective solutions and the issues could be traced back to the lack of belief within stake holders & teams, cited earlier in this article.
  • The demand-supply imbalance led to value erosion within the ecosystem; that, in turn, led to a drop in talent quality within agency walls producing average digital work in general, mostly idea clones. With lesser opportunity to fund quality work, and clients pushing for commoditization, it remains to be seen what is the future of creative (digital) business.
  • Digital platform vendors ruled the roost. As they taught us all to ‘think with them’, and spun their up-lifting research tracks, we fell for whatever insights were served up in neat looking decks and shamelessly regurgitated content without even pausing once to question their applicability. From conference to conference, you saw the same big picture of the growth of digital and cheered on. Nothing could be questioned.
  • Many businesses finally woke up to the fact that digital could play a big role in developing their partner ecosystem. Some moved quickly to become an early adopter. But as I dug into cases reported on media, they found they were more about digitization — pushing paper forms to tablets, focused on data transparency and productivity. Stories of fundamental shifts in channel relations and business model disruptions were hard to find. Some of our customers took the plunge, realized the immense potential of re-building value-driven relationships with partners. Few of them are now ready to press the button on transformation.

E-Commerce scored a big WIN. As the big boys drove adoption and hacked delivery service experience, consumers turned to e-whatever and lapped up everything from groceries to fashion, from spectacles to premium cameras. Some even bought car tires online and got them fitted at local service stores. Convenience is the new mantra for shopping and there is no going back now. Large-format retailers jumped on the band-wagon and moved omnichannel. 

At the heart of this success — customer experience — from ‘try and buy’, liberal exchange policies, subscription models, same-day delivery — look for that one thing that lies at the heart of this massive shift and it will turn out that CX is the story.

Also read: Reinventing Brand appeal without reinventing the wheel

Some brands looked to build their business on digital. Picking the right category of products that are ripe for e-com they took pro-active steps to carve out niche market segments where they could move at the speed of imagination.

What is your perspective on the state of readiness across Industries? Are we ready to do business with the consumer of the twenties? 

This article piece is authored by Sandip Maiti, Founder & CEO, Experience Commerce.