Challenges of Digital Transformation

By Professor Stan Maklan

Challenges of Digital Transformation in Marketing

Adtech, fintech, martech, medtech, smart cities… there can be little doubt that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in how we manage resources and that this will create substantial change for most organisations.

From a marketers’ perspective, we have been here before. The practice of marketing has always been defined by technology. One can claim that modern marketing departments were initially an outgrowth of the advent of what then was transformational technology, commercial television. Over the past 15 to 20 years, marketing practice has been defined by the internet and customer management software. Social media, Internet of Things and online retail platforms are defining marketing right now. But what is the pathway from investment in new technology to improved competitiveness?

In my research of technology-led marketing change, I find that too often, companies focus on the technology rather than the marketing and organisational change needed to extract benefit from new technology. Installing a CRM system, a marketing cloud or building data lakes, on their own do little to improve the practice of marketing or the quality of relationships one has with customers. To make a difference, we need simultaneous improvement and investment in new capabilities, business processes and complementary assets. Sometimes the changes are so widespread, we require a very different organisation and business model to truly capture all the possible benefits and compete with new competitors built on new technology foundations.

One also needs management and leadership. I am not convinced that it always emanates from the CEO as so many pundits assume. Digital leadership can be found in all levels of an organisation, indeed often those closest to the customer have the best feel for how technology can improve their ability to create customer value or reduce cost.

We have some preliminary research illustrating some clear pathways from the implementation of new technology to improved business performance. Critical to realising value from modern technology seems to be an entrepreneurial culture, innovation, risk taking - rapid learning from new insight and reacting to it. Technology is generating an hitherto unavailable depth of consumer insight; that insight should be harnessed for innovation at product and business model levels. Operating-level business managers need the capabilities to convert this new knowledge into relevant customer insight and then reconfigure the business to exploit the opportunities. The C suite must foster that culture of risk taking and empowerment.

In this context, Marketing has a pivotal role. The role of marketing has always been about helping organisations adapt to the ever changing needs and wants of customers, current and potential. Particularly in a digital age, Marketing’s core principles and frameworks about learning and responding to customers are highly relevant. Marketing’s focus in this environment therefore needs to change from merely justifying the cost of advertising, to facilitating the type of rapid learning and responding enabled by modern technology. That is where the big gains are to be found.


Cranfield’s marketing executive programmes take experienced executives through the strategic management of marketing within your organisation. How you can ensure that as you transform digitally, being customer centric guides your policies and decisions. We explore the cycle of learning, responding, configuring solutions and implementation in a modern digitalised environment and the implications of creating a customer centric organisation.

Blog produced by:  Professor Stan Maklan, Professor of Marketing and Technology and Programme Director of the Marketing Directors’ Programme, Marketing Strategy and Planning, and Customer Experience Strategy programmes at Cranfield School of Management.


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