THE BLOG

Playing Catch-up in Digital Is Not an Option

18/09/2013 13:28 BST | Updated 16/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Retailers including Morrisons and Argos have recently signed up to a service that targets offers based on consumers' bank data. They will be able to see which consumers spend with their competitors and will have access to postcode data enabling them to provide location-based offers.

Like what Morrisons and Argos is starting to do, businesses need to evolve to make space for digital, building their businesses around digital opportunities, rather than trying to incorporate these into an existing, outdated model. In reality, if businesses started again digital would be at the heart - not how most brands treat it today. However, Morrisons may have made smart move here - but it is not leading the charge, it took over ten years to launch an online grocery delivery service despite customers demanding it and now it has to play an unenviable game of catch-up.

A digital approach and thinking has to now dictate every decision and direction that a business takes, and every pound that it spends. We know it's hard to do, which is why brands need to consider incubating teams to deliver some change while the business continues. Otherwise it is very hard to change. Barclays made the step with Pingit by championing a small digital change that brought swift and easy money transfers to its customers. Key to making this happen is leadership. There are a lot of marketing people at brands who understand digital and are visionary but they need to have leadership. A recent report revealed that only 7 per cent of FTSE 350 CEOs were engaging with their stakeholders in a digital dialogue and almost two-thirds of these companies were using digital without the involvement of their CEOs. This is staggering.

Today's companies need to make digital innovation a higher priority, or more ingenious minds will capture tomorrow's wealth. When companies institutionalize digital innovation they're more likely to generate new products, services, and customer experiences. They're also more likely to improve performance, invent new business processes and models, lower cost structure, and open up new business opportunities with digital in mind. Many companies fall behind the innovation curve not for failing to keep up with competitors, but because they've failed to embrace the future.

Brands must put themselves in the minds and bodies of the customer. Personalised digital customer experience ensures that brands communicate in a relevant way. Overhauling an entire business model can seem daunting, but there are a number of brands who are already showing the world that embedding digital at the core supports the consumer in living their life more easily and smoothly.

Central to this move is bridging the digital and physical experiences. Some retailers have become more flexible about their ordering processes, allowing customers to purchase items without having to wait in-store or interrupt their activities. KFC UK launched a mobile app so people can bypass the queue in-store. The Fast Track app lets customers order their fried chicken and pay for it by credit card. It then uses geolocation to find the nearest outlet. Once they check-in customers can pick up their food via a QR code and confirmation number. And then there are those companies that are cutting costs through digital change. Just take BT for example, which uses Twitter specifically to achieve a business objective of providing cost-effective customer service. Reputedly, it costs the organisation £12 to solve a customer service issue but only 12p to do it through Twitter.

Stores are also using mobile technology to create a real-world equivalent of the online search box, helping shoppers navigate their way around large stores, as well as find specific deals and items. Hellmann's partnered with Brazil's biggest retailer Pão de Açúcar to launch an intelligent supermarket cart that helped shoppers find recipe ingredients in the supermarket. They placed RFID-augmented jars of mayonnaise across the supermarket, which suggested recipes featuring the ingredients in that aisle.

Brands need to stop what they're doing and look at their business model and their channels. A new culture of digital and exciting technology must transcend top-down and become institutional. If it's not looking to the future with digital embedded across all facets of the organisation then let the lengthy game of playing catch-up begin. And winning may not be an option unless digital change happens.