This week, I had the unique opportunity to address two entirely different audiences with the same speech about disruptive technologies. It happened at the Consumer Goods Forum conference in Paris, where I was scheduled for a speech at the IT track in the morning but was also asked – last minute – to fill in a slot for Marketing in the afternoon.
It was a notable experience, with some key lessons.
First of all, the room for the Marketing track contained at least twice as many people as the one for their IT colleagues. Attendees told me this has not always been the case, and it might be symptomatic for a shifting balance, also in where the budgets will be spent in the forthcoming years.
Secondly – of course – the audience was different, with more women in the Marketing track. Then again, just as in the IT track there was a subtle divide between sharply dressed business people and a group of creatives that easily would have been credible as mobile app developers or PHP experts as well.
Furthermore, I was surprised to see how eagerly the Marketing audience picked up the potential of new, possibly disruptive technology trends. The questions where geared towards the impact these trends could have on product development, distribution and the relationship with the customer (admitted, the IT audience had good questions too, although I ended up seriously discussing the likeliness of human teleportation in the coming decade).
It’s all very appropriate, given the findings of our most recent Digital Transformation research with MIT. Firms that understand the power of technology to create new ways to engage with customers outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth. But only when they become ‘Digerati’, combining their feel for enabling technologies with true transformation capabilities, they also become more profitable and valuable. It requires a new form of digital leadership to achieve this transformation intensity, and we should not be surprised when a new breed of Chief Digital Officers is mainly recruited from the marketing profession.
It might answer a question that was asked earlier this week in the Financial Times as well (registration required): given the fact that no significant business change can occur without enabling technology, how does this influence C-level relationships? And does it always make sense that the typical incumbent CIO – often hired to run the IT business cost effectively with minimized risk – becomes the digital leader that brings transformation intensity?
In any case, some new digital leaders bring fresh, marketing-driven perspectives into the profession. Take Mike Bracken, Executive Director of Digital in the UK Cabinet Office, working on the mission to fundamentally recreate the Government’s digital services. He not only dares to take a different approach to shaping the digital estate – choosing open source, standard solutions, open data and cloud whenever possible – but also redesigned the front-end of the Government’s online services to something spectacularly outside-in, tailored to the real needs of its users – or as we should really say: its consumers.
It’s not only very simple to use, GOV.UK furthermore is a striking example of the new, emerging user experience philosophy that is also reflected in for example Windows 8: basic, simple, Zen-style empty and relaxing to the eyes (Jony Ive, anybody ?).
Bracken acts indeed like a marketing director, not shying away from claiming his victories and also crystal clear in the communication of his main digital design principles. Even his personal website reflects this positioning, showing Bracken and his team members in arty, Anton Corbijn-style photos, almost like he is in the Kings of Leon or orchestrating a Paris fashion show.
It is indeed a Digital Catwalk out there, and the business audience is expecting ideas, vision and – above all – good, striking examples to the parade, one after the other. It’s where digital intensity meets transformation power: an inspiring mix on centre stage.