Has ‘Digital Transformation’ Lost all Meaning? And What’s the Beef Between Business and Digital Anyway?.


For many, the term ‘Digital Transformation’ has become a tired cliché, devoid of meaning. But how did we get here? And does organisational fatigue around the subject risk derailing vital business improvements?

My first client-side Digital Transformation project was back in 2009. It was considered bleeding edge back then and although I managed to build an enthused external team of the industry’s leading lights around me, the business I was part of had a far harder time understanding the task ahead. We had a dozen workstreams and we were focused on stuff like ‘Content becoming marketing’ and ‘Social becoming customer service’. That was revolutionary thinking back then, but things move quickly.

By 2012, I was helping other brands with Digital Strategy and Transformation which, to be honest, was a hard sell. Although it felt like the industry norm to talk about the subject, it transpired that I was slightly ahead of the client adoption curve and often presenting to blank expressions. From 2013 onwards though we saw traction and brands woke up to scale of gain or loss connected to their strategic approach.

For me Digital Strategy and Digital Transformation have only ever meant organising one’s brand and business in a way that best connects with the customer of tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if the seed of change is in marketing or technology or customer service, provided it is allowed to ripple out across the business. In this context the word ‘Digital’ is simply shorthand for the future of now – the rapidly changing environment we all operate in.

What’s the problem?

‘Digital’ can mean many things and its scope as a term seems to get broader every day. Some marketers may see it as the adoption of emerging technologies and channels to better reach their target audience, where as an enterprise technologist might see it as agile development teams and embedding AI and cloud services. This breadth of potential meaning has given the term a ‘slippery’ feel when connected with transformation – a perceived bandwagon that people have wrongly grown suspicious of.

‘Transformation’ sounds grand and as a result can sometimes scare business leaders about the potential scale of change required. In practice, however, Digital Transformation should be the umbrella and overarching opportunity to enhance and alter lots of small component parts - parts that the leaders within any organisation should feel confident about evolving. Provided the right type of support is in place, it can be the single most positive change programme a business can undertake.

Despite its potential, however, in my experience, the perceived pace of digital is driving bad decisions once transformation is under way. Research from the likes of Cap Gemini has failure rates at 70% and Forrester attribute over 40% of this to internal business units fighting over ownership as the transformation proposition evolves.

Organisations take the huge effort to change for the better, but often through internal pressure from competing stakeholders they evolve the structure too quickly. For example, the transition from a digital centre of excellence, through a hub and spoke model, into honeycomb and beyond is a 10-year cycle. That means your initial structure change could be a 4-year test. Too many think they’ve nailed it in 18 months and then start to spread the skills back around the business without achieving any real maturity in the space. It’s easy to spot these brands because their visible transformation through their website, customer service or media footprint stalls and often doesn’t start moving again for a number of years. Meanwhile the slow and steady are increasing their market lead.

Make ‘transformation’ great again

As marketers we spend time thinking about the bigger picture, the latest greatest case study or opinion piece, and scanning what’s on the horizon but it’s naïve to think that specialist senior business leaders are on the same page when their day-to-day focus might be in manufacturing, agriculture or supply chain management.

It’s not that the theory is complex, but unless its framed as relevant one can forgive business leaders for feeling like they don’t need to know. Its most likely someone else’s problem and that’s where the biggest challenge lies because to truly transform it requires the whole business to embrace a potentially different way of thinking.

It’s also vital to engage an external partner to some degree – an important first step is to be open to feedback and change. Bringing the outside in and getting the customer and industry perspective is key to any transformation project’s success. Neutrality will also be important throughout the journey. At key stages you’ll need your partner to become ‘invisible’ – this is crucial because the organisation needs create its own bespoke approach and own everything single part of the change – but also a partner that has a direct relationship with some of the key deliverables in various workstreams. This ensures that the strategic thinking isn’t pure theory and, crucially, that a real-world understanding on how to meet the challenge has been achieved ahead of execution.

Another important key to success is to start off at a high enough strategic level. Get the building blocks in place so that the senior leadership can work as a team on the total transformation solution - what success means for the customer first, then for the organisation and related stakeholders and finally what it means for the brand and its longevity.

Once these are established and agreed the boardroom can quite naturally divide up the key transformation task. For example, the board may want to approach culture as a group, the CEO may want to lead on structure, HR could be best placed to lead on people and skills, and it might be useful for the CMO/CTO/CIOs to collectively tackle process and technology. These streams combine to create the roadmap – which should contain the long-term vision, medium term direction but also the quarterly sprints that will make the transformation happen.

This blog was originally posted via The Drum Network on 28th August 2018.

Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.


Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Thumbnail Ian MacArthur
Ian MacArthur
Chief Experience Officer
Ian is a highly experienced and award-winning creative strategist specialising in bringing brands closer to their audiences through digital marketing transformation and optimisation. With over 26 years’ experience and well over 10,000 projects under his belt, Ian is proud to have worked with some of the world’s most impressive brands, helping them solve business problems and approach challenges differently.

Ian heads up the experience optimisation (XO) division at Sagittarius, working with all teams and clients across the business and globe.
Thumbnail Ian MacArthur

Ian MacArthur

28 Aug 2018 - 5 minute read
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