How big brand execs take the digital leap

While brand execs talk big when it comes to innovating digitally, tackling new real-time challenges and going mobile-first, the truth is that many aren’t so confident in their companies’ approach to digital. At least, that’s what findings from a recent Forrester report, “The Future of Business,” suggest.

According to the report, more than half of business executives surveyed believe that digital technologies are a major driver of business strategy — and 74 percent of companies claim they do have a digital strategy.

But peel the numbers back a layer and you discover a disconnect: only a third of the executives surveyed said they believe their company’s approach is the right one. Even fewer (21 percent) said they believe that they have the right people working on their digital strategy in the first place. A paltry one in six executives believes their company even has the skills and ability to execute these digital strategies in the first place.

Given this grim state of digital affairs, Digiday asked several brand execs to share their thoughts why there seems to be such a wide gap between believing in digital’s importance and actually embracing and executing digital strategies successfully.

Eric Johnson, interactive marketing manager, General Mills
Relatively few companies can confidently say they cracked the code on digital, so the Forrester study is not too surprising. It’s not that there aren’t good people at these companies working on digital — there are! —it’s that there aren’t always established business metrics to validate digital marketing. It can take significant investment to develop and execute digital strategies, let alone manage the organizational change necessary to implement them. It’s difficult to feel confident about digital work without the assurance of a proven ROI. Another cause for executive heartburn is that digital is emerging, ever-changing and lacks the 50-plus years of history offline marketing enjoys. The old ways of marketing are being disrupted precisely when executives most wish there was a proven playbook. Virtually every savvy CMO understands that digital is changing everything, so there’s a good reason to be concerned about their company’s digital strategy.

Adam Kmiec, senior director of social media and content, Walgreens
You can’t double down on today at the expense of tomorrow. Unfortunately, at most organizations, you’re not rewarded for the efforts toward tomorrow, because you’re measured on the efforts of today. You need only to look at the famed Mary Meeker chart showing time spent in a medium relative to advertising investment, to know that in most organizations, digital doesn’t get its fair share. I think things fall apart for most organizations when they hire the wrong person to lead their digital efforts. You need to look well beyond the resume. The overlooked critical aspect when it comes to hiring is knowing what stage of maturity your organization is in, where you want to go and how quickly. You can’t hire the affable caretaker when your org needs immediate disruption. Even if you hire the right person are you setting them up for success by arming them with enough resources, scope and control. For example, can your head of digital hire and fire agencies? Are they in control of the media budget? Do they have the ability to hire the right quantity and quality of staff? You can’t both plan and manage an enterprise digital strategy through committee. The space moves too quickly.

Bob Rupczynski, vp of media, data, CRM, Kraft
Kraft foods isn’t necessarily digital by nature, but you have to change mindsets. Digital isn’t just a tactical execution. It’s about understanding the pace of change of media and culture. There are a lot of companies that are playing the wait-and-see game. I’ve worked at plenty of companies where there are no plans for digital, so, no, the results don’t surprise me.
Is it actually driving sales, moving boxes off shelves? That’s where the big questions come in. You can do the splashy event-driven execution, but that doesn’t necessarily drive sales. Are senior execs digital natives? If not, sometimes you can see them get caught up on those flashy, shiny new objects. Today marketers are under more and more pressure, and with the amount of tasks they have to accomplish, it’s hard for marketers to keep up with the day-to-day. So often, companies bring in that director of digital or digital evangelist — but they don’t have ownership; they are more like an internal consultant, and that’s where a lot of companies are falling down. Digital can’t be just a center of excellence or a consultant; it has to be something that’s actually embedded in the culture and process. The org has to buy in from top to bottom, and the folks on the line have to be educated too.

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