Perhaps the most discussed concept in the past half-decade of technology marketing has been Digital Transformation.


This term has a wide swathe of meanings, depending on the industry, company or technology involved. At its most basic, it can refer to just taking what was on paper and putting it online. At its most extreme, Digital Transformation can refer to the complete upending of a business’ core strategy and business model.


The big question, however, is: does our use of the concept connect in the way it once did? Has it ever resonated? If not, how else do we achieve what the ‘Digital Transformation’ trope sets out to encapsulate?


A tired concept


The idea of Digital Transformation is an attractive one. Altimeter’s recent The 2017 State of Digital Transformation report demonstrates that companies are still working towards being ‘transformed’. The report argues that companies are making strong headway in several areas, but there is still room to mature, particularly when it comes to ‘evolving customer behaviours and preferences’. The report found that less than 50% of respondents said they were investing in understanding digital customers and their expectations.


So, the concept is right – organisations should seek to become transformed (and all are on the path in some way, shape or form) – so including reference to transformation in marketing is correct. But the specifics are where the idea comes to life.


Transformation as a marketing message and concept only really differentiates when you can point to something interesting and unique.


Paul Everett, President of The Marketing Practice, recently interviewed a top CIO who said:


Businesses don’t call their projects “Digital Transformation Initiatives”. There needs to be more effort put into translating Digital Transformation messages into stories the audience will care about.’


In marketing terms, this means ruthlessly discarding terms that don’t mean anything, and finding a way to make our statements more specific. We must realise that capturing our whole proposition in a single term like ‘Digital Transformation’ may feel neat to us, but it doesn’t give the audience something to hold on to.


An example


Microsoft is a prime example of a company that has begun making the conversation surrounding digital transformation more interesting.


At its recent Ignite conference, Microsoft gave a presentation entitled Create a Modern Workplace with Microsoft 365.


An article from Microsoft’s Inspire event this summer recapping Satya Nadella’s keynote also highlighted this focus. In the presentation, Satya talked about the opportunity of the modern workplace, which was to be the first of four key solution areas for the company as a part of Digital Transformation.


Satya Nadella on Digital Transformation



This breaking apart of the concept of digital transformation into different specific areas is the right step to take. It allows for different storytelling, and if done well it can capture both the high-level brand message and mission, and offer a granular look at what change means to a real business. It lets you tell a similar story, but in a unique way.


The presentation at Ignite, for example, spent time showing how Microsoft’s Outlook was becoming more intelligent – saving time and simplifying collaboration (granular examples that led to the notion that Microsoft’s software was transformational, without appearing too high-level). It’s workplace modernisation in action.


Certainly, this focus fits well with the Satya-era Microsoft, driven by the mission to create technology to support the efforts of the people using it. Microsoft is nailing the high-level brand mission. But the broader lesson is that their change of focus to highlight the workplace and workforce makes the story more interesting, relatable, and real.


Admittedly though, the term ‘Modern Workplace’ still feels like a descendant of ‘Digital Transformation’: a catch-all term for varied concepts. Perhaps what all technology brands need to do is move away from the two-word headline.


Time will tell if Microsoft’s marketing evolution proves to be a fruitful one, but the change itself is important and notable, and others in the technology space should pay attention.


The year ahead


As we close out the year, we should take a step back and truly ask the question of whether we’re connecting our big concepts with the everyday reality faced by IT and business decision-makers. Certainly, they are facing big challenges and it’s our mandate to ensure our message is getting through. But stale storytelling could get in the way.


So, fodder for thought as the year closes out:

  1. Are we telling the same story as our competition?
  2. Are we focusing too much on what has become table stakes in business today – putting all our focus on selling a concept that’s already been bought into?
  3. Or are we beginning to delve into the details, a specific take on the big concept that makes it feel real to the individual?
  4. If we do have a high-level concept driving what we do, is it unique and ahead of the market?
  5. And most importantly, does our content feel real to businesses today? Are we pushing the envelope in terms of expectations, or are we merely creating more ‘stuff’?

If you aren’t happy with your answers, good.


Take the time and do the market and brand research you need, and have the conversations to get your story back on track. Don’t be afraid to revamp your proposition, to focus on a piece of the puzzle. Make your story more interesting and relevant.


By Craig Thayer | December 7, 2017

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