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The challenge with digital first

Marketers love buzzwords. KPIs. Artisan. Synergy. Millennial. Disruptive. Innovation. Cutting Edge. Trending Now. Customer-Centric. And the list goes on.

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These strategically crafted keywords are used by marketers to affect a person’s perception around a specific product or service. Due to the hyper-targeted nature of buzzwords, it’s common for brands to see a positive return from the inclusion of these terms in marketing campaigns, especially within social media and paid search.

And it’s easy to see why:

‘Disruptive’ sounds more exciting than ‘shaking things up.’
‘Innovation’’ sounds more bold than ‘something new.’
‘Responsive’ sounds more technical than ‘works on mobile.’

But this requires your audience to know what specific buzzwords mean. If we want to use these terms, the obligation is on us to ensure they are clearly defined and understood.

The Rise of ‘Digital First’
A great example is digital first. This buzzword has seen an uptick of mentions in recent years. At first pass, it’s reasonable to assume the term relates to the overarching mentality that digital should be a primary communications vehicle for whatever marketing your brand is doing.

Need to increase your monthly sales? Give social a whirl.

Need to educate potential clients? Send them a hyperlink.

Need to undergo a rebrand? Think digital.

This logic though is flawed. The inconvenient truth: digital solutions are not always a catch-all for every scenario, audience, or even brand. The fallacy that people reinforce when trying to explain what digital first means is correlated to how they define specific terms.

Defining Digital
When we say the word digital, most of us immediately think of technology like smartphones or virtual reality. For some, the internet or social media comes to mind. What if digital embodied more than that though? What if digital was more than a tangible channel, but instead a holistic approach to how we view and solve challenges in the future. After all, isn’t that the purpose of digital—to help us consistently move forward?

If we accept this new definition for digital, then we start to uncover a new understanding for how digital first can impact a business. It’s often challenging for businesses to remain agile and adaptive as new solutions and processes come along. For them and others alike, digital first becomes a call-to-arms for businesses to become leaders, not laggards, as new technologies and solutions emerge on the horizon.

A Willingness to Change
The next question that surfaces is “What does digital first look like in practice?” It all goes back to agility. Businesses can make inroads to adopting a digital first strategy by creating an internal culture that embraces an agile approach to new ideas and change as a force for good. By doing this, businesses can invoke change management practices to determine look how best to integrate advances in technology with their business objectives, while mitigating any detriment to internal efficiency and culture.

Remember – change management is about understanding which components of an organization can be altered, in line with the perceptions and expectations of internal teams, to achieve a specific outcome. The goal of change management is to have a successful shift, while avoiding negative repercussions to the efficiency or culture of the business. This is not a small task by any means. As organizations grow in scale, so does the amount of work needed to introduce and implement change management strategies.

Change is something that everyone struggles with. But it can be especially hard for businesses, where it’s often met with varying degrees of resistance. Typically, this resistance is a result of internal fear, uncertainty, or ignorance towards what the future holds. We see this played out anecdotally and within research. The Project Manager Institute estimates that only about 18% of companies are effective change enablers.

The Road Ahead
That’s not to say all hope is lost. There are a few things businesses can do to lessen the likelihood of negative reactions to the introduction and implementation of change management. For starters, businesses and internal leaders can use be transparent about why change is occurring, educate internal teams around what’s to come, provide ample communication touchpoints, and offer counseling and/or specialized training as it becomes appropriate.

As new technologies and solutions come forward, the responsibility rests on organizational leadership to decide which solutions are best positioned to accommodate the current business needs—while also being adaptable to future needs. This helps to stimulate the development of a proactive change management strategy, versus a reactive one.

Businesses should look to address these key areas as they evaluate new technology solutions and practices as part of a larger change management strategy:

1. Changes in the broader business environment
2. Necessary adjustments for the needs of the business
3. The need to train employees around new changes, processes, and practices
4. The need to win the support of internal teams

Why do businesses need agile solutions supported by change management strategies? It allows businesses to more easily counter the stress that comes from having to anticipate changes in the marketplace, technology, and audience needs. This is an ongoing challenge for organizations of all sizes.

Regardless of their industry, most modern organizations wrestle with how to integrate new digital solutions with business practices. Often times the fear of changing internal practices is daunting enough to keep the status-quo unchanged, which is disheartening. New solutions and ideas allow for fresh mindsets, behaviors, and practices to flourish. It allows new concepts to shape the landscape of business.

This is the benefit of digital first, a methodology and practice that allows companies to move forward at the steady pace. Digital isn’t a tactic or a channel. It’s a wider, more holistic approach to solving challenges in a way that allows the business stay nimble.

Apple gave IBM a run for its money. Netflix was able to topple Blockbuster. Airbnb is changing the landscape for the hospitality / hotel industry operates.

In the Age of Start-Ups, businesses that fail to adapt risk getting left behind.

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