A former journalist and consultant, O’Brien shares his insight into the crux of digital transformation, into tech, skills and strategy, and what part marketing has to play.

In which industries do you see the biggest imperative to transform?

“Without a doubt, the most regulated and highest scrutinized industries have the biggest imperative to transform; so financial services and healthcare. We find marketers in these industries often have great creative mindsets and can be frustrated by the resistance to change within the organization. Smart companies are looking for opportunities to unlock that potential. Even though they face these challenges of traditional structures and silos, not to mention regulation, there is still so much amazing work being done in these industries.

“In other sectors, you may find marketers sometimes take their freedom to be creative almost for granted.

“That said, every company has limiting factors, but it never should stop a company from rethinking how to approach marketing.”

In what share of clients do you find tech, skills or strategy shortages?

“Well, each engagement is different. So, a different question may be – in which order do we prioritize these in our engagements?

“Without the skills and strategy, tech is just a tool, so I would say we focus on that the least. It’s still an important element, but we want to equip the people using the tech first and foremost.

“We’ll often start with our Digital Skills Index to do a skills gap analysis. You can’t cure a problem without diagnosing it first.

“The assessment is always illuminating. Even clients with strong internal learning and development departments have rarely invested in identifying where their employees are today with core skills. Knowing the most deficient areas helps prioritize opportunities to improve. The same is true of strength in the other direction – sometimes companies come away taking better advantage of a hidden talent in their marketing teams.

“But our most important work is in helping clients unlock strategy. We see strategy most lacking in companies with pronounced silos or a rapidly changing C-suite or business directives.

“Anyone who has worked in marketing knows that strategy can be inscrutable. We aim to demystify it in our trainings and empower employees and our clients to remake it in their own vision.”

If you had to pick one thing as the crux of successful DT, what would it be?

There are two answers to this question. First, it’s about what digital transformation aims to do. We serve as a catalyst for unlocking creative and strategic thinking in the marketing departments of our clients. We start the process of change; if the client does not want to change, we and they will fail. We are very upfront with our partners that our work with them is only the start of the journey.

“The second answer to that question is the core of Econsultancy’s digital transformation projects: highly customized content that makes ample use of practical exercises.

“We make our sessions with clients as hands-on as possible. Every element that involves theory is matched with a practical application. Employees need to see how everything can be applied to their businesses.

Training can’t just be about the nuts and bolts of a topic. It’s also about mindset and seeing how this new skill or capability will benefit the team and the individual’s career. They need to understand the promise and opportunity of putting the knowledge to work…that’s creates a powerful vacuum and the skill rushes in to fill it.”

Is marketing well placed to drive digital transformation? Should they be doing it?

“This would be a different type of post altogether if I said no! But, seriously we believe strongly in the power of marketing to drive digital transformation. Never has the marketing function held such power within an organization and been responsible for such a large footprint of core business functions. They know the customer and the customer creates change.

“Agile marketing departments can detect industry disruptions through the first- and third-party data they track. They can understand broader consumer trends – such as where their customers are going for information and how they are consuming and sharing that information. They can remake the entire organization through novel use of content.

“The best takeaway from our projects is when attendees remark that they didn’t know they could do something transformative, whether by red tape or inertia or, more commonly, thinking it wasn’t the remit of a marketing department. If they feel new power to help create change in the organization with the skills and strategy we’ve shared, we’ve done our job.”

Interested in discussing digital transformation with Econsultancy? Email Keith or call 212-971-0634