Successful digital companies are organizations that use technology as a competitive advantage in its internal and external operations.
Many definitions abound but, in a nutshell, this is what makes them successful. Like any major achievement, success doesn’t occur unless the transformation changes the company culture as much as is does the company.
In this article, we study common characteristics. Here are 10 terrific traits of successful digital companies with examples.
- ARE UNREASONABLY ASPIRATIONS: Being “unreasonable” is a way to jar an organization into seeing digital as a business that creates value, not as a channel that drives activities. However the vision is described, if you aren’t making the majority of your company feel nervous, you probably aren’t aiming high enough. Burberry, in 2006, was a stalled business whose brand had become tarnished. A series of groundbreaking initiatives, including a website (ArtoftheTrench.Burberry.com) that featured customers as models, more robust e-commerce catalog that matched the company’s in-store inventory, and the digitization of retail stores through features such as radio-frequency identification tags leaped frog Burberry over competitors and tripled revenues.
- ARE CUSTOMER OBSESSED: Knowing what the customer wants has always been the key to successful digital companies. Advances in technology and data science make it possible to analyze the complete history of customer transactions and identify individual shopping habits, patterns and motives that drive behavior. 86% of consumers say they were willing to pay more for a better customer experience. And 89% begin doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. This mind-set is what enables companies to go beyond what’s normal and into the extraordinary. If online retailer Zappos is out of stock on a product, it will help you find the item from a competitor. While it might seem heretical to buy from competitors, it’s worth it for Zappos because 75% of its orders come from repeat customers.
- KNOW CUSTOMER LIFETIME VALUE (CLV): It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Successful digital companies recognize that, while customer acquisition is always important, there is often more to be gained be exploring ways to increase the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of current customers. According to a 2013 study by the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, Amazon Prime members spend $1,340 annually. And that was 3 year ago. More important, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon Kindle owners spend approximately $1,233 per year buying stuff from Amazon, compared to $790 per year for other customers.
- ARE SOCIAL MEDIA ADEPT: If your company is customer obsessed, then you’re constantly listening to what your customers have to say about your brand, your competitor and your industry. Successful digital companies not only listen, they are adept at doing something with this data. McDonald’s decision to serve All Day Breakfast may have been a surprise to some customers, but shows how the massive company is trying to move nimbly and take some risks with its messaging. “Customers were saying to us ‘Hey, McDonald’s, this is the next big thing. This is what we want from you,'” said McDonald’s USA Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl. With help from Twitter and Sprinklr, McDonald’s found 334,000 tweets mentioning All Day Breakfast at McDonald’s and found the most “engageable” accounts to send customized messages.
- ARE QUICK AND DATA-DRIVEN: Rapid decision making that is data-driven is critical in a dynamic digital environment. A cycle of continuous delivery, experimentation and improvement, adopting methods such as agile development and “live beta,” supported by big data analytics, are characteristics of successful digital companies. U.S. Xpress, a US transportation company, collects data in real time from tens of thousands of sources, including in-vehicle sensors and geospatial systems. Using Apache Hadoop, an open-source tool set for data analysis, and real-time business-intelligence tools, U.S. Xpress has been able to extract game-changing insights about its fleet operations. Data on the fuel consumption of idling vehicles led to changes that saved $20 million in fuel consumption in a year.
- PREPARE THEIR INFRASTRUCTURE: To take advantage of all that a digital world has to offer, successful digital companies have to be willing to invest in digital-ready infrastructures that will accelerate their digital strategies and the digital experiences of their customers, employees or citizens. As part of its three-year IT overhaul following a brush with bankruptcy, General Motors closed 23 of its data centers worldwide and moved most of that capacity into two new data center in Michigan. Reducing the distance for data to travel was a huge financial motivator for the company to not only saves on networking costs but improved responsiveness. New data centers are ‘private-cloud-meets-mainframe’ operations that run cloud-ready apps.
- KNOW THEIR METRICS: Metrics are a proxy for what matters most to senior management. But the measurements of success varies widely between marketing, tech management, and business unit leaders. This can creates conflict and confusion unless your company is clear about outcomes being measured. P&G created a single analytics portal, called the Decision Cockpit, which provides up-to-date sales data across brands, products, and regions to more than 50,000 employees globally. The portal, which emphasizes projections over historical data, lets teams quickly identify issues, such as declining market share, and take steps to address the problems in measurement the company considers critical to success.
- OPERATE IN A DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM: A digital ecosystem is the detailed visual of how all digital and social assets of a brand interconnect and interact. When managing multiple platforms, it’s important to understand how they will all work together to achieve the brand’s goal. Starbucks offers the largest and most robust mobile ecosystem of any retailer in the world, with more than 12 million Starbucks Rewards™ members (up 18% year on year), 8,000,000 mobile paying customers with one out of three now using Mobile Order & Pay, and more than $6 billion loaded onto prepaid Starbucks Cards in North America during the past year alone. Starbucks digital flywheel has also continued to gain momentum with the launch of true one-to-one personalization.
- PUT THE RIGHT LEADERS IN PLACE: The fast-moving digital world is exposing gaps in digital leadership, especially with regard to front office disciplines (those related to the customer experience) and head-office disciplines (those related to enterprise strategy). According to Gartner, three types of digital business leader have emerged to fill these leadership gaps: 1) Digital strategist, 2) digital marketing leader and 3) digital business unit leader. “A lot of our digital talent is home grown – mavericks who have their own businesses and have adapted their business in entrepreneurial ways. It is important to find these people and leverage their skills,” says David Crowley, Chief Commercial Officer, British Airways.
- SHOW ME THE MONEY: Many organizations focus their digital investments on customer-facing solutions. But they can extract just as much value, if not more, from investing in back-office functions that drive operational efficiencies. Successful digital companies know the value of reducing the costs of doing business. One-third of the digital innovation projects at Starbuck are devoted to improving efficiency and productivity away from the retail stores, and one-third focused on improving resilience and security. In manufacturing, P&G collaborated with the Los Alamos National Laboratory to create statistical methods to streamline processes and increase uptime at its factories, saving more than $1 billion a year.
Are these traits you associate with successful digital companies? Any there others you would add? Is your company interested in developing the capabilities of successful digital companies?