The death of digital and the rise of the connected organisation

06May10

This essay was published in the Campaign supplement ‘What’s Next in Digital‘, June 2010.

Summary: This essay proposes that the next big effects of the internet on business and society will be in the structures of organisations. Whilst consumers have embraced new ways to buy, talks find and share, organisations have, structurally, failed to profit from the always on connectedness the internet brings. We expect significant change in this area of the next few years which will impact massively on the role of marketing and the even question the existence of the marketing department.

We wondered what would happen if we banned people talking about ‘digital’, ‘social’, ‘viral’, ‘mobile’, ‘ATL’, ‘BTL’ and ‘TTL’.

As an exercise it’s revealing. What do you sell to clients? What do they buy? What do you ‘make’? What do planners talk about all day?

We believe it’s the end of the road for talking about ‘digital’ and all talk of channel-based silos. Thinking and making in silos prevents us from joining the dots between a business’s activities and the audiences it seeks. Both client side and agency side, silos are the enemy. But what’s the alternative?

We want to see organisations structure themselves around what’s real, not what’s convenient to manage: connected people and the data they provide.

The almost total digitization of commerce, content, media channels, customer service, R&D, research and channels to market has meant a growing two billion people around the world are connected to each other around their friendship groups and interests.

Existing human behavioural norms have been magnified, leading to the disruption of global societal and commercial structures.

For example, now we’re all connected, nothing is secret anymore. Nor is anything unavailable. Nothing is right or wrong because opinion is everything. Nothing is controllable (centrally at least). It’s also a meritocracy out there; no-one much cares unless you’re interesting. It applies for people, and so it applies for organisations. Consequently, everyone’s a marketer because everyone has an audience. So it follows that interest-based niches are the new mass and marketing control is decentralized.

If this is the new normal, what’s next? Well, as Sci-fi writer William Gibson supposedly said: “the future’s here, its just not evenly distributed”. We foresee innovation in organisational structure as the most important consequence of the growth in global connectedness. Those organisations that limit agility and fail to build their offerings around the flow of data between company and consumer will lose competitiveness.

In the marketing world, clients know what they want to buy from their marketing partners, but they’re often not structured to buy it. Agencies know what they want solutions they should provide, but they too are poorly structured to create it. Every agency is talking the same ‘new world’ vision. But only those designed to deliver it consistently (and painlessly) will flourish. Decentralized marketing models are developing, and its proponents are data rich, always on businesses.

Yet much marketing is still stuck in the military campaigning mindset rather than the continuous diplomacy and influencing mindset needed to manage reputations through relationships. We expect to see future-thinking companies re-structure, enabling access to customers and prospects at every stage of a two-way Value Chain.

Few businesses are truly ‘consumer centric’, so this is the opportunity to finally do marketing as it should be by placing connected consumers (and the insightful data they generate) at a businesses’ heart.

So we say ‘Death to digital, all hail marketing’.

In the progressive company, who’s staff are constantly connecting with the consumer through technology, each department will naturally be involved in marketing. Many across a business will be empowered with tools to connect to their respective audiences (both internal and external) and nurture the value of that community to the business. We are already seeing the suppliers of tools (37signals) and advice (Altimeter Group) flourish.

So we say ‘Death to channels, all hail relationships’.

The Innovation and IT functions in progressive businesses have generally led the way: Alibaba and IP exchanges help all kinds of companies outsource their product development, Boeing famously collaborate with thousands of suppliers worldwide at every stage from design to delivery, Amazon organizes data more nimbly with Mechanical Turk while Good Guide and Get Satisfaction are helping consumers make better buying choices. New online players like Threadless (fashion), globrix (property), linqia (marketing), Kiva and Zopa (finance) are using connected and inherently open models to find customers.

As a result of existing marketing experiments, we believe similar models will be created in established businesses as managers seek to continuously test and learn, in real time, with diverse audience communities.

Consequently, we expect to see greater distribution of ‘marketing’ activity such as selling and reputation management responsibility across business functions traditionally out of the public gaze. For example, customer service departments will chat real time to large communities of customers and develop CRM solutions, product departments will crowdsource to aid innovation, or recruiters will promote the CSR initiatives of the company through public webinars to entice new applicants. All of this may come at the expense of the marketing department’s role as the official communications conduit.

The sponsor of this shift will be the CEO. Their internal goal will be for greater responsiveness to market needs and a leaner sales function, while their external aim will focus on creating fans of the brand through ever more personal and relevant service. In effect a consumer centric organisation has a marketing director as their CEO.

Agencies and marketers alike will be forced to forge relationships business wide, to lead the sharing of data and promote openness and solution neutral ideas.

Unless the marketing department takes the lead in developing brands with a relevant and flexible idea at their heart that allows for multiple forms of connection with consumers, the company-wide distribution of marketing activity may shrink its role to simply that of channel co-ordination and brand policing.

So we say,

death to digital
death to channel silos
death to the marketing department?

All hail the connected organisation

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