The difference between merely possessing the right set of tools, and approaching a balanced, actionable set of process goals with them, is the measure of a business’ success in the ever-changing world of digital readiness.

A Long and Arduous Journey to the Place of Digital Transformation

To properly outfit a company for the journey that is acclimating to the digital market, a utility belt of tools is not enough. A balanced approach – incorporating training, knowledge, real-time response, and the data and capabilities specific to the industry in question – is needed to breathe life into a profitable digital readiness strategy. It’s not enough to simply lay claim to the shiny toys that comprise a modern digital strategy, and expect them to fully cultivate and support existing processes: your entire organization must create a new, digitally-focused process which leads to, and is shaped by, capably using them. Digital must permeate your culture, structure, and vision, in service of a platform that fully equips both your customers and your organization to face the continually growing and changing the digital ecosystem.

Though your office may have the latest printer, VR headset, or manufacturing AI, they will lie inert in their stations if not given effective implementation. Similarly, in an age of universal access to powerful digital tools, simple participation in services such as Google Analytics or Twitter is no longer an indicator of whether a company is exhibiting digital maturity. Even when premium services are acquired at their corresponding cost, the organizations that buy the tools are not necessarily utilizing them to their best advantage. As revealed by many companies’ difficult transitions into the digital market, without the contextually correct approach, possessing every tool in the range of applicability won’t give an organization the level of readiness needed to hang with the biggest digital players in the field of competition. The harsh reality of digital readiness is, if you do not apply heat constantly, it will cool.

Where Capability Isn’t Enough

A recent Centric Digital survey of digital readiness shows that digital capabilities do not necessarily correspond to the readiness to use them. We compared Sears and Kmart, which are both owned by Sears Holding Company and could be expected to have similar methodologies and suites of digital applications. But the two companies exhibited vastly different implementation of the same tools, indicating significantly different maturity levels. From their social media approach to their ecommerce platform and customer service network, the two brands showed a stark contrast in key components of digital. As the continuing decline of brick-and-mortar points insistently to the importance of online sales for these retailers, one must, as the other, vigorously refine their struggle to combine physical and digital brands into a strategy that ensures survival.

Moving with Agility in Digital Marketing

How is a business to stay on the bleeding edge of digital readiness, when a toolkit that was exclusive to the top echelon four years ago is now available to even the lowest strata of startups and disruptors? Clearly, tools alone cannot be entrusted to provide a competitive readiness. Companies orienting their digital footprints toward success have in common an agile process which best implements these tools. Known tools provide a less risky foundation for a far-reaching digital strategy, but the ease of use and comfort these tools provide can be deceptive.

Listening carefully, responding fluidly and showing adaptability throughout the development cycle are the hallmarks of an agile process. Social listening and natural language processing have become ubiquitous for filtering messages and commentary from an audience on social media outlets, and the ability to codify and collate this “social chatter” into a system for listening is crucial for the agile business. Also important is the capacity for real-time response to actionable items and events, and the application of an iterative development process to sidestep the huge budgets and prohibitively long cycles of marketing campaigns. Overall, a flexible dedicated approach to finding and speaking to a company’s unique audience is what will leverage its strategy. When everyone has established the same foundation on trusted suites such as Google and Adobe, a company focused on success must become an outlier through their strategy with those suites.

Even a Giant Needs to Move Carefully

Walmart’s use of Brandwatch is another example of how even the No. 1 Fortune 500 company must still undertake a journey with their digital tools. Seeking a clearer understanding of how their target customers around the world reacted to news in the public affairs space, Walmart took advantage of Brandwatch, designed for analysis to better shape insights as delivered to everyone from management to the C-suite. Simply having Brandwatch would have been sufficient for Walmart to feel prepared for any and all marketing challenges they might face, but leveraging Brandwatch’s insights on emerging trends and a worldwide reaction is what reified their status as the world’s largest revenue-driving company.

With Target on Their Back

One of Walmart’s main competitors, Target, has likewise risen to the challenge of meeting their formidably large demographic with its own distinct initiatives in digital adaptation. Target has doubled their digital sales in the past three years and, at the halfway point of that growth in 2015, invested $1 billion in their technology and supply chain infrastructure, focusing on RFID inventory management and tracking. To further accommodate this expansion, all Target stores will be using their back rooms as distribution centers for online orders by 2019, while the company recently merged all their myriad phone apps into the flagship Target app for a fluidity of use. These ground-level adjustments not only smooth the customer experience in- and out-of-store, they maximize online inventory and quality control while preventing theft everywhere from the warehouse to the retail floor, showcasing the synergistic results of a balanced and committed digital evolution.

While Nomad Watches the Horizon

Similarly, but on a much different scale, Nomad’s approach to ecommerce is a digital readiness success story. Nomad, which began humbly in 2012 as a Kickstarter campaign, used Klaviyo for their email marketing segmentation, which on the surface suited their compact operative scope. But the original strategy and process they adopted in its use are what makes Nomad a case study in the comprehensive application of digital readiness concepts. They used Klaviyo’s integration with Shopify Plus and Facebook to create unique coupon codes and targeted ads with a laser focus on finding their audience through the specific context and location of their customers. This resulted in increased ROI and higher return on email marketing, showing that the right thinking when working with tailored insights results in a tangible gain.

Completing the Journey of Transformation

Companies willing to unite their tools and products with a clear, actionable set of process goals can achieve complete digital transformation. Their tools will be utilized in every step of analyzing the need and motivation for a push for digital transformation or the definition of a new digital strategy. There will be turbulence in the form of mutating business models, unexpected pivots in the marketplace and explosive developments in technology. But, through maintaining a watch on your competitive landscape, establishing clear objectives, understanding your company’s ultimate lifecycle and then empowering your people to use tools to their utmost potential, digital transformation is well within your reach.