Dries Buytaert

Three trends driving today's "Flash Digital Transformation"

Today, Acquia announced the launch of its Open Digital Experience Platform, a single platform to build websites and applications, and run data-driven marketing campaigns across channels. As a part of the launch, I wrote a piece for Digiday on the impact COVID-19 is having on digital transformation. Even though many organizations are under pressure to rapidly transition their operations online, the changes they make now can have a positive impact for years to come. Below is the full text of the article.

Over the past few years, we've seen rapid innovation in many parts of the consumer world. Brands build pop-up stores overnight to test new retail, product, and marketing concepts. The same thing is happening digitally, driven by COVID-19. Businesses need to operate on compressed timelines, and "pop-up" new digital-first businesses (or as TechCrunch calls it, a flash digital transformation.)

In the past, these efforts would have taken years. This period of rapid change has certainly been difficult for many organizations. However, many of the changes organizations have made in the first half of this year will have a big impact for years to come.

One example of a brand that adapted its digital strategy due to COVID-19 is King Arthur Flour, the oldest flour company in America. The pandemic resulted in a surge of people baking at home. No longer able to rely on brick-and-mortar sales, King Arthur Flour's digital team drove demand online. They published new celebrity baking series and other creative, relevant content on their site. As a result, their sales increased 200 percent year-over-year, and website sessions spiked by 260 percent.

Other brands can be just as successful at flash transformation if they keep an eye on the three biggest trends driving it.

Trend 1: Experience wins, and requires intelligent use of data

Both a taxi and an Uber or Lyft can get you from point A to B. At the core, they are the same product. But in practice, the Uber or Lyft experience wins — at least in Boston where I live and taxis are notoriously bad.

Both Uber and Lyft rely on technology to deliver a superior customer experience. Every aspect of their customer experience is personalized, including their mobile applications, emails, text messages, safety features, and more.

For years, the promise of a personalized customer experience has remained elusive, only available to those who can make large engineering investments (like Uber or Lyft). Today, any organization can deliver great technology-driven customer experiences. Open Source has democratized the building of those. However, personalization remains hard. It requires that organizations get a handle on their customer data, which isn't an easy task and not something that is solved by Open Source.

Only when you use data to understand your customers' preferences and intentions can you deliver a truly relevant experience. In difficult economic times, relevant experiences help businesses stand out and drive much-needed sales.

Trend 2: The rise of the technical marketer

As such, marketers have become more reliant on technology to drive customer experiences. Twenty years ago, a web content management system was a stand-alone application run by IT. Today, content management is deeply integrated in the marketing technology stack and primarily operated by marketing.

It's not unusual for an ambitious website to have five or more connections into other systems. Marketing technology expert Scott Brinker counted over 8,000 marketing technology vendors in 2020, a 13.6 percent increase over 2019.

A technical marketer knows how to navigate this landscape to choose the best tools for their organization. For technical marketers, it's essential to have the right platform to integrate the tools and data sources needed to optimize their customers' experiences. The rise of that technical marketer has enabled a new relationship and partnership between marketing and IT.

Trend 3: Openness

Until recently, the idea of "open" technology was a hard sell to marketers. On the other hand, developers have embraced open APIs, Open Source, and connectors for years.

More and more, marketers find themselves road-blocked by closed systems. When a marketing automation system can't talk to other data sources, it can be impossible to implement effective personalization. When an email marketing tool only draws upon the data contained within its own system, it misses out on the data that is collected by a separate web analytics tool. Examples of these types of silos across the traditional marketing stack abound.

Without the ability to integrate different marketing tools and the data contained within them, customer experiences will continue to be disjointed and far from personal. In fact, research shows that 60 percent of customers are frustrated with brands' ability to predict their needs, and think they aren't doing an effective job of using personalization. To address these frustrations, openness and interconnectivity between technologies needs to become a marketing must-have, instead of a nice-to-have.

A new age of resilience

It's been impressive to see how resilient organizations and people have been at adapting so rapidly. This adaptation has been essential to business survival. Fortunately, the changes made under pressure could be the key to succeeding as more of the world becomes permanently digital, enabling the kinds of digital transformations that organizations have been yearning for for years.

— Dries Buytaert