The term digital transformation is one that is thrown around a lot these days. It’s become a catch-all phrase that a lot of companies adapt and utilize in their marketing messages; many call it hype. As a result, I think that it’s usefulness has been somewhat diluted as the terminology becomes ever less well defined. It’s myriad definitions, different uses in digital transformation marketing messages and even variations in academic literature can become very confusing to prospects. Let’s take a look at a few of the prominent definitions out there:
Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people and processes to fundamentally change business performance, says George Westerman, MIT principal research scientist and author of Leading Digital: Turning Technology Into Business Transformation.
Digital Transformation (DT or DX) is the use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technology to solve problems. It is about transforming processes that were non digital or manual to digital processes.
Digital transformation involves using digital technologies to remake a process to become more efficient or effective. The idea is to use technology not just to replicate an existing service in a digital form, but to use technology to transform that service into something significantly better.
Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This re-imagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.
There are many more out there; the above represents a select few. As you can see by the definitions above, while there are some common themes such as converting manual processes and enhancing business results, there really is no uniform definition of what digital transformation really means. When you start looking at definitions put forth by vendors, the definitions often become pretty self-serving as they try to co-opt this popular catch-all term and define it to fit with their own products and solutions.
Digital Transformation is Confusing – But is Important to Tech Marketers
So as a hardware or software tech company, why not just ignore this somewhat tired and overused term and eliminate it completely? Because the term IS being widely used – even by many prospective customers, and there is a LOT of money at stake to help fulfill the digital transformation promise.
IDC forecasted that global spending on the technology and services that enable digital business transformation reached $1.18 trillion in 2019. So software and hardware vendors ignore this term in their marketing at their own peril, because many of their potential customers consider their own version of “digital transformation” to be a strategic imperative. But vendors also need to be careful how they incorporate this terminology into their marketing messaging, imo. Below I recommend what to think about as you formulate your own digital transformation marketing strategy.
My personal definition of digital transformation
First, here’s my own definition: “Automation of processes and process integration to enhance business performance”. As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of simplicity in both definitions and marketing messages. It’s very easy to add an adjective here and a qualification there in an attempt to enhance the message. If you’re not careful, pretty soon you end up with a mumbo-jumbo word salad that is so complex it becomes meaningless to the intended audience. But MY definition of digital business transformation isn’t necessarily appropriate to be YOUR definition. Read on:
What your definition of digital transformation should be
The definition of digital transformation for YOUR company is ideally one tailored to your particular market segment. Every market niche has it’s own language and custom businesses processes unique to that type of business. So my advice here is really no different than I would give to a software product manager doing product planning for a new product. UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMERS, especially their business practices and processes.
If you talk to enough customers in your market niche, a common approach to how they define digital transformation will likely emerge. You can then tailor your marketing/sales messaging and collateral directly at the problem in the language they themselves speak about it. If you are able to do this, your marketing will speak to the customer base like they wrote it for you – because they pretty much did, if you do it right!
So that’s what I’d advise if you’re in a well-defined market niche. But what if you are selling a horizontal software or hardware product, or a vertical product but one applicable to several different niches? This is not at all uncommon in the tech business. In this case you really risk alienating part of your target customers by using a definition tuned to the customs and language of single vertical niche. So in this case I recommend that you….
Stick to an academic or other neutral definitions of digital transformation
Customers are weary of the multitude of definitions of digital transformation in tech marketing. If you redefine it yet one more time – and it doesn’t fit extremely well with THEIR company’s definition, they are likely to simply tune out your messaging. So stick to something simple like mine, or some other non-slanted, academic definition that is widely used.
Show where your solution fits in the business transformation puzzle
It’s not desirable to claim that your products fulfill all the requirements of a customers digital transformation stack, if they really don’t. Very few vendors can realistically present their solutions as the SOLE answer to a customer’s digital transformation tech requirements. Most software and hardware companies can’t, and trying to do so will cost you credibility with your target prospects. Credibility trumps nearly everything in marketing. I see many vendors try to do this very thing and you can just see customers eyes glaze over as they read their brochures. So instead I recommend you pick the most appropriate definition of digital transformation for YOUR situation, as discussed above. Then draw a diagram of the digital transformation tech stack used by your target customer set and insert your products into the component boxes of the stack which your products serve.
I would further advise that your messaging include how EASILY your products are to integrate with the other components of this business transformation tech stack (and also make sure that it’s really true!). Depending upon market conditions and your marketing strategies, you might also consider inserting your active marketing partners into the other tech stack component boxes, to show how your ecosystem provides a complete digital transformation solution.
In other cases it may be more advantageous to leave these other component boxes populated with generic descriptions, or instead list multiple third parties that you integrate with in each of the other stack component boxes. This approach shows how your products fit flexibly with the customer’s current vendors and preferences. Again, how to approach the integration marketing messaging depends largely on your market segment conditions as well as your company’s specific marketing strategy.
That’s a discussion on the best ways to think about hardware and software marketing in digital transformation. I’m sure others have divergent opinions on this topic – fill us in with your views! Please use the comment field below to register your take.
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