(originally posted 7/2/15 on LinkedIn)

If you haven’t read “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance, you must.  His story is extraordinary and what he’s doing for mankind is outrageously impressive.  One of the things that jumped out at me is the importance of his vision.  Not just “seeing the future” but establishing a meaningful context for all of his people to rally around. In the book, actor Robert Downey Jr. was quoted comparing Musk to his own Iron Man character Tony Stark, perfectly capturing the impact the entrepreneur’s vision has on his people:

“Both [Musk and Stark] had seized on an idea to live by and something to dedicate themselves to…Everyone [at Tesla] shared a genuine excitement for what they were doing. It felt like a radical start-up company.”

All businesses in all industries are transforming.

According to a recent KPMG report, nearly all US companies are transforming their businesses – 98% to be exact – as consumer and market demands continue to change, but 25% are falling short. What is getting in the way of their success? Among other reasons, 38% of respondents said corporate culture.

But what about the 75% of companies that are succeeding? These forward-thinking companies recognize the trends that drive their transformation and have started to augment the way they think and operate in order to take advantage of the changing opportunities. Nothing demonstrates this need to change quite like the “Digitization of Everything,” for which industries from financial services to retail have had to reimagine their business models to thrive.

In the financial services industry, banks and other large financial institutions have historically steered clear of financial technology startups (fintech). Recently however, some have taken notice of the innovations coming out of fintech and begun to embrace the role they play in transitioning the financial industry into the next phase of their business. Santander and Oliver Wyman, for example, teamed up to release a “Fintech Manifesto,” which emphasizes the need for collaboration between traditional and digital financial companies and analyzes opportunities for partnership between the two sides of the industry.

Meanwhile, in retail, merchandisers are increasingly experimenting with how to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) as consumers continue to use more connected devices to make purchases. Many stores and brands have begun syncing with consumers’ wearable devices, tapping into their shopping preferences and histories to further personalize the shopping experience and help bridge the gap between online and offline shopping.

The key to these successes is having the vision to distinguish the signal vs. the noise, establish the context for transformation and rally employees around where the company is headed. Just like Santander and Oliver Wyman did with the Fintech Manifesto, companies need to “open up” and explore alternative methods for growth and innovation driven by collaboration and partnership with both 3rd parties and their own people. As leadership continues to question where business strategy ends and marketing strategy begins, establishing a vision that frames key elements of transformational efforts will lead to success for numerous reasons:

  • A company’s vision helps it develop an internal culture of innovation and growth, while managing expectations and possible uncertainty caused by rapid change.
  • It helps focus innovation and growth efforts on opportunities that tie to corporate strategy, sales and marketing KPIs and communications goals.
  • It enables traditional companies to build meaningful and authentic connections with the tech community and win the war for tech talent.

Ultimately, a company’s vision becomes the foundation of its communications strategy and message architecture. As companies continue to innovate and transform, they need to focus on programming – from internal engagement, PR, digital and social media to influencer relations, experiential marketing, partnership development and internet in-real-life – that will help cascade their new vision across all audiences. This investment in branded communications can truly help bring their visions to life.

To survive and thrive in this new era of the Connected Consumer, it’s not a bad idea to take a page out of Elon Musk or Tony Stark’s playbook, is it?

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