2 Days, 72 FinTech Start-Ups, 7 Minute Demos + No PowerPoint Slides

Finovate is a conference series that showcases the best new innovations in financial and banking technology via a fast-paced, demo only format aka no powerpoint slides, 7 minutes to tell your story and demonstrate your product.

Needless to say, I LOVE the format...

For those of you that were there, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the 7 key takeaways below. For those of you that weren't, I hope you find these useful and by all means, try and make the next one as it's an awesome experience.

Just in case anyone was wondering, if someone wants me there for Finovate Asia in Hong Kong on November 8th, I'm 1000% in there like swimwear!

1 - Entrepreneurial DNA of transformational ecosystem is strong, contagious + massively "can do" across all stakeholders

Whether it was the start-ups, smart money or corporate "intrapreneurs" (Corp Strategy, Engineers, Product, Innovation, IT/Architects, CDOs etc), everyone had "the disease" aka the passion to create/innovate/build businesses.

To that point, I loved how The Bancorp was referenced several times on stage as "the hipster bank of FinTech" as they've been a sponsor since day one aka before "it was cool"...high praise.

2 - Quality + quantity of start-ups that have pivoted from B2C or purpose built from day one as B2B2C was notable

While there are a number of factors driving this trend, I believe the most interesting aspect is the challenges large companies are facing in figuring out where they are in their Transformation process and how to answer the "partner vs. buy vs. build" question. The right partnerships with the right start-ups structured/activated the right way unlocks a lot of value for both sides of the market. I really liked the way Moven's Greg Midtbo framed their B2C business as a lab to effectively test/learn to harden insights/innovation to then bake into their B2B2C core business.

3 - Big companies showcasing the ultimate results of their Transformation via homegrown IP and "real business innovation + incubation" was awesome

Transunion's Prama and ING's Aleo are 2 great examples of what happens when big companies embrace bimodal IT as a pillar of their Transformation roadmap to create innovative new businesses that embrace and operate at the speed of digital business. Super impressive. (Hey Courtney Brinkman of Prama, I told you I was going to write about you guys and give you a shout out! ;)

4 - Evolution of FinTech start-ups from a primary focus of "convenience" to "experience" with laser-like attention to harvesting actionable data to improve the omni-channel experience was crystal clear

One of the most important macro trends associated with the "Connected Economy" is the notion that the last, best experience that a human being (not B2C or B2B but B2Human) has is the expectation they carry with them into all future experiences with a business regardless of industry or channel aka in the real world, on a digital screen or both.

Also, on the data front, MapD demonstrated a killer platform that crunches massive data sets "lightning fast" that was thought provoking on several application fronts.

5 - On-boarding new clients and digitizing as much of the paper aspects of the process seemed to be a real priority for a lot of the Corporate attendees

Makes sense as there are very few things out there that "get my Irish up" more than having to fill out paperwork in general, especially paperwork with duplicative requests. Backbase's demo illustrating the on-boarding of a brand new client in under 60 seconds was a head turner. Daon's biometric authentication was impressive and I really liked FutureVault and their comprehensive digital safety deposit box.

6 - Cognitive Computing / Artificial Intelligence to facilitate a leading edge and enhanced value exchange between banks and their customers was exciting to see

I really enjoyed Bankjoy's demo using Amazon's Alexa as well as a variety of others demonstrating how financial institutions can use AI-powered predictive analytics to provide digital advice, guidance etc associated with financial goals and behaviors. Bankjoy, the Y-combinator backed start-up gave a really clean and impressive demo. Also, loved the AI platform and energy/hustle of the Clinc team which I'm sure is making Jim Harbaugh and those that fill the "Big House" proud...

7 - Impressive to see marketplaces being purpose built to solve for a specific pain point between a specific profile of buyers and sellers that require financial innovation to unlock a business opportunity/transaction

AutoGravity enabling people to take control of their auto financing options was impressive. Given their consumer facing relationship to the automotive industry, it's logical that they're headquartered in the LA area. When I learned one of the executives is connected to THE USC, there was NO QUESTION they were going to be included in my recap...once a Trojan, ALWAYS a Trojan!

Shameless plug but relevant to this post, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine agree, hence the USC School of Disruption via their $70M donation.

Also, Full Profile and their agri-blockchain and commodity management software solutions bringing efficiency to agricultural commodity supply chain transactions is a great example of this type of marketplace innovation.

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



What is Transformation?


We're operating in a new era of business.

The changes powered by Digital are so profound that the World Economic Forum coined the term the "4th Industrial Revolution" to describe them.

99% of Businesses Need to Evolve, Change

Thanks to changes in the business environment powered by the social web, mobile, tech infrastructure, "big data", software etc. that have created "The Connected Economy", companies that embrace this new era of business are cultivating competitive advantages that 5+ years ago weren't even imaginable. GE, the 124-year old software start-up?

"What if you didn't know that you didn't know something about your business that could have an immediate, material and significant impact on your success? What if your competition had a similar challenge but started to figure it out before you did?"

In a way, the above statement captures what Transformation is all about.

Transformation is a process where companies are evolving their approach to Sales, Marketing, Corporate Strategy and Operations so they can see/capitalize on Digital Data that hasn't ever been visible before.

By Transforming, forward thinking companies can use the data to make more strategic decisions that increase the likelihood of achieving their goals. Leaving their competition behind.

Becoming "Customer Obsessed"

Transformation is about becoming a "Customer Obsessed" company by getting closer to its customers. Using customer vision as a benchmark, the "Customer Obsessed" organization thinks about how it can move from "Blind" to "Visionary" by leveraging tech/digital to evolve all relevant processes by putting the customer at the center to illuminate information that can help the company make better decisions.

3 Key Transformation Principles

Without getting into the weeds on the "How?" as we'll save that for another post, it might be useful to consider 3 principles that really matter and are key Transformation success drivers.

1 - Bimodal IT

If you only read one link associated with this post, "Dueling the Digital Dragon" is the one. Transformation requires IT to work at 2 speeds that complement/enhance each other to sustain the old way of doing things in parallel with introducing new ways. One speed operates at the more moderate speed/pace of the existing IT governance model while the other moves at the speed of digital business. Not an "either or" but "together".

2 - Compete With Speed

External change outpaces most organizations' capacity to adapt leaving them prey to more agile competitors. New organizational structures, those designed to collect, harvest and capitalize on data driven insights, fast, are the path forward.

3 - Digital Mindset + Culture

Changing a company's culture is one of the hardest thing in business to achieve. A big part of Transformation is making sure the digital mindset and culture is embraced and cultivated. For example, companies that organize Hackathons on a regular basis have found this to be a great way to get started.

Strategy vs. Execution

A "Customer Obsessed" organization is effectively able to "see around corners" by being able to see customer insights and take action in ways that were unimaginable until recently.

Naturally, it doesn't happen overnight but Transformation is a process that requires the right amount of commitment, runway, investment and last but certainly not least, the right calibration of agency resources.

Needless to say, the process is complex and the right agency partner is worth its weight in gold due to the productivity and efficiency gains they bring to the Transformation party. The value of applying key learnings from prior Transformation experience to jumpstart the process is substantial.

Ultimately, Transformation is about surviving + thriving in "The Connected Economy".

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Razorfish - The "NY Yankees" of Transformation

18-24 months ago at the C-level, when it came to Transformation there was a bit of “maybe, but let’s wait and see how this all plays out.”  Fast forward to today and those days are over.  

When you look at the 4th Industrial Revolution and consider the following, it makes perfect sense how quickly things have changed:

Metaphorically speaking, it’s as if electricity was effectively invented overnight and every business now needs to think through how they evolve, change and innovate.  Exciting, scary and confusing all at the same time. 

A tall order, but those same CEOs that had a bit of a "wait and see" approach 18-24 months ago are now all in.  Crystal clear on the “What?” and “Why?” of Transformation but a little confused/anxious on the “How?” as there are more questions than answers given its ultimately a 3-5 year process.

The stakes are high

Established companies today look excitedly at what “GE – The Digital Industrial Company” or Burberry have done to successfully navigate the Transformation Imperative but then look fearfully at Blockbuster, Tower Records, Polaroid, Kodak and the others that have failed.  Triggering fundamental questions for the CMO, CTO, CIO and other key stakeholders - “How do we do this?  How do we do it successfully?” 

 Enter Razorfish.

“Everything that can be digital, will be digital.” – Razorfish, 1995

While that statement might have appeared to be a little bit ambitious at the time, it’s now clear how prophetic it was (it's also why I've always had such a MASSIVE crush on Razorfish since day 1).  It’s a simple and powerful expression of the agency’s north star which has enabled Razorfish to become one of the world’s finest digital and technology consulting agencies

For the 4th consecutive year, Gartner has recognized us as the leader in their industry standard report assessing the global Digital Agency ecosystem.  Noting both our Transformational vision and ability to execute.

What makes Razorfish, within Publicis.Sapient, unique and arguably the best in the world at Transformation, is our combination of both native Creativity + Technology that enables Transformation from the outside/in and inside/out.  These capabilities have historically been provided by separate entities but by bringing them together under one roof, we enable our clients to Transform “smarter, faster and better.

More specifically, we help our clients answer the “How?” question by enabling them to grow faster and more profitably by Transforming their approach to Sales, Marketing, Operations and Talent. 

Anyone who knows me, knows how passionate I am about the intersection of Creativity, Technology and Business.  If they know me really well, they know more about this passion than they would probably like aka I might talk about it a little too much…maybe more than a "little too much"... ;)

Joining Razorfish, part of Publicis.Sapient, to head up our Financial Services Business Development efforts is an incredible opportunity and one that I could not be more excited about.  While our capabilities are outrageous, our people/culture are even more impressive.  And you know what they say about the importance of people/culture?

As a guy who grew up in the area, studied Finance and Philosophy, started his career in Investment Banking + Trading, etc. Wall Street has a very special place in my heart.

When thinking about the challenges/opportunities facing Financial Services and all of my clients, friends and family that work in the industry, there’s nothing that motivates me more than helping The Street survive and thrive in this new era of business.

Go time.  Let's get after it.


#hustle #keeprunning

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Wharton Panel: Role of Agencies/Creativity Today, Going Forward?

I was invited to be a moderator on a Wharton panel this week to discuss the role of Agencies today and going forward.  Joined by two rockstars - Swan Sit, VP Digital at Elizabeth Arden + Tammy Eckenswiller, VP Brand Creative at Rebecca Minkoff - our panel was especially interesting because their approach to Creativity is dramatically different.  While Tammy has most creative work handled in-house, Swan has the opposite. 

Of course on the surface, this is an interesting topic within the context of everything that's going on with the "4th Industrial Revolution" but as we dug deeper, it revealed even more intriguing sub-topics that I wish we had more time to talk about.  I thought it might be useful to summarize them here, especially for you fellow Corporate Strategy nerds ;)  

While some are a bit more obvious than others, these are clearly the topics front and center throughout the industry.  I hope this list stimulates some valuable conversations and that I have a chance to chat with my fellow nerds at some point soon on this stuff as you all know I can geek out all day on this stuff!

Here are my 10 takeaways from the experience:

  1. Agencies need to "dog food" transformation as much if not more so than brands in order to keep up with the needs of our clients...if we don't, the Consultants are at the gates ready to step right in...
  2. Brands and Agencies need to roll up their sleeves and cultivate "true partnerships" because the market is moving too fast and the content related demands are too significant to have a traditional "vendor" relationship status
  3. Front-end and back-end tech/digital/IT locking arms on both the brand and agency side, fused with killer Creativity is where the "magic happens"...easier said than done but it's always good to talk about the northstar
  4. Primary concern is keeping up with the challenges/opportunities associated with the overwhelming amount of data, technology and related "shiny objects" and capitalizing on the areas of focus that matter most (insert Signal vs. Noise comment)
  5. Role of content and influence in Audience Development and Consumer Engagement as well as understanding the nuance of global cultures are rocketing up the priority list as the world is "getting smaller" (insert Agency 2.0 value proposition?)
  6. "Being human", as a brand, as an agency, as an executive and as a person is becoming something we all need to pay more attention to as it's easy to become distracted by all the screens, data and all things "techie" (Put your phone down for a hot minute...seriously)
  7. Matching the right agency with the right brand is more complex than it appears and unfortunately agencies that are "claiming that they can do everything" are contributing to buyer confusion but we all know the difference between the results from a diner's menu and a more "focused" restaurant...
  8. Management Consultants moving over to the Brand side in Digital roles as well as founding highly disruptive companies is a trend with implications worth considering and in this guy's humble opinion, a VERY positive development as a big believer in both the Art + Science of Marcomms
  9. Innovation in commercial terms between Brands and Agencies is very exciting and in the right situation, a fantastic way to align interests towards results/outcomes vs. time spent "power point-ing" or "meeting about meetings" and really getting after the #hustle
  10. Agencies need to "dog food" transformation as much if not more so than brands in order to keep up with the needs of our clients...if we don't, the Consultants are at the gates ready to step right in... (yep, #1 is also #10)

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Consultants "Eating the Lunch" of Agencies?

Whether or not you agree with the idea that Management Consultants are eating the lunch of Agencies, thanks to the evolution of Marketing, the role of technology and the mandate of the modern CMO, the collision course of these two industries is front and center.

Avi Dan published a great article within the Forbes CMO network that highlights the race to the middle between Management Consultants trying to “increase their Creative Quotient” and Agencies who don’t appear to be investing enough in the corresponding “increase in their Business Quotient”.  

While I agree that Management Consultants appear to be moving faster on the necessary investments, I believe agencies are making moves but need to do more, faster.   

I’m not sure why Avi didn’t mention moves such as Maurice Levy’s restructuring of Publicis into 4 main hubs to deliver transformation capabilities at scale as evidence of how seriously some agencies are taking this race to the middle, but I think he did a phenomenal job framing the situation.

A couple key takeaways:

  • Main driver is CEO expectations of modern Fortune 1000 CMO’s and corresponding role of CMO in allocating technology investments
    • Performance, accountability, sales/marketing alignment, Technology to unlock true potential of Creativity etc
  • Competing on Consumer Experience is the future of Marketing and the corresponding capabilities internally and of partners (Consultants + Agencies) are mission critical
    • UX understood as a top priority across all touch points requiring multi-disciplinary strategy leadership

Last but certainly not least, we've recognized the collision course and built "Socrates" to deliver on the promise of integrated marketing communications through an approach that enables our clients to rapid-prototype 45-day creative executions to "test + learn."  

Multi-disciplinary led, each execution creates a data set that informs the next execution to get more intelligent about audience behaviors - increasing alignment between Marketing and Sales while de-risking multi-channel campaigns.  

“Smarter, faster, cheaper” meets “Signal vs. Noise” type stuff.  

So far so good.

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Wall Street is Having its Napster Moment


“Don't worry, we’ve been here before”

Remember Napster, MP3 technology and the magic of ditching your discman in favor of an iPod so you could have 1,000 songs in your pocket?

Remember Tower Records, Sam Goody and when you had to buy the whole CD even though you only liked 2, maybe 3 songs?

Remember :30 second TV commercials, TiVo, Blockbuster, Netflix and not watching commercials anymore (except Sports of course) and not having to go to the video rental shop?

Remember Borders, Amazon and the first time you realized you could effectively buy anything, anytime, online?

Remember Priceline, Kayak, HotelTonight, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and how they changed the way you thought about travel forever?

Remember the way you communicated with your friends and family before Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat vs. the way you do now?

Remember Elon Musk and Tesla disrupting Detroit?

Remember Square and no longer having to carry cash to buy “artisanal stuff” from artists hustling in “non-traditional retail locations”?

Remember the first time you interacted with Warby Parker in any online or offline environment and how “human” the experience was?

You get the point.  

Many industries have had their “Napster” moment and now it’s Wall Street’s turn.


“Why is Wall Street so Late to the Party?”

Contrary to what a lot of the coverage out there is saying, Wall Street isn’t going anywhere, the sky isn’t falling and yes, Wall Street knows a thing or two about technology.  It always has.

Wall Street is late to the party for a number of reasons.  The biggest being the regulations and compliance inherent to the banking system, infrastructure and processes.  

We’re talking money, the way it moves, checks/balances associated with investing it, how companies leverage it to facilitate operations, capitalize on opportunities, grow, take risks etc.  

For all those reasons and more, it’s a heavily regulated industry and therefore it doesn’t change as rapidly as the consumer facing industries referenced above. While that’s starting to change, where it gets especially exciting for me is when you start thinking about the nuance of the social web and digital ecosystem.  

In comparison to other, less regulated industries, the Street is behind in terms of its native understanding of this nuance vs. the majority of players who have navigated their own “Napster” moments in prior industry transformations.  

Understanding the nuance can make a big difference...


"There’s Only One Way to Learn How to Ride a Bike"

When is the last time a banker was caught at work spending too much time on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc?  Never.  

I repeat, never...and that’s a real problem.

While technology are tools, the social web and digital infrastructure are the connective tissue that enable the Internet to work the way it does today.

Like riding a bike, it’s certainly not something you learn in a classroom.  It’s a bit of a “drinking from a firehose” type of situation, especially if you need to play catch up.  It’s learned over time, through immersion, experience, trial and error. 

There's a reason some the industry's biggest transformational technology leaders and rockstars - (i.e. Marty Chavez, Goldman Sachs CIO) - have real deal start-up stripes they earned outside the banks.  They bring a deep understanding of the nuance and ways of Silicon Valley to the office everyday, to successfully affect change.

We’re only in the first inning of a 9-inning game but this lack of nuance is a big hurdle the banks are going to need to address.  


"What’s At Stake?"

A lot.

As a recently published FinTech white paper from Citi pointed out, historically, digital disruption has resulted in a 44% share shift from Physical to Digital over a 10-year period.  Market shares shift gradually at first (1.6% per year) and then they hit an inflection point around year 4 where traditional share declines rapidly (6% per year).

For example, while only 1% of North American consumer banking revenue has migrated to digital, that percentage is expected to climb to 10% by 2020 and 17% by 2023

And then there’s the flood of VC money moving into the space at a major clip.  According to KPMG and CB Insights, more than $13.8B in VC capital was invested globally in FinTech in 2015, more than double what was invested in 2014.  

As Jamie Dimon so eloquently pointed out in his annual letter to shareholders - “There are hundreds of startups with a lot of brains and money working on various alternatives to traditional banking”.


"The Bad News is Also the Good News"

Again, the sky isn’t falling on Wall Street because of this 2nd insight.  One that I think is especially interesting.  

Industrialists need Innovation while the Innovators need Industrialization.  Translation, FinTech startups are realizing they need incumbent banks just as much as the incumbent banks need them.  For now.

While a partnership such as JP Morgan and OnDeck could serve several strategic objectives, it will be intriguing to see if the Street starts getting Innovation and Creativity faster than the Disruptors get Scale and Distribution or vice versa?

Early stages of the transformation, but there are clearly a lot more questions than answers.

Is today’s generation the last one to use actual credit and debit cards?

What percentage of banking functions and services can be automated or digitized?  What are the people implications of enabling talent to be deployed against more meaningful opportunities to contribute?

When will Blockchain replace core financial infrastructure?

Will physical retail banking become more service vs. transaction oriented, offering subscription services tied to wealth creation?


"Empire Strikes Back or a Different Movie?"

Ultimately is this movie going to be of the “Empire Strikes Back” variety or will the incumbents have difficulty rising to the transformation challenge aka their Napster moment?

One thing is for sure, it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Wall Street "Haves" vs "Have-Nots": Adobe Summit Highlights - CXP, AI + Data

Adobe Summit 2017 painted a very clear picture that on Wall Street, there is a significant gap developing between those that "have" vs those that "have not" yet made a significant commitment to Digital Transformation.

Without a doubt, those that "have" were illustrating not just their results but their going forward scaling efforts as they "lean into" their success and start scaling against their operating results/data sets.

In fairness, I didn't get to go to nearly as many panels as I would have liked to but between Morgan Stanley, Vanguard and MetLife, their resident rockstars were laying out their blueprints and needless to say, there were copious notes being taken and a whole lot of pictures being snapped of each and every one of their slides by the audiences that couldn't get enough of their results...coupled with the numerous conversations I had at our booth with players in both camps (they will remain nameless of course), I saw and heard enough!

Repeating myself because that's what I do ;) but as you can see in the link to a quick video of you know who below, the companies that are winning are winning at the expense of their competition.

No surprise there but the challenges/opportunities associated with the "culture change", "inertia" and the overarching challenges associated with big companies driving Innovation in general can't be underestimated...

Speaking of Innovation, more on "Digital Product Innovation" next week but for now, please enjoy the quick video below as well as a lightweight insights document I've posted on SlideShare that can be found here which provides highlights/insights/quotes.

Have an awesome weekend!

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Creativity Is King Again.

This is an extraordinarily exciting time to be in the business of creativity. Here’s why.

I recently read a white paper by “Simple” along with a quick brief by BCG which did a great job framing Digital Transformation in general but also, as it relates to Marketing Communications, it explored answers to some of the most important questions:

Where does Digital belong?

  • Is it getting absorbed by Marketing Communications or is it taking over?

Speaking of Marcomms…

  • How does it become more agile, integrated, responsive etc.?
  • How should the organization transform, restructure and who owns the process?
  • How do organizations successfully "market an experience" through all aspects/touch points?
  • What data should be used to inform it? What data should it focus on capturing more of? How does it become an "intelligence agent"?

I then had conversation with a sharp start-up CEO who founded a social influencer tech platform who had a great opening line in his elevator pitch that really stuck with me:

  • “Alec, 2016 is the year where all forms of marketing will demonstrate their connection and alignment with performance because digital has become more pervasive than ever before and therefore…well…it kind of has to, right? With all the incredible things we can do with the tools/platforms available today, why wouldn’t it?”

 And then yesterday, in a strategy session, I mentioned the articles and the conversation to a colleague of mine, which triggered our quick recap of the fundamentals of how killer creative is brought to life:

  • “First you do the Research, then you develop the ‘So what?’ aka the Insights. From there you cultivate the ‘What? + Why?’ aka the Strategy and then and only then do you have the framework to unleash the creative rock stars to sort out the ‘How?’ aka the Creative”.

While I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I realized that while there appears to be broad consensus about 2016 being "The Year of Transformation" as it really takes shape, it seems to me the more interesting underlying topic is the implications of Transformation tied to Creativity?

Organizations that embrace meaningful Transformation in part by embracing technology platforms such as Simple, are effectively swapping out their Analog Operating Systems (i.e. Silos, Linear, Product Centric Marketing etc.) with their Digital counterparts (i.e. Integrated, Fluid, Customer/Audience/Solution Centric Marketing etc.). In doing so, they’re becoming more modern, leaner and increasingly reflect what their businesses would look like if they were built from scratch today.

For example, if you were looking to build a “ground transportation company” from scratch, would you build a business that looks more like Uber with it’s digital operating system making a market between “buyers and sellers of rides” or a traditional livery cab business with telephones, paper, CB radios etc.?

And then it hit me. 

While the fundamentals of the process mentioned above around developing killer creative won’t change, the role of creativity will continue to expand in lock step with Transformation as digital/social media and emerging technology experience is disseminated throughout organizations. As the sharp start-up CEO said, “Why wouldn’t it?” 

Therefore, Creativity will be harnessed by multi-disciplinary strategists across organizations in ways that were previously unimaginable. Unlocking tremendous value for those that embrace the fact that the future arrived yesterday.

Here’s to 2016 and Creativity’s return to the throne.

It’s time to unleash the hounds.  King Creative.

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Elon Musk + Tony Stark + Transformation...It All Starts With Vision

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?

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



New Format

As much as I'd love to publish weekly content, this past year was quite a busy year which took my attention in a number of different directions.  While I don't anticipate publishing a piece necessarily every week, this is going to become the place where Accelerator lives but also lot's of other stuff that I find interesting.  Photography kind of took on a life of its own so there's going to be more and more of that.  So we'll see how that works itself out... ;)

Here we go.

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin



Disrupt Yourself or Be Disrupted.

Last week, I went to the Holmes Global PR Summit in Miami.  While conferences can be short on substance and long on “rubber chicken dinners”, this one was particularly interesting because it attracted the senior executives trying to reimagine the role of PR/Comms within a converged marketing communications landscape.  

As John Chambers would say, “Disrupt yourself or be disrupted.”

Here are the 5 most interesting takeaways from my experience:

1 - “The war is over.  PR won.” - Chuck Porter (Chairman, Crispin Porter + Bogusky)

Besides the panel on Transformation, Culture + Disruption hosted by our CIO Michael Schubert (shameless Ruder Finn plug of course), Chuck Porter’s presentation was by far my favorite.  He essentially explained that PR thinking has underpinned CP+B’s best work because if your ideas are good enough to make news, well, then they are the news...and that’s what people like more so than interruptive advertising.  

In response to a question about the future of the agency model, he said that as the lines between Advertising and PR (and everything in between) have blurred, we’re all now using the same approach and formula.  

What he didn’t say was that the difference in the results has and always will be in talent and the application of creativity.  More on that in a minute.

2 - It’s all about Content, Influence + Experiences.

There was a genuine clarity around “integrated” having moved from a buzzword to a reality.  Whether it was the profiles of the top 40 PR campaigns recognized at the SABRE Awards or any number of panels confirming that the industry’s growth and competitiveness will rely upon its embrace of this new reality, “integrated” was everywhere.  Insight driven creative where experiences in the real-world, online and a little bit of both will become “the story”...and hopefully “the news” as Chuck would say.  

This philosophy is clearly a big part of today and the future of the industry.

3 - The best ideas should always rise to the top.

The topic of “how” came up in a number of different contexts including the complexity of modernizing a global brand’s approach to Marketing Communications given the current state of the social web and digital landscape.  Especially interesting were discussions tied to the profile and characteristics of the right agency partner and where Consultants end and Agencies begin.  While there were a lot more questions than answers, there was consensus around the importance of calibrating the right systems and agency/consultant rosters to enable the best ideas to rise to the top.  

Devil is in the detail on this one as agencies fight for their turf, brands have become increasingly concerned about the AOR value proposition, evolution of the CDO/CMO/CIO relationships and mandates etc.

4 - Wiring the plane while we’re flying it...and that’s ok.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it was refreshing to hear the extent of the industry’s embrace of the known and unknowns as the disruption in our industry unfolds.  It felt like there was a genuine embrace of transformation and the importance of having a commitment to a test/learn approach to deliver meaningful marketing communications innovation.  As Cadillac’s Andrew Lipman pointed out, Cadillac has effectively “disrupted itself” by moving from Detroit to New York to rebuild itself as a luxury brand.  

That’s a very strong leading indicator of substantial change and evolution rolling through our industry.

5 - Importance of trust and relationships.

While there seems to be no shortage of options and complexity in everything we do, it seems like trust and relationships are at the forefront of how to navigate these transformational times.  Digital/Tech etc aren’t silver bullets but trust and strong relationships equally invested in navigating these disruptive times are.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lastly, as a guy who can’t get enough of quotes, here’s a good one that speaks to the core of disruption and transformation:

  • “Ruder Finn’s Michael Schubert, who moderated the panel, pointed out that only 24% of companies on the 500 Fortune were on the list five years ago, meanwhile 40% of today’s Fortune 500 will not be on the list 10 years from now.”

So there's that...

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin




3.0 - 20% of Any Global Luxury Brand's Revenue Is Up For Grabs...Seriously, 20%


2015 will be another year where business news is dominated by China.

Whether you want to debate its rate of growth or the confidence of its consumers, there is virtually no questioning China’s massive consumer population and its mounting strength within the global economy.  

“What’s your China strategy?” is the Fortune 1000 question for the New Year.  

But what does that question really mean?  And how is the answer different today, especially given how much the markets have opened up over the last 2-3 years?  

As a global communications and digital creative agency co-HQ'd in NYC and China along with arguably the most established practice of any multinational agency inside China, we have a whole lot of perspective to contribute to this conversation!

Now back to the question...articulating a coherent marketing and business strategy tied to this explosive opportunity may seem challenging…so here’s what you need to know.

The Rise of China's Super Consumers

China’s Super Consumers (CSCs) represent a massive consumer population and the global business implications are huge.  Just as the Baby Boomer generation influenced America’s position and strength within the global economy over the last 30+ years, CSCs are poised to do the same in the coming years.

Check out Savio Chan's book - "China's Super Consumers - What 1 Billion Customers Want and How To Sell It To Them" - and you'll be well on your way to getting as fired up about this opportunity as I am! 

To quickly put things in perspective, let’s look at the luxury sector where CSCs are making a huge splash.  

What if I told you 20% of your gross revenue is up for grabs?  If you're in the luxury space, this is a reality.  Here's how this breaks down...the numbers speak for themselves.


Chinese Super Consumers - Young, wealthy, educated, strong digital/tech quotient, urban, price-to-value-sensitive and rapidly evolving consumer sophistication thanks to social media


CSCs represent 29% of luxury industry’s global sales


Of that 29% of luxury consumption, 70% is taking place in Hong Kong and outside Mainland China in a handful of key markets including New York, LA, Paris, Milan, London and Basel.


20% of any luxury brand’s gross revenue is up for grabs.


Step back before you lean in.

There is no one size fits all approach to engaging CSCs and with the Chinese market in general.  But understanding what makes China’s consumer populations unique – or engaging a strategic partner who knows the landscape – will help set you up for success.   

Some tips for creating a successful strategy:



Next to the “Digitization of Everything,” China is probably the ultimate macro trend (and you know how much I love macro trends).   But mark my words: some brands will survive and thrive while others disappear forever, entirely as a result of how they approach this opportunity.  Do yourself a favor and commit to sorting out your China strategy.

Don't (always) believe the hype.

The 24-hour news cycle tends towards catastrophe (NYC Blizzard anyone?). Recent coverage of China’s new Internet czar and “The Great Firewall” Gmail Block can give a false impression of China’s actual digital climate.  Do your homework, don’t jump to conclusions and play the long game.

Be flexible.  Be digital.

Legacy business models, institutionalized ways of doing things and internal politics that prevent companies from changing are all strategy-killers. Companies need to digitize their business model – whether that means hiring a CDO, or finding reliable partners to help you maximize your brand’s consumer experience.  Evaluate your internal systems, processes, infrastructure and digital resources: are they adaptive, nimble and globalized?  Start and end with the consumer in mind all the time.

Know your north star.

Evaluate your approach to marketing and consumer engagement. Are you trying get as close as possible to your customer? Are you digitizing that profile/preference info and developing a personalized, one-to-one relationship with each consumer?  Is a consumer’s experience seamless in the real and digital worlds?

Invest in the right partners.

There’s no question about it: the right partners will accelerate your evaluation, strategy formation and execution.  Now is the time to make the right, strategic moves and acquire market share from your competition.


And don't forget, 20% is up for grabs... Still trying to figure it all out?  I’m ready to talk strategy whenever you are!

With the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game almost upon us, next week’s post will focus on what separates the best from the rest in the world of Sports, Music, Entertainment and Lifestyle Sponsorship.  Of course it has something to do with Digital/Tech ;) but a big part is culture, people, nuance etc.

Thanks for reading.


E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin




2.0 - "Rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO)" (2 of 2)


  • Marketing that's measurable and works?

  • Who is this "CDO you speak of?"

  • Key benefits of a CDO?

  • How does Ruder Finn / RFI accelerate the benefits created by a CDO?

[*Because there's so much going on with the “Digitization of Everything”, I broke these posts up into 2 parts but they're still long.  Future posts will be much to the ears of those of you like me who suffer from a real deal case of "The ADD" ;)] *   

“Evolution of Digital From a ‘Marketing Thing’ to an ‘Everything Thing’”

Before going further into the actionable 2nd half of this 2 part post, I thought it might be helpful to take a quick step back and consider the roots of “digital” for context purposes.

For 50+ years of traditional marketing, corporate executives such as Henry Ford were quoted as saying “"I know half of my advertising budget is wasted - I just don't know which half."  Then along came digital with its instantaneous feedback loop and measurability.

Originally, “digital” sat in the domain of marketing.  The digital team was responsible for thinking through a brand’s online presence, digital marketing and other forms of digitized consumer engagement enabled via the web.

Capturing, processing and developing strategic insights from the real-time data then led to the ability to optimize marketing in a much more meaningful way.  Foreshadowing of things to come well beyond marketing.

Then, as social media developed into a worldwide phenomenon followed by the mobile revolution, digital began to take on a much broader role.  It became clear to early adopters that digital was destined to become the membrane that stretches across everything we do both professionally and personally.  

All channels were becoming digital as the social and digital layer became our “new normal”.

Therefore, the digital data that was initially isolated to marketing oriented efforts had quickly expanded into a much broader data set due to the explosion in data generating activities well beyond marketing.  This broader definition of digital and the resulting data available has implications across the entire business and can inform the way a business is run, optimized and marketed.  

This brings us to the rise of the Chief Digital Officer to capitalize on this macro trend.


What Does A CDO Look Like?

The explosion in data generation caused by phase 3.0 of the Internet coupled with the disruptive efforts of “born digital” companies have been the catalysts driving legacy businesses to earnestly explore methods to redefine their business models.  This job has quickly become the CDOs.

While the role is new and the “job description” is anything but static, one could describe a CDO as a change agent meets visionary leader meets blueprint architect meets executor meets evangelist meets an individual with a seat in the Boardroom who needs to be able to communicate accordingly.  

Ultimately, their job comes down to developing the digital vision for the business, translating the vision into a proper strategy, developing an actionable blueprint to operationalize the game plan and as my friend Kristian Schwartz, a rockstar executive recruiter in the digital space would say, “landing the plane”.

While there are many topics one could dig into in this area, including the question of whether or not a CDO is necessary vs. an alternative approach (more on that in a future post), for the purposes of this piece, we will assume the CDO is absolutely necessary.  

Therefore, the characteristics a company should look for in these leaders include the following:

  • Ability to build a truly digital DNA within an organization by operationalizing transformation efforts aka “landing the plane”

  • Silo-buster connecting different disciplines and departments by overcoming legacy systems to lead transformation efforts

  • Fluent and persuasive in all “forms of business languages” including technology, business, marketing and operations

  • Demonstrated ability to directly tie digital investments to enterprise KPIs

  • Knowledgable, well connected and respected within the emerging technology and start-up ecosystem

  • Obsessively focused on creating a seamless consumer experience across all digital and real-world touchpoints

  • Ability to architect sustainable systems to embrace next wave of digital innovation (i.e.) IoT

That's it, right....?  Did I mention that it's a big job?

“What are Tangible Examples of How a CDO Creates Enterprise Value?”

This is where we get to the heart of the matter.  Below is a quick summary across several main business drivers of how a CDO can impact a legacy business and deliver a meaningful ROI.

Investor Relations

  • Hiring a CDO is an indication to the market that a company “gets it” and is bringing in the right leader to jumpstart the company’s digital transformation in a meaningful way

Corporate Strategy + Business Development

  • Hiring a CDO alters the perception of the market in general and key industry stakeholders within the ecosystem

  • It opens doors to explore opportunities with companies with high tech/digital quotients that otherwise might not be available

    • (i.e.) A CDO client of ours was instrumental in leading a partnership in 2014 with a very high profile technology company as one of a small group of companies selected as a syndicate of launch partners for a game changing consumer technology initiative

Sales + Marketing

  • A CDO works closely with the CIO and CMO to bridge many gaps that exist today between “managing infrastructure” and “managing the brand” to unlock opportunities to make digital investments that align directly with enterprise KPIs

    • (i.e.) We’re currently exploring ways to globalize a luxury client’s existing customer relationship management (CRM) system to inform “smarter marketing” campaigns to engage traveling consumers tied directly to sales, consumer data acquisition and alignment with other enterprise level KPIs


  • Making the authentic transition from digital being viewed as a channel to becoming a “digitally led business” requires a highly collaborative working relationship between senior leadership to facilitate the transformation

    • (i.e.) Sephora’s transition into a digital brand led by CDO/CMO Julie Bornstein exemplifies the way a brand can integrate digital into both its marketing and business strategy to create the seamless experience across all digital and real-world touch points to meet consumer expectations

Product Development + Innovation

  • This is a sweet spot for CDOs as their backgrounds include being both consumer/customer obsessed via digital experience design while also having the technology chops to manage a team of developers and the product roadmap

War For Talent

  • In an extremely difficult environment for attracting and retaining digital talent, hiring a CDO helps a company’s talent efforts as the war for technology talent continues to heat up in a major way

    • Digital transformation requires the right talent integrated into the organization in the right way to realize the potential of these strategic talent investments

“Everyone’s Chocolate Is Getting In Everyone Else’s Peanut Butter”

Just as other industries are being dramatically reshaped, the marketing communications landscape continues to experience its own fundamental shift due to the macro digitization trend.  

Agencies such as ours that specialize in the intersection of owned and earned media are helping our clients understand how to develop and execute on communications and digital creative strategies that are increasingly moving into the broader domain of “consumer experience”.  This expertise requires a variety of cross-disciplinary capabilities coupled with new, more hybrid skill sets such as experience design.  

This is also happening in conjunction with similar changes within the management consulting industry as digital continues to break down historical barriers and silos associated with where business strategy ends and marketing strategy begins aka “everyone’s chocolate is getting in everyone else’s peanut butter”.  

More on this topic and the resulting macro trend of “Consumer Experience Becoming The New Battleground” in a future post but safe to say, agencies and management consulting shops alike need to be “digital first” from here on out.

It’s a very exciting time for those on the right side of things.

The “Art of the Conversation” to Accelerate Transformation Efforts

The “Art of the Conversation” is at the root of what Ruder Finn as a Global Corporate Communications and PR agency has been doing for 67 years.  While the landscape changes, the fundamentals remain the same.

Given the overwhelming amount of content published online everyday, the “Art of Conversation” needs to be considered within the context of digital transformation as it has the potential be a major success accelerant.  Transforming a business is as much a communication challenge as anything else.  

Education, engagement and activation of both internal and external stakeholders via the strategic and integrated use of owned, earned and paid media is the path to success.  Just as a company can no longer view digital as a channel, the agencies and management consultants of the future must make a similar evolution in their approach.  

We've done just that.  For example, we work with a variety of CDOs and CEOs to develop conversations with high priority media stakeholders, coveted bloggers, strategic influencers and key opinion formers to help shape our client’s transformational narrative within the market by sticking to the fundamentals:  

  • Understanding the CDO’s digital transformation roadmap and associated KPIs

  • Applying the “Art of the Conversation” to develop a storytelling architecture

  • Leveraging our relationship network to cultivate strategic press and media coverage

  • Identifying alignment opportunities between the communications and brand strategies

  • Building out a robust digital content and experience strategy across owned channels

  • Amplifying fully integrated storytelling through paid media

  • Measure, iterate, rinse + repeat

Not Just Working Harder But Also Working Smarter

Below are 5 principles that frame how we work with our clients to create value:

  1. Move Smart + Fast

    • Embrace “born digital” principles upfront including allocations for experimentation, KPIs, stuff that matters but can't be measured and a culture of measurement/iteration

  2. Never Underestimate The Importance of Your Own People

    • Internal communications, engagement, education and activation tied to transformation / culture change are big challenges --> bring in the experts to help make it happen

  3. Create a Movement

    • Make sure vision / platform development is a priority?  What’s the higher purpose of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the role your company’s efforts play in society? How is it connected to the overarching brand strategy?  Why should your people and customers care?  

  4. Focus on the Highest Value Targets

    • Compare your digital transformation strategy/roadmap with a map of digital landscape/social web influencers to prioritize highest value targets with highest value reach so they can be engaged the right way

  5. Doing Things "The Way You've Always Done it" Isn't A Modern Consumer Engagement Strategy

    •  Align all relevant owned, earned and paid media strategies to significantly increase the focus of your efforts to breakthrough the “Content Marketing” clutter and achieve internal and external results

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed!

Next week's post will focus on China's Super Consumers and the global opportunity to engage them both at home and as they travel to 6-8 key international markets including NYC, LA, London and Paris.


E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin




1.0 - "Rise of the chief digital officer (cdo)" (1 of 2)


  • Digital Transformation powered by the Internet's evolution

  • VC fueled disruption powering disruptive start-ups

  • Signal vs. Noise tech ratio and what really matters
  • Empire strikes back via rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO)
  • The "So what?"
    • What does a CDO look like?  What do they do?  How do they create value?
    • How does a company accelerate CDO value creation and the blueprint for transformation?


The challenges and opportunities facing businesses today are enormous.  The Internet has been around for approximately 20-25 years and is entering its 3rd phase, one that has transformative implications across the board as unprecedented amounts of actionable data is coming online and being made available for commercial use.

This new era of the Internet, where the interconnectivity that powered the creation of web sites (1.0) and then networked people via social media (2.0), is about to explode into the real-world by bringing the Internet and connected devices/systems into our everyday life (3.0).

For entrepreneurs, the opportunity is massive. Where Web 1.0-connected computers and their data and Web 2.0-connected people and their data, Web 3.0 is shaping up to be connecting just about everything else - things, plants, livestock, babies. Each new wave has spun out giant companies (Google and Amazon for Web 1.0, Facebook and Twitter for Web 2.0). Will Web 3.0 create a comparable pair of behemoths?
— "IoT Is Reaching Escape Velocity" via Tech Crunch's @mattturck

While some folks call this era "The Internet of Things", I won't get caught up in the name game but will instead keep this piece focused on the challenges, opportunities, the work and excitement ahead around unlocking the value created by Web 3.0.


"Organizations We Have Today Are Unfit For the Next Century" - Undercurrent CEO,  Aaron Dignan

Organizations and their existing infrastructure were built to succeed in an era that no longer exists.  As described succinctly and perhaps somewhat aggressively by the uber talented crew over at Undercurrent, the challenges faced by today's legacy business models are nothing short of monumental:

The organizations we have today are unfit for the next century. Rigid hierarchies, inflexible matrix reporting structures, meeting-rich schedules, and decision-rights for only the most tenured members - these “features” prevent any real work from getting done. - Aaron Dignan

It is against this backdrop that legacy business models are struggling to figure out where to even begin putting plans in place to start the digital transformation process.

Remember Napster and what happened when the music business went through its digitization period?

Remember Tower Records? 

How About Netflix vs. Blockbuster? 

Kodak or Polaroid vs.Instagram? 

Borders vs. Amazon?

AirBnB vs. the Hospitality industry? 

Uber vs. Taxi/Livery? 

Warby Parker vs. traditional retail eyewear industry?

Regardless of where you are on the Digital Maturity Index, please don't think that the Internet or the explosion in digital data is going to eventually "go back in the box".  The train has left the station and the questions isn't an "if you're going to do something", it's most definitely a "when and how are you going to do something".


"90% of the world's data has been created in the last two years ... the ultimate question is really what insight and value can we draw from that data" - Goldman Sachs Chief Information Officer, George Lee

Keeping in mind that technology and Internet enabled devices create digital data that can be quite useful when made actionable, consider the number of devices connected to the Internet by phase 1.0 (1B) and 2.0 (2B) along with the projections for phase 3.0 (28-50B+) to frame the significance of the data explosion that has only just begun.

Maintaining the Goldman theme, they've created a very elegant and useful infographic around the IoT.  And then there's what PSKF did on IoT which is looking pretty good too.

Bottom line, data has quickly become the world's most valuable resource and those companies that evolve their processes, organization and approach to harnessing the data driven opportunities will be those that thrive in the future.  Those that don't, well, not so sure I need to say what's going to happen to those businesses...


"Every company can and should consider itself a technology company. Capturing, analyzing and using data to inform overarching,cross-channel business/marketing strategies and decision making is a must."

We've entered into a time of historic opportunity with the associated challenges for legacy businesses who have found themselves caught flat footed while VC backed start-ups continue to introduce disruptive, web-based solutions that undercut their legacy product and service businesses by being smarter, faster and cheaper. Said differently, these companies are "born digital" where digital permeates their company culture and DNA without regard to legacy infrastructure, institutionalized thinking, inherited overhead and other strategic resource investments made prior to the landscape shifting so dramatically.

"Born digital" companies are fluent in the language of the modern digital landscape.  They don't require any resource bandwidth invested in trying to "get it" while legacy businesses do and are trying to figure out how to keep pace as the disruptive, "born digital" catalysts continue to blaze a trail that helps inform the transformational roadmap legacy businesses must now consider.


"It's Not As Complicated As Many Would Lead You To Believe."

Given the nature of Venture Capitalist's risk tolerance and importance of "betting big", some folks describe their portfolio theory as one more akin to "Portfolio Roulette" due to the fact that if they make 10 investments they typically expect 7 to fail, 2 to break even or have a modest exit and 1 to have a big exit which delivers the vast majority of the fund's overall return.  

I mention this because those super smart and courageous VCs and their portfolio companies are the disruptors that are blazing the trail for legacy businesses to inform their transformation efforts but it might make sense to reign in a bit of the enthusiasm around how "innovative" they are when it comes to applying their fundamentals to the real-world of legacy business model transformation.  Also, it's a solid segue to introduce the idea of "Signal vs. Noise".

"Signal vs. Noise" and the resulting ratio is a term often used in technology circles that effectively describes how much of an output is desired vs. how much is "noise" or outputs that aren't desired.  Because VC's make such high-profile investments and we have a cultural fascination with start-ups ingrained into our American Dream DNA, these efforts receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage and word of mouth buzz which makes what they're doing seem bigger than what it actually is.  Not that different from the way we perceive Sports and Entertainment due to the coverage of these industries.

In no way am I diminishing the value of their efforts and I have nothing but the utmost respect for those that have the entrepreneurial courage to do what they do but in the context of corporate strategy for Fortune 1000 businesses, this activity needs to sit inside the appropriate context. In addition, a whole lot of this action has been coming out of Silicon Valley where sometimes these "disruptive companies" are actually addressing "fake problems that don't actually create any value" that might be somewhat useful in SF or perhaps NYC but not for the mainstream and like chewing gum, the flavor will eventually run out and they'll be thrown away. 

This "group think" of Silicon Valley and other start-up ecosystems is absolutely necessary to allow the world's most ambitious and aggressive entrepreneurs to go big and eventually create companies that change the world but again, this activity needs to be put in context as it relates to legacy business model transformation.  Just as one would research best-in-class companies or best practices within an industry when performing the upfront due diligence ahead of strategy formation, that world needs to fit inside of that process but not dominate or have such an impact that it pushes the pendulum too far in the other direction where a company strays away from its core business in an effort to "reinvent itself".

To that end, here's a "Signal vs. Noise" punch list of 5 elements that all legacy businesses should incorporate into their north star as they move down the transformation path:

  1. Social Web + Digital Landscape Quotient of Senior Management + Company
    • Think of it as the solar system, you don't need to know everything about every star/planet but you definitely need to understand the pillars which include the main constellations  (i.e. Facebook meets Linkedin meets Twitter etc) and planets (i.e. Google etc), how they interface with each other and most importantly how people use them which delivers you to the implications for your business
  2. Not About Big Data, It's About Smart, Relevant + Useful Data
    • Capture it, harness it  and be sure to structure it so its useful and can inform all relevant internal/external efforts
  3. Network Your Business For Internal + External Benefits
    • Invest in the right modern technology, people and partners to essentially create a platform your business sits on that is the result of interconnected systems that talk to each other and allow you to maximize the value of the smart/structured data from #2 by being able to "put it in the machine" and unlock its true value
  4. Customer Experience Is The New Battleground
    • Whether your business is B2C or B2B, it MUST be invested in creating a customized, meaningful and valuable relationship between it and each individual customer as that's their expectation and the tech/digital tools are available and ready to go (i.e. Not using Responsive Design here on out is a wild idea)
  5. Reconsider Any Partner That Doesn't/Won't Understand Marketing Communications Convergence and Isn't Digital First, Channel Agnostic
    • Given where we are and where we're headed, this is table stakes and while I understand how much overhead and infrastructure many of these larger shops have in "doing things the way they have" but isn't that what this whole "transformation party" is all about?...sorry, it had to be said


With that all of that being said, it seems like a good place to hit the pause button to allow for a natural break separating Part I and Part II of this piece.

Part II of this piece will build off the background and context around the "Digitization of Everything" and dig into the "So What?" with some actionable insights:

  1. Rise of the Chief Digital Officer to accelerate transformation efforts
  2. What does a CDO look like?  What do they do?  How do they add value in real, practical terms?
  3. "Art of the Conversation" to Accelerate Transformation Efforts
    • Accelerating a company and CDO's digital vision and blueprint by applying strategic resources at the intersection of communications, marketing and business strategy to move faster and smarter
  4. Not Just Working Harder But Also Working Smarter
    • 5 practical ways to integrate digital thinking across the organization to unlock synergy and align the CDO's efforts more closely with enterprise KPIs

Please look for Part II next Tuesday 1/20.

Thanks for reading!


E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin