Digital Transformation - The Essential Guide to Understanding Digital Capability

Digital Strategy Article
20 mins

This article outlines a step-by-step process for testing your organisation’s readiness to implement digital marketing.

Digital Transformation in Perspective

Pretty much every conference or webinar you attend currently will be discussing “Digital Transformation”, and for this reason it would be easy to dismiss it as the latest fad, soon to be replaced by another digital marketing buzz term. However, the adoption of Digital Transformation as a key topic and discipline is absolutely key to our success as digital marketers and business owners, in my opinion. The principle of digital transformation actually clarifies why digital marketing can be problematic in implementation and, when used appropriately, could actually prevent a lot of stress and the failure of many digital marketing projects.

What is Digital Transformation?

Lets start by clarifying what we mean by Digital Transformation. Digital Transformation is the process of understanding where our organisation is currently, and where it needs to be in order to use digital marketing effectively to achieve our business objectives. By understanding the difference between where we are and where we need to be, we can then also understand what we need to do in order to ‘fix’ things. The issues this process raises can be very broad business issues such as team structure and IT infrastructure, and that’s where things get interesting.

Digital Capability

Digital Marketing is not in itself complicated. Most people can learn the key principles of search optimisation or running a social media campaign in a few hours. What is complicated are some of the things we need to be changed in order to implement these campaigns effectively. For example, there isn’t much point running a search optimisation campaign if you don’t know what your overall digital strategy is. You also probably won’t be able to do it effectively if your Content Management System (CMS) makes it hard to make changes to your website. Again, you are going to have an issue if you don’t know who is in charge of the website sign-off process and you don’t have the skills or the time to make the changes. All of these issues are the kinds of things that we need to address during a Digital Transformation project when trying to understand your digital capability.

This diagram outlines the key areas of digital capability that need to be addressed in any digital transformation project.

Why Digital Projects Fail

In a moment we’ll go through the points of the Digital Capability diagram step by step, but before we do that lets just consider a few scenarios where applying this in practice can save you a lot of stress. I would advise that before you start any new digital project or job, you use this process to do a quick audit of the situation. You go through each point on the diagram and you give yourself a quick score out of ten (some points are more/less important than others so we’ll talk about weighting in a moment). By looking at each of the points from the Digital Capability diagram you will very quickly be able to work out where things are going to get difficult, and in may cases where you are going to potentially fail. For example, an extremely capable digital marketer can have a very clear strategy, but without management buy-in it will very likely be nearly impossible to implement that strategy. Why? Because when problems occur, and they will, you’ll need that buy-in to get things done. Another example is that you have a great strategy and digital team, but you need your data and systems to join up so you can measure things properly. You’re going to need some effective IT infrastructure and without a cooperative IT team, this might be very hard. Even if they are cooperative, it may take them 12 months to make the changes needed. For this reason some digital projects are doomed from the very beginning. Target Internet run lots of digital marketing transformation projects, and we won’t take one on until we have been through this process. We don’t expect perfect circumstances, but we realise that unless the key issues are identified early on, and there is a will to fix them, then sometimes things just won’t work. Pretty much everything is fixable with good leadership, which is why any transformation project MUST have buy-in at the most senior level.

Digital Capability Framework

So lets go though each step of the Digital Capability diagram step-by-step and build a framework for assessing where we are now and where we need to be.

Leadership Buy-In

Does the most senior leadership understand the importance of digital and will they support change needed in order to implement effective digital?

Team Ability

Do the team have the necessary skills in order to implement effective digital marketing activity?

Market Readiness

Is the target audience using the digital channels we intend to use and do they have a sufficient level adoption to make this viable?


Do we have a digital strategy that aligns with our overall business and marketing strategy?


Do we have clear guidance, rules, policies and processes in how we implement digital marketing and are these embedded into our organisation?


Do we have suitable technical infrastructure, including IT and tools, to allow us to implement targeted digital marketing?


Do we have measurement frameworks that allow us to judge the success of our digital marketing efforts?


Can the measurement of our digital activity be directly connected the financial results of our business so we can judge its true impact and success?


Do we have a culture of innovation that will allow us to test and learn?

Weighting Digital Capability Factors

Needing to improve in any of these areas, or even all of them, is perfectly normal. However, you will need to assess the level of work involved in getting from where you are to where you need to be. You especially need to be realistic about how difficult this will be, and whether it is a political, technical or resource based difficulty. This is why you may wish to weight the importance of each of these factors when you score your organisation against them. My rule of thumb is that if you are particular low scoring in Management Buy-In and IT Infrastructure, then alarm bells should start ringing. These two factors are the most common cause of stress, delays and failed projects in my experience.

Transformation Time

This Digital Capability Assessment is just the first stage. Once you have done this, you need a plan to get your from where you are to where you need to be. Although this can be a large project, don’t forget to keep referring back to your original audit as it will keep you grounded throughout the process in WHY you going through the pain to get your organisation where it needs to be.

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