As Chris Townsend of Imaginatik said in Wired, “In creating a sustainable, enterprise-wide innovation discipline the road is long…and fraught with difficulties and complications. But the alternatives — irrelevance, bankruptcy, and oblivion — are much scarier.”
But innovation is hard. It doesn’t just happen. And it “never happens in a vacuum,” Townsend says. In order for tech companies to “change” instead of “die,” they need to bake innovation into every part of their company, from the technology to the organization to the culture, which as Townsend says, is a daunting task.
And to make things worse, change for change’s sake — or worse, just because everyone else is doing it — isn’t the answer. For innovation to work, it has to be driven by something, has to have a purpose. For high-tech companies, that purpose is becoming increasingly clear: it has to be for the customer.
“The high-tech companies that are succeeding in the digital economy are those configuring their technologies around what human wants and needs are,” said Paul Roehrig in an interview with CMO.com.
“The high-tech companies that are succeeding in the digital economy are those configuring their technologies around what human wants and needs are.”
Chief Strategy Officer, Cognizant Digital Business
Roehrig is the chief strategy officer for Cognizant Digital Business, a world leader in digital innovation, so he’s on the front lines of the digital revolution. And he’s not alone in his assessment.
“Digital transformation forces businesses to not just think about how they leverage technology to do things better, faster, cheaper,” Gary Verdino, managing partner at content consultancy Verdino & Co., told eMarketer. “It is [also] about using technology as a means to an end, to innovate and do something they’ve never done before.”
“Don’t chase shiny objects,” he continued, “but instead understand what you’re trying to achieve for your customers and for your business, and how you can create new value.”
Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, sums it up nicely: “Technology is about enabling human potential.”
At the same time, many of these same companies are courting disruption by stepping into a world driven by the “Everything-as-a-Service” model, the Internet of Things, and experience-based marketing. This evolution requires the ability to recraft business processes and manage enormous amounts of data coming from a huge variety of sources that, again, are varied and not always obviously compatible.
For example, according to Bloomberg, GE is exploring the value of connecting lightbulbs. These connected lightbulbs could be used by retail customers like Wal-Mart to keep track of foot traffic through a store, by cities to monitor street lights, or even by the police to track the location and direction of gun shots so they can respond more quickly.
“The lighting industry has become somewhat commoditized,” said Beth Comstock, vice chair and head of the business innovations unit that includes lighting, in Bloomberg. “We like where we are, but the focus on our future really is on the smart, connected, commercial space for lighting.”
This kind of evolution is a monumental shift in complexity. And this is where purpose really matters.
Knowing that you’re innovating into the cloud, into services, or into the Internet of Things explicitly to deliver experiences with real value to your customers gives you a place to start.
“The smartest organizations focus their transformation efforts around the customer,” Martha Mathers, marketing practice leader at CEB, told eMarketer, “beginning with customer buying behaviors, and then use that understanding to shape strategy. Only then does the strategy guide technology investments.”
Starting with the value you can deliver to your customers makes it easier to prioritize the changes you need to make. For example, consider the following questions:
- Do you understand your customers well enough to know the experiences they need?
- Do you have the ability to design and deliver the right experiences through the right channel at the right time every time?
In many cases, one of those holes is technology. At the highest level, these questions are all about understanding the unique value you deliver to your customer, and there are organizational and cultural changes that allow you to make better use of these two pillars of experience marketing. But without the right technology, both are nonstarters.
The questions above can be easily restated with a technology focus — “Do you have the ability to gather, analyze, and act on good customer data?” and “Can you use that data to create effective content?” Data and content. These are the twin drivers of experience, and both rely on the right technology.
“The smartest organizations focus their transformation efforts around the customer.”
Marketing Practice Leader, CEB
So bringing it all together in a single platform that allows you to actually understand what your customer is doing and what they want is crucial.
“Our marketing ecosystem includes more than 40 separate internal and external systems but that central foundational layer — where everything feeds in, where it all comes together and analytics intersects with personalization…is the key to the effectiveness of our digital marketing,” says Christopher Marin, director of digital marketing platforms at IT service provider CSC.
The same is true for Dell Technologies, which integrated its existing data-collection tools and survey software into a unified platform. This single platform collects all data from Dell.com worldwide, with about 1 billion visits annually from 170 countries and 28 languages. It covers all customer interactions with Dell.com, from browsing, learning about solutions, configuring, purchasing, order status, and product support.
“That central foundational layer — where everything feeds in, where it all comes together and analytics intersects with personalization is the key to the effectiveness of our digital marketing.”
Director of Digital Marketing Platforms, CSC
“Experience-based, high-tech B2B companies are looking at the customer journey and making sure that not only is it personalized and consistent across different channels and devices, but it’s providing value,” Jill Steinour, director of high-tech industry strategy at Adobe told CMO.com. “After all, personalization is nice, but providing value is really the priority for them. They’re thinking about how they can help helping you, the consumer, solve a problem or smooth out a cumbersome process.”
Great content also begins with unification. First, implementing digital asset management is essential. This allows you to quickly access, manage, or modify the right piece of content and deliver through the right channel. But just as important is ensuring that your digital asset management platform is integrated with your data platform to create a single, unified experience engine that powers your entire business.
For example, Dell customers receive information only about their approved system configurations on Dell.com, as well as focused computer support and software details. Corporate customers also get business-specific information on purchasing systems and are limited to only buying approved configurations. Additionally, the site experiences are continually tested to provide even more refined experiences and take into account an organization’s specific preferences.
Likewise, CSC creates compelling, personalized experiences early in the sales cycle by feeding company demographic data into their analytics engine. It can then leverage the data to personalize pages for visitors based on their industry, then report and filter engagement data concerning target companies or industries.
“High-tech companies can now shift their models around customer journeys rather than designing customer journeys around their entrenched structures,” Suzanne Kounkel, U.S. technology leader at Deloitte Consulting, told CMO.com. “If you’re truly an experience-led business in the high-tech B2B world, that means your business model, operating model, and all your underlying infrastructure have changed pretty dramatically. One important example of this is can be seen in how the back office has become the front office, and a lot of the functional boundaries that used to exist for very real reasons no longer exist.
Nowhere is this existential crisis more obvious than in the relationship between sales and marketing. In these days when huge portions of the buyer’s journey happen long before a salesperson gets involved, the two teams must work hand in hand like never before. Gone are the days when marketing was considered “terra incognita” — today, according to eMarketer, 77 percent of CMOs agree that marketing has a crucial role to play in innovation.
“High-tech companies can now shift their models around customer journeys rather than designing customer journeys around their entrenched structures.”
U.S. Technology Leader, Deloitte Consulting
“CSC: Seeing Clear through to Conversion,” Adobe, May 2013.
“Dell: Data-Driven and Determined,” Adobe, May 2015.
Giselle Abramovich, “What Does A High-Tech, Experience-Led B2B Business Look Like?” CMO.com, May 5, 2017,
Jillian Ryan, “Digital Transformation 2017: Disrupting ‘Business as Usual’,” eMarketer, May 11, 2017.
“The Key to Unlocking Multichannel Success,” Experian, 2016.
“Michael Dell,” Dell.com.
“The Real-time Customer Experience,” Econsultancy, June 2015.
Rick Clough, “GE’s New Look Has Little Room for Consumers, or Guy Named Edison,” Bloomberg, January 27, 2016,
“Welcome the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Dell Technologies, 2016.