How Market Researchers Can Drive Digital Transformation

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    Digital transformation—the practice of integrating digital technologies into all areas of a business to improve processes, outcomes, and the employee and customer experience—is more important than ever as many businesses work to adapt to a decentralized workforce. Research indicates that digital transformation (DT) remains a top concern for business leaders, posing a significant risk especially to older organizations competing with those that were ‘born digital.’ But investment in DT is not paying off consistently. It has been estimated that, of $1.3 trillion spent on digital transformation in 2018, $900 billion went to waste. Clearly, digital transformation presents substantial challenges across industry sectors.

    Much has been and continues to be written about how to approach and implement digital transformation initiatives. Undoubtedly, there is more than one ‘right’ or ‘best’ solution depending on a host of variables. In reviewing various models and sets of advice, one constant thread emerges: the potential for the organization’s market research or consumer insights team to help drive digital transformation.

    How can market research teams enable digital transformation?

    When most people hear the phrase “digital transformation,” they think about technology. But digital transformation is also about data. And processes. And people. 

    Regardless of which lens an organization chooses to apply first or primarily, digital transformation will be complicated and require effective communication and coordination throughout the organization. The market research team likely has tools, skills, and protocols available to support operational areas as they implement their parts of the digital transformation program.

    Market research and IT can team up

    Technology is obviously an important aspect of digital transformation, and the IT team confronts complex challenges in selecting, adapting, and integrating specific technologies to the business’s needs. This is especially true where legacy systems are embedded—which is everywhere in established companies. Moreover, many IT departments are not perceived internally as drivers of major change as they have necessarily focused on “keeping the lights on.”

    How can market research help? By supporting IT in regaining trust within the organization through demonstrating business value for each innovation. Linking a change, such as a new product or service or message with a business outcome, is a key part of what the customer insights team does every day. The appropriate protocols are available and can be leveraged to support any and all teams as they execute their parts of the digital transformation program.

    Data is the research team’s jam

    Regardless of whether an organization’s data game is up to par, digital transformation will require raising the bar for both data quality and analytics. It will also mean learning to understand and use new kinds of data and to leverage proprietary data in new ways. All of this, in turn, will require large numbers of people in the organization to interact with data differently, accepting new roles as data creators and data customers.

    If only there were a department that specializes in data literacy, with established protocols for curating a wide array of data types and managing access to internal and external data sources. As it happens, the market research department is perfectly equipped and positioned to lead the organization in all aspects of data management and utilization including standardized formats and quality levels, protocols that facilitate access for everyone, and integrated analytics tools.

    To manage processes and people–measure, measure, measure

    Real transformation involves transcending silos and existing hierarchies, and reimagining and re-engineering all kinds of operational processes. There will likely be a heavy focus on customers and their experiences, but for internal disruption to be productive and achieve desired outcomes, attention to internal stakeholders (employees) and external partners can be just as important.

    Capabilities for organizational change need to be in place—leadership, teamwork, and other elements that are necessary to address the human aspects of change—along with best practices for change management. This is an area where the insights team can bring invaluable expertise and leadership.

    It’s critical to assess readiness, inside the organization and out, to find realistic starting points and end goals for customers, partners, and employees. The latter can be the most important in some ways. Any organization’s employees can make or break a digital transformation program, and they are not a monolithic group—they include different segments with different perspectives and experiences. Those who, for one reason or another, have become alienated by digital transformation may resist change to the point of undermining overall success. It is important to recognize and engage all groups within the company, meeting each where they are and offering messages, programs, and even environments that create the right strategy and plan for each.

    Collectively, we are far enough along to recognize that digital transformation is an evolving process that needs ongoing recalibration to keep up with technological changes. Measuring the success of digital transformation programs enables the organization to make strategic adjustments vis-à-vis advancing technology as well as business outcomes. And benchmarking need not and should not be limited to traditional, financial KPIs extracted from web analytics and other digital touchpoints. The deeper and more multi-dimensional the picture, the more valuable it is. Again, the insights team brings the expertise to leverage market research techniques and optimize the roles of data and analytics in the digital transformation program implementation.

    Manage change by managing knowledge

    While market research and consumer insights teams can play an important role in driving digital transformation initiatives, DT projects ultimately require the buy-in and participation of the entire organization.

    If you have a knowledge engagement platform in place, then you already have a leg up on leading and supporting other teams in your organization as they participate in the digital transformation journey. Centralized, standardized curation of an organization’s collective knowledge is a tremendous asset in an organization managing a program of wholesale change such as digital transformation. If you have not yet implemented a knowledge engagement platform, it can be a great tool to incorporate in your digital transformation strategy.

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