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What Innovative Marketers Have Learned About Digital Transformation

By Megan Reynolds
What Innovative Marketers Have Learned About Digital Transformation

Industry leaders discussed how to launch transformation efforts with data, strategy, content, technology, and inclusivity.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 60% of customers will only buy from brands they trust.

Most companies know they need to start transforming digitally to stay competitive, if they haven’t already. But it can be difficult to understand where to focus.

Industry experts from the marketing community, Salesforce, and Cannes Lions, a global brand that fosters creative excellence, discussed how they and their communities are transforming digitally with ethics and keeping their customer in sharp focus. We asked about the future, and they answered. Here’s what’s top of mind for thought leaders and innovators launching digital transformation with data, strategy, content, technology, and inclusivity.

These five takeaways can help you prepare for the future of digital: 

1. The metrics that matter are customer-focused 

Digital leaders modifying their strategies in 2021 should keep these strategies pragmatic and customer-focused. Companies are better positioned to both scale into the future and deliver seamless digital experiences to their customers when the end goal is building consumer relationships. But how do you build personalized experiences in a digital-first environment?

This boils down to the right metrics. Build attribution models — scientific models that determine which marketing tactics are contributing to sales or conversions — that focus on developing consumer relationships instead of mass advertising. This helps reach the consumer across multiple channels and creates clear value beyond your product. For Kimberly-Clark, this means applying traditional Market Mix Modeling (MMM) —  a technique that allows marketers to measure the impact of their marketing and advertising campaigns to determine how various elements contribute to their goal — to new ways of building relationships with consumers. By incorporating language from traditional MMM models into new digital engagement channels, brands can further streamline the adoption process, driving measurable, long-term brand growth.

To measure your brand’s growth, assemble a measurement framework and align investments to key performance indicators (KPI). Be rigorous and thoughtful about how those dollars can flow through each part of your investment and across the customer journey. This can help you maximize your short-term value and cultivate lasting consumer relationships.

“Digital transformation is always a challenge,” said Zena Srivatsa Arnold, global chief marketing and digital officer at Kimberly-Clark, especially “in this world where … the real fundamentals of how we used to think about reaching a consumer have changed. [But] I think the overall strategy of building relationships is the right one for the future.”

Learn more about building customer-centered digital strategies in our Connections 2021 session, Reimagining Digital Strategy in 2021 and Beyond.

2. The future of digital is inclusive

2020 challenged marketers to lead with authenticity, empathy, vulnerability, and ultimately action. Salesforce’s six principles for inclusive marketing urge marketers to consider tone, language, representation, context, appropriation, and counter-stereotyping in all of their efforts.

Why? “It makes good business sense and good people sense,” said Deirdre Findlay, Global CMO at Conde Nast. Conde Nast’s efforts toward diversifying audiences started with creating content that reflects the broader population and aligning their editorial and audience development teams.

“If we’re only looking at the top trending content,” Findlay said, “if our audiences aren’t diverse enough to begin with, that means we will continue to only write the articles and feature the celebrities that resonate with our existing audience instead of taking a step back and saying, ‘Who should our audience be and how do we make our audiences more diverse?’” 

Consumers are looking for commitment from brands who listen.


To start asking these questions and generating powerful, inclusive content, teams can take Salesforce’s training on inclusive marketing, Findlay’s “top recommendation.” Leaders can also hold regular office hours open to any team member to create room for diverse voices and the kinds of difficult conversations necessary for adopting a company culture of inclusion and respect.

For Amiyra Perkins, mindset director at WGSN, an Ascential company, inclusive content begins with defining what inclusivity means to your brand and examining how you are communicating with clients and internal teams. Only then can companies take what they’ve learned from these conversations and put money behind what they’re actually saying they’re going to do.

“We noticed it in particular with the 15 Percent Pledge — some brands were aligning themselves to that idea but not actually funding the businesses and founders of these companies that come from Black communities or different marginalized groups,” Perkins said. “Consumers are looking for commitment from brands who listen.”

Learn more practices for inclusive marketing by checking out our Connections 2021 session, The Power of Inclusive Marketing: Why and How It Works.

3. Data drives creative endeavors

Creativity is just as vital as data points in the marketing world, and linking the two can have powerful results. Ultimately, humans best connect with other humans, but data can help brands understand their customers. This understanding is central to fostering longer-term, nuanced consumer relationships.

To support your creative efforts with data in a similar way, begin by involving creatives at the start of testing and optimization, and separate creative pieces into smaller components that machines and algorithms can optimize individually. Michelle McGuire Christian, managing director at Deloitte Digital, also encourages the notion of single-view customer profiles. Use smart analytics to build a 360-degree view of a single customer — their browsing behaviors, social media engagement, and demographics — and track affinity to deliver highly personalized and dynamic creative content to audiences.

“Valuable data is at the core of tracking affinity,” Christian said. “Storing that [data] inside of your customer data platform to inform [marketing] actions down the road is the key to personalized marketing” and data-driven creative endeavors.

Find out how you can deliver creative and personalized digital experiences in our Connections 2021 session, Harnessing Data to Drive Creativity.

4. Customer consent should drive the use of data and technology 

In a recent Salesforce study, 72% of customers said they would stop buying from a brand due to a privacy concern, and a majority said they do not think brands use their data in a responsible or transparent way.

“Global companies are competing to acquire more and more customer data, but often overlook one crucial aspect, which is the real-life consequences of this decision on living and unpredictable human beings,” said Fiorenza Plinio, global head of creative excellence at LIONS Festivals.

Paula Goldman, Salesforce’s Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, agrees that it’s imperative for brands to be transparent about how they are addressing issues of data privacy and to consider the impact their products may have on users and customers. “It’s important to always think about how the choices you make may impact vulnerable populations in your customer or stakeholder communities,” she said.

It’s important to always think about how the choices you make may impact vulnerable populations in your customer or stakeholder communities.


How exactly can companies use data and technology ethically, with product impact in mind? Prioritize the responsible use and development of that tech and diversify teams that make decisions about the ethical use of technology. Salesforce’s Ethical Use Advisory Council, for example, consists of a diverse group of frontline and executive employees, academics, industry experts, and society leaders who meet quarterly to discuss ways to maximize the positive impact of Salesforce technology and mitigate risk.

The ethical and humane use of technology can also hinge on the way businesses use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to design, build, and market their products. Goldman urges teams to examine the role AI plays in their marketing and customer relationships to ensure that it is ultimately serving diverse customer needs. 

“Shared standards and norms about internal AI governance — how AI is used within companies — is continuing to evolve,” she said. “It’s important that we continue building safeguards within the technology itself in order to maintain trust with our customers.”

Learn more about bringing a human touch to your digital marketing in the Connections 2021 session, Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Humanity.

5. Cultivating trust starts from within the organization

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 60% of customers will only buy from brands they trust. When 9% of a brand’s equity is driven by corporate reputation, companies must make trust a key ingredient in their digital strategy.

This can (and should) actually begin in-house. Working from home revealed that a boardroom and drawing board aren’t the only means of making decisions that create trust. Build intimate, virtual roundtables and small circles of trust that create a space for humanistic interaction and promote value-based engagement. By creating a sense of community within your own organization through humanistic and empathetic interaction and conversation, you’re more likely to activate that sense of community and trust around your brand. Marketers can meet this need for human connection and rebuild trust with audiences and consumers by keeping empathy and humanity at the core of their brand building.

“The ability to deeply engage and connect at the human level with consumers creates a very compelling and strong bond,” said Marc Mathieu, senior vice president of strategic customer transformation and innovation at Salesforce. “This approach isn’t feasible with traditional large-scale advertising, but empowering a community to do this on your behalf creates exponential value.”

To make trust the heart of your digital strategy, innovate on the channels where your customers are engaging. Deepen your awareness of a specific trend, insight, and technology, and modify the distribution medium or experience according to consumers’ inherent demands. For example, given the rise in voice-oriented channels and experiences, such as Clubhouse, businesses should consider ways to promote their brand’s literal voice across social networks.

Dive deeper into building communities of trust within your organization in our Connections 2021 session, Building Trust in a Success-from-Anywhere World.

Tags: Digital Transformation, Customer engagement, Salesforce