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Digital Transformation

September 2016 | Bogdana Butnar

In the next month, I will try to show you some interesting views on how digital is best internalized in organizations, what it changes, how we need to adapt processes to fit with new behaviors, and, in week 4, probably touch on data, because I love data and it’s a fascinating time for that.

Bogdana Butnar
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Inner voice: “Back to school. Most dreaded time. And to kick off, something people don’t want to talk about.”

My topic is digital transformation and, saying the words, I feel like someone posting in one of those confession chatrooms where you tell your innermost secret to strangers, a bit scared and a bit embarrassed. We have this way to abuse concepts in our industry, which often leaves us hating words before they have been properly understood. Programmatic is going through a similar thing right now. Disruption and innovation have been properly put down. Digital transformation is right up there with them. People who don’t make money from digital transformation roll their eyes in exasperation at the very thought. Digital transformation is a bad phrase and, yet, I will do my editorial stint on the subject because I genuinely think people who want to use digital to its fullest potential need to go through a transformation of sorts.

When it comes to digital transformation, I believe that what we are doing right now is trying to jam digital into old processes and conventions and, by doing that, not only are we NOT improving anything, but we are genuinely missing out on one of the biggest opportunities of our lifetime.


Truly becoming digital is a philosophical and behavioural change. It involves better understanding human experience and using technology to improve it. It requires that we change everything: the way we work, the way we produce work, the way we build marketing programs, the way we write, the people we hire, etc.


So, in the next month, I will try to show you some interesting views on how digital is best internalized in organizations, what it changes, how we need to adapt processes to fit with new behaviors, and, in week 4, probably touch on data, because I love data and it’s a fascinating time for that. I need to caveat all this by saying this is, sadly, not an officially sanctioned approach to digital transformation :)


This month will be a bit like everything these days, hyperlinked, fragmented but hopefully not boring. And to understand where I’m coming from, and that I am a bit of a dreamer about this whole thing, watch this (if you have not already) and understand that this makes me tear up with excitement every single time.

Week 1

You need to work, work, work (I love memes)

1 September 2016

So this week is all about how digital transformation starts with how YOU behave and, because I cannot tell you how to behave at home, I’ll look at digital transformation through the lens of the office.

“It’s happening every minute of every day. In fact it’s getting faster and faster. Oh — and it’s not just happening to your business in isolation, but to *everything*. Even if you chose to do nothing, digital’s still gonna get you, and transform you, for better or for worse. You don’t initiate it. It’s happening to you right now.” - Tim Malbon

(yes, digital is about memes and I enjoy seeing them even in the most professional of environments)

How we work is important to understanding digital transformation because this transformation is about behaviors and not software. A good place to start your journey is Made by Many founder, Tim Malbon’s I am having a digital transformation right now. Tim makes an excellent point, that digital transformation will happen either way so we need to stop making it into a thing.

I agree, but I’d rather see it happen sooner so I kinda like the idea of making into a bit of a thing.


Like Tim, I believe digital transformation is about human behavior in a technology-heavy environment.  So when it comes to work, my all-too-soundbite-y theory is that to understand digital you need to behave differently, to adopt routines and mind frames that complement the environment technology has made possible.


But to start things off, if you search for digital transformation you will find over 8 mil links monitored by Google. Google Trends tells us that the term has been used on and off since waaaay before we can probably remember (sadly, Trends only goes as far as 2004) but it started to rise in popularity around 2014.

The definitions for digital transformation are somewhat scary: they use a lot of words like strategy, synergy, consensus, optimize and accelerate. The 200[before 4] -2013 era is when major IT infrastructure projects (SaaS and all the Oracle-y sounding words we like to ignore now) happened. 10 years+ later, we’re still struggling with BIG IT because, again, digital transformation is first and foremost about using tech to improve human experience, not about buying more software. Russell Davies has a good list of the “resume” of that age. 


As an aside, he also brought me to this cool interview with Clay Shirky who, apparently, has been moonlighting as the CIO of Xiaomi (in between being an author and professor) which, as Russell points out, is INCREDIBLE because Clay is NOT a tech person. He’s an internet person. One who deals with digital behaviors not “digitalware”. Follow Clay @cshirky


It appears that 2013/14 was when digital transformation hit the mainstream, and today there’s so much literature out there on how to do digital transformation, it’s scary. I would ignore most and read just this report from Altimeter on the 6 Stages of Digital Transformation. It’s heavy with jargon but it will help you identify where your company is (email address required for download)

Most of the human principles of digital transformation we talk about today stem from the same place. The manifesto for digital and how it was going to change the world was written in 1998 and published openly here. If you have not read it, you need to stop reading this and go there NOW.


The Cluetrain manifesto prefaced some of the essentials of digital transformation such as:


'Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy'

→ hence wikipedia, open education, the age of conversation, transparency, brand missions and all the things we now have to do because we’ve gone on Facebook with our comms and now we actually have to face our consumers.

On work, Cluetrain recognized three basic things:

  1. 'In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

  2. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

  3. Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation'.


Do you see how in 1998 they laid the principles for Slack? And now read this to understand why Slack works: because it was NOT designed as software.

To get better at behaving digitally at work, here are some things to think about and read.

1. Re-work


A great book about how Cluetrain principles can be applied in the workplace, written by the founders of Basecamp, one of the first and most successful collaboration/productivity environments. It is INCREDIBLE and most of what it describes applies right now. I love the chapter on Progress and the one on Productivity. The guys behind this also now have a website but I think they should have stayed with the book.

2. Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition

Another one to definitely read is this one by Guy Kawasaki. Guy writes for entrepreneurs but the logic of using the same principles that have founded this age’s most successful companies is undeniable.

3. A third thing to look into is the modified 70-20-10 principle, espoused by Eric Schmidt as far back as 2005. He took what was an educational framework and applied it to operational resources. That system ended up driving most of the innovation that made Google what it is today.


70% of time should be dedicated to core business tasks.

20% of time should be dedicated to projects related to the core business.

10% of time should be dedicated to projects unrelated to the core business.

Read that incredible interview here 


And then move on to this case study Contagious did of Coca-Cola in 2012 to demonstrate how changed behaviors, not tech in particular, drove the revival of the brand.


4. You should also adopt an essential principle of software development in your daily work - “in beta” and read about it here and here.




Some additional interesting work-related links:


  1. A TED talk on being collaboratively creative

  2. The NYT special edition on how to build the perfect team (also in partnership with Google)

  3. Another TED talk from one of the co-inventors of the Arduino

  4. And why Buffer decided to publish all its salaries and other key information openly on the web.



Finally, I urge you to look back on the experiment where every single step of the GDS’s work was blogged. They also have incredible articles about digital transformation like this one or this one.

And to wrap-up set aside a good Sunday to read the GCHQ paper about becoming more effective with digital and revel in the fact that the Co-op digital team redesigned it to make it easier to read  :)

Week 2

Considering Interfaces

12 September 2016

Inner voice: “The dreaded week 2. It’s getting a bit philosophical and people might think you’re crazy. Let’s do it!”


So we’re still doing digital transformation and last week was all about changing how we work in order to be more “digital” in our attitude and outputs. The premise for that was that digital transformation is not about software but about people’s behaviors and how they are being impacted by software.


This week we’re going DEEP, but I mean really DEEP, as I’d like to propose you step outside your comfort zone and consider some “lateral” issues with being and thinking more digital. It’s also the week when you meet Andreea, another strategist here at Poke, who has shared some thoughts on working with symbols, particularly emojis, as part of the piece below.


My thesis for this week is that if you look at digital as a “channel” you have failed, and you’ll be unable to really transform, because the bond between digital experiences and people is more intimate than what we’ve seen previously.

You might use some of the resources below if you’re working with UX/UI people a lot, or you’re developing product strategies, or trying to create meaningful, long lasting digital experiences/ connections for brands

This bit is not about just campaigns. It’s about value creation through digital experiences as the essence of digital transformation.

Don’t worry if all of this sounds unexpected.

To start to understand the importance we need to place on digital work, think about your relationship with your phone. We’ve all seen the crazy pieces of research that say people would rather give up sex or their spouses than be disconnected from their devices. But people don’t love the physical thing. They love the gateway it provides into the Internet. We’ve had such gateways before with radio and the TV, but all research suggests that the relationship we have with our digital screens is way more intimate and the connection to what these screens open up for us more self-altering than ever before.

To begin to understand how much, try this book but be warned that Carr, the guy writing it, is the same one behind the famed “Is Google Making Us Stupid” article in The Atlantic back in 2008. He’s not LOVING the Internet but, nonetheless, offers a more comprehensive look at the impact of digital on how we “think, read and remember”.

Nicholas Carr - The Shallows - how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember

The Shallows

So, if you want to build for a medium whose relationship with the human is so intimate, what do you think about? You think about what it means to be human. Below are piecemeal links to people I respect because they genuinely think of digital as an extension of humanity.


First, read about and listen to John Underkoffler, who I had the privilege of hearing at the TNW conference in Amsterdam this year. John is an interface designer and founder of the company Oblong Industries, and is mostly known for designing the dashboards in the movie Minority Report. You’ll see I reference UI a lot because interfaces, remember, are the gateways to this digital world we’re so entwined with.


Here is John at TED speaking about the thinking behind the Minority Report interfaces and why they are actually real.

Here he is at TNW where I heard him and, if you watch carefully, he makes an incredible point about “privileging the hand” - basically that we need to look at gestures and design interfaces that complement innate human gestures. Remember when we said digital transformation is not about the software. This is in the same realm, looking at human behavior and making software, hardware and everything digital live around it.

The next guy I encourage you to look into is Bill Buxton. He is principal researcher at Microsoft and his field of interest is design. His bio says “Bill Buxton is a relentless advocate for innovation, design, and - especially - the appropriate consideration of human values, capacity, and culture in the conception, implementation, and use of new products and technologies” so you see how that theme of human capacities and values AND software keeps coming up. Have a read of his paper on gestures and interfaces here.

And have a look at his speech on the importance of communicating apps to complement human (IRL) experience.

[and if you want to get really weird with this, just browse his collection of papers until you get to some of his writing about audio signals]

Moving on, if you think about all of this as an opportunity vs. a problem you end up with paradigm altering work. I suggest you read Google’s manifesto around the creation of material design. They say:


“Surfaces and edges of the material provide visual cues that are grounded in reality. The use of familiar tactile attributes helps users quickly understand affordances. Yet the flexibility of the material creates new affordances that supercede those in the physical world, without breaking the rules of physics.”


A simpler way to say that “people interact with technology better if interfaces mimic real life interactions”

Also look at their case study for the rebrand in 2015.

In my opinion, this rebrand is one of the most meaningful and digital-first I have ever seen mostly because it finally reconciles old principles of identity creation with the inherent capabilities of digital. In digital, logos can MOVE, they can emit sound. Movement and sound have a symbolic charge in the digital space. Since the appearance of the dreaded disco ball of buffering we associate certain movements with certain meanings. The new Google logo comes with motion and sounds in-built into its signifier parts


Symbolism is pervasive within digital but we should not take it for granted and assume that it is a relevant reflection of reality just because it’s popular. Here’s Andreea’s few points about the quintessential online symbol system, emojis and how they may be, sadly, misunderstood and misused.



“Emoji take us back to where written communication started: expression through images that everyone can interpret even if they can’t read or write. As communicators we shouldn’t take emoji for a fully-fledged language. So it’s not particularly clever to use them like this ad.

You’re asking people to spend a lot of time decoding something that might not be worthwhile, and you’re not adding value to their lives.


If you want to know how to use them cleverly and in a culturally sensitive way, listen to Dr Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute. He did a talk at Most Contagious on how emoji are used or abused by brands, and looks at how people interpret them.


If you’re planning on using emoji for a campaign or think “we can just pay them to include our branded emoji” - not so fast. Listen to this smart podcast by the VC firm Andreesen Horowitz. They talk to the guy who recreated Moby Dick with emoji (‘Emoji Dick’, you read that correctly) and Jennifer Lee, Unicode emoji subcommittee member. It’s harder than you think.


If you want to use emoji to express emotion, it’s complicated. Planners and researchers seem obsessed with boxing feelings into neat little niches. You might be familiar with Dr Ekman and his famous atlas of emotions. You have briefs with sections like “What emotional response do we want to trigger?” But as far as faces, emotions, and emoji go, recent research proves that people don’t interpret emotions from facial expressions the same way across cultures. Just look at the “persevering face emoji”. He’s not angry in fact.


So how to best employ emoji? By embracing their ambiguity and the warm fuzzy feelings they create. You don’t need an emoji for everything, and you don’t need a clear definition of one either.”



Finally, if you want to learn more about UI, I’ve asked our lovely UI team for their ONE book and they directed me to this one.

If you want to understand more about how the brain works and how that influences our interaction with interfaces, I also liked this one.

But if all this is scary, please just go read this which is a reassuring ode to human contact and very much in the vein of The Shallows.

Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

I hope, however, you do choose to look more into how to make digital experiences add more value to real life. That means you’re on your way to thinking and acting more “digital-first”.

Week 3

Big Data, Little Insights

19 September 2016

Inner voice: “You did not research all of this properly!”
Supportive inner voice: “People have not figured out data yet. You’ll be fine!”


This week is about data. The thing we’ve grown to love/hate. Data is a core concept when talking about digital transformation because the common understanding is data will save everything. Actually the whole concept of more software/hardware/[any]ware which, wrongly, informs digital transformation is build around the belief that we can automate stuff through better data capture and data management.


Most of the stuff below is random resources I find interesting. I do not have a unified model of data management for digital transformation. I doubt IBM has one :) And as an industry we are still experimenting. So there’s a lot of tangents.


First tangent →  before we go into some of the stuff you should be considering regarding data, here are some topical conversations around the use of it in today’s brand building/marketing world that have yet to be answered.


1. Programmatic and creativity - programmatic has become the poster child for putting data to work in our industry. The moment it started showing up in charts about percentage of media budget spent, people went into tension mode because, inherent in the concept of programmatic there seemed to be the potential for it to kill creative work.


There have been a number of panels devoted to this (one hosted by Google is coming up here) and if you search Medium there’s hundreds of articles on the topic. Some people already have a system for it - here’s O2 discussing their three-tiered approach at an e-consultancy event. There’s a handful of really talked-about case studies, of which this is probably the most impressive because of the sheer scale of it. At Poke we’ve thought about this too and our conclusion was that, largely, if programmatic was about cutting costs and improving ad experience, we were all for it, but that is not where the problem with data usage in digital asset delivery lies.


[Automated or not] data should be used to improve overall experience.


2. Factoring social into the ROI of marketing - we are, even at this stage, struggling to understand the impact that social is having on our business and brands and a host of case studies that, at first sight, look iron-clad for actual ROI - like this list here, upon closer inspection would probably struggle to effectively isolate the impact of social alone on results. The trouble is that instead of adding to the way we’ve always evaluated success, we have effectively created a new definition of success - social success, which in some cases has limited real life application. In simple terms, we get likes and shares but we’re not sure they translate to sales or brand image points. So everyone’s trying to tie social to traditional success metrics and not really doing an awesome job of it.


Personally, I started off by being a purist and working on our own methodology to tie social to business results, and then quickly ended up in an area quite similar to these guys at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. In this article, (sign-up required) Donna L. Hoffman and Marek Fodor discuss a different approach to social media measurement which starts from the idea that you work your way backwards from consumer motivations of using social network to brand and business value.


Effective social media measurement should start by turning the traditional ROI approach on its head. That is, instead of emphasizing their own marketing investments and calculating the returns in terms of customer response, managers should begin by considering consumer motivations to use social media and then measure the social media investments customers make as they engage with the marketers’ brands.

(Can you measure the ROI of your social media marketing, Donna L. Hoffman and Marek Fodor)


But that’s just something to mull about in your spare time.


Getting back to the wider topic of digital transformation, below are three things I encourage you to consider. There’s some resources I use but I have no definitive answers because, as mentioned, I think we’re still finding our way.


What I won't touch on is adtech and more hardware. You might have noticed that the whole point of these four weeks is to demonstrate that digital transformation is a behavioural enterprise and not a technological one. Well, it is technological insofar as new behaviors are mapped on an irreversible progression of technology but, at the heart of it, digital transformation is about adopting new behaviors to make technology mean more.


Tangent no. 2 → If too much data scares you and you think we’re losing some of the serendipity of brand building, you might like these two classics which juxtapose statistics to randomness. Same author, both absolute must-reads.

The Black Swan
Fooled by Randomness

Finally, the three things I think about re. data in the context of digital transformation:

1. How do you produce meaningful research when you have so much data?


What I find truly interesting is that in the age of Big Data we find it so hard to actually discover new, truly insightful things. We have, ostensibly, access to way more statistical information that ever before, faster and easier to organize but we have fewer great insights.

I attribute this to two factors:

  1. We are paralyzed by the amount of information and are unable to make a decision (Taleb also wrote a good article about this in Wired)

  2. We are no longer validated by the power of human presence - put simply, when you hear 10 people in a room say something it provides a sense of validation which no amount of excel spreadsheets will do.


If you want to understand more about the tribulations of research in the age of Big Data this book is a bit academic and a bit older but still very interesting.

Qualitative Research and Hypermedia, Bella Dicks, Bruce Mason, Amanda Coffey, Paul Atkinson

And a two good podcasts about using Big Data in a way that actually makes “human” sense are The Talking Machines and Data Skeptic.

2. How do you show data in a way that triggers insightful observations?


I am obviously talking about data visualisation. If we’ve learnt anything in the past 5-10 years is that a good infographic is worth 100 well-researched pages. And while I don’t necessarily think that’s a great thing, we have to admit that raw data in itself is not persuasive and sexy unless you’re an excel geek which most decision-makers and consumers are not. So, understanding how you talk about data in a way that makes it compelling to the people who listen to you is as important as the data itself.


You probably already know about Information is Beautiful, the blog and the book.


I encourage you to listen Data Stories, a great podcast about data visualisation. You might also want to look through the archive of The Talking Machines, as they also have some episodes on dashboarding and visualisation.


3. Do you have a System to measure results?


I have purposefully capitalised System because the point of this is you have to have a way to present results in a way that triggers learnings and action. Don’t just put all Google, Facebook and Twitter analytics numbers on one slide. If you do not know how to organize data to surface learnings, go and learn from the master - Avinash Kaushik.


As you can see I don’t have big answers about data. I choose to think about it in the context of meaningful human interactions and that helps. You can try to do the same and I’d love to chat with anyone doing persuasive work in this area.

Week 4

Who's Winning?

26 September 2016

Inner voice: “You made it through the week without anyone taking to Twitter to complain. Mental high five!”


As most previous guest editors might have already confessed, I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. I was not. To recap, these four weeks were meant to be about digital transformation. In Week 1 we talked about digital transformation as a way to make technology more hum