The transformational power of ecommerce and digital marketing

Last week I sat down with a retail client to talk about a new digital leadership position they’re creating in 2016. Mind you, we’re talking about a brand that has been around for nearly 75 years, and like many employers that contact my office the leaders of this particular business find themselves standing at a crossroads: Either continue opening more retail stores, or shift more attention and resources to their upstart, but growing, ecommerce business. To state that this is slow changing organization would be an understatement. Ecommerce accounts for only 1% of total revenues.  Among the four senior-most executives, three have been there more than 25 years.  The CFO is the new kid on the block hired a mere six years ago (the name plate outside his office is the only one among the other leaders that literally is not screwed to the wall. I’m not making that up!).  While many of their competitors have taken giant leaps towards growing their ecommerce businesses, these guys are still taking baby steps. Their number one strategic priority for 2016 is to ramp up their web presence, and they’re going to start by hiring a top gun in digital marketing to lead the way.  This means there will be a new face in the hallways who personifies a more unfamiliar way of doing business. And as many ecommerce and digital marketers know all too well, resistance to change is entrenched in many sales and marketing-driven organizations where leaders have been, essentially, breathing the same air for many years, sometimes decades.  In this environment, digital marketing transformation will be like learning a foreign language.

This particular CEO was quick to acknowledge that not everyone was on board, yet:

“We know we need to do this but change around here is not easy.  We are deeply rooted in brick and mortar.  What we need is someone who can lead us through that change. We know it won’t be an easy transition, and some of us are going to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, but we know we have to do this to ensure our long-term survival.”

Somehow, I don’t think I would have heard the same message from the other three executives who collectively have been at this company for more than 75 years. But I did hear it from the CEO, and he’s the one who counts!

When you first entered this field you may not have realized it, but you also signed up to be an agent of change.  As an ecommerce and digital marketing professional, you’ll be called upon throughout your career to help others see things differently. The advent of digital marketing and ecommerce has created an entirely new game day for dgital marketing transformation, and in some organizations, it’s flipped business models on their heads.  Google the phrase “change agent”, and you’ll probably find a reference to either digital marketing or ecommerce somewhere high up in the search results. Every Chief Digital Officer is a digital marketing transformation leader, by definition. Practically every senior level digital and ecommerce marketer I place these days is being hired, in varying degrees, to be a catalyst of change– or at least, that’s what they’re told coming in.  Unfortunately, many encounter unexpected and sometimes very stiff cultural headwinds.  Some organization’s talk about the need to expand their digital presence, but at the end of the day, budgets and headcount get sifted away by other, more entrenched sales and marketing stakeholders. The ability to influence a more traditional sales and marketing organization is never an easy task,  and it’s a requirement that doesn’t always appear on a senior level digital marketing or ecommerce job description. But talk with any veteran in this space, and I’m sure they’ll agree:  Introducing companies to new ways of reaching and engaging audiences, and as a consequence elevating your ideas and your standing within the organization, is not only a valuable and highly sought after skill to have, digital marketing transformation is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever accomplish as a digital marketing and ecommerce professional.