Ashley Friedlein: The ‘digital revolution’ is real and these 12 works are its manifesto

The debate about ‘digital’ tends to deny its existence as a distinct business discipline, but there is a substantial body of work to demonstrate the revolutionary thinking that makes it unique.

Ashley_Freidlein_breaker

The great debate about ‘digital’ rumbles on. On one side, we hear that digital is everything and everything is digital, so it is now a meaningless term, but this week I am coming out fighting for the other side because digital is a force that deserves distinction. As it is the holiday season, I will make the case through the articles, papers, books or content that inspired me and fuelled my passion for digital as something new, something different.

Four areas where digital feels distinctive are in its ability to disrupt business models; its emphasis on data and technology as sources of competitive advantage; its focus on the customer experience; and a culture and operating model with distinctive and new ways of working.

I have categorised my choices around those four key themes. This is not an exhaustive list but is a selection of the best thinking in the digital canon over the years that emphasise why digital is different.

Digital strategy and business models

It was the internet and digital that led to the customer being in control and placed the focus on customer-centricity as the necessary source of competitive advantage that we now hear so much about in business strategy.

Another topic that continues to top the digital trends list is personalisation, perhaps because it is a unique blend of data, customer experience and customer-centric thinking.

In 1999, three books were published that heralded this new era of customer power and talked about personalisation, privacy and conversational marketing in ways we have yet to master.

If you haven’t already done so and need some digital and marketing inspiration, read: The Cluetrain Manifesto by David Weinberger, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke and Doc Searls; Permission Marketing by Seth Godin; and Enterprise One to One by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. 

For a shorter read on digital strategic thinking from 2013, take a look at the Tate Digital Strategy 2013–15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything. This is fascinating, partly because it is so rare to see an internal digital strategy that has been open-sourced in this way. Given this is from three years ago, the conclusion is impressive and still progressive: “Digital used to be the concern of one department at Tate but will soon permeate all areas of work in the museum. This transition will require the right level of resourcing, leadership and engagement from across the organisation.”

For digital culture and organisational design

The online presentations on the Netflix culture, posted by Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, and Spotify’s engineering culture, posted by tech developer Henrik Kniberg, are must-reads for anyone seeking to understand what digital culture and organisational thinking look like.

Aaron Dignan’s article entitled ‘The operating model that is eating the world‘ proposes a new set of five Ps – purpose, process, people, product and platform – which give a framework for how organisations should think and work in a digital age.

For digital experiences and design

The UK Government Digital Service was pioneering and enlightened when it published its design principles, and many organisations could still benefit from creating something similar for themselves today.

Meanwhile, Fjord (now part of Accenture) described ‘the era of living services‘ in a 2015 report, which in my view is one of the best and most cogent articulations of the next wave of digital services and experiences that is underway.

For data and technology

In 2000, Jim Sterne and Matt Cutler co-authored ‘E-metrics – business metrics for the new economy’. Technology may have progressed a lot since then but the thinking behind it is remarkably accurate even now. It was this paper that inspired my early interest in digital analytics and the power of data-driven marketing.

Scott Brinker is my preferred writer on marketing technology (martech), including his infamous martech landscape diagrams charting the industry’s constituent companies, and now his book Hacking Marketing, which describes how tech and marketing can learn from
each other.

When we look back at the decades we are currently living through, I think it will be justifiable to talk of this period as the digital revolution, on par with the industrial revolution, with long term consequences for society, business and marketing.

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