Enabling (digital) transformation

filmNext week  I am joining a panel discussion about “Digital Transformation and Shared Economy – what family owned companies can learn from start-ups”as part of the Pioneer Festival in Vienna, a major event for future technologies and entrepreneurship.

The impact of digitalization presents unprecedented challenges for all companies – big or small.  Digitalization can not only extend the reach of organizations and improve management decisions, but most of all it can speed up the development of new products and services. But this can also mean that your traditional business model may become disrupted. Having a solid strategy for your digital transformation is therefore key.

For established companies working together with start-ups for their digital transformation can have many benefits. These range from having better access to new technologies to an increase in innovation as well as learning to be more lean and fast.

But what are the most important pre-requisites for a successful transformation? I know that there are a few but here are my top 4:

  1. The C-suite is boss
    Digitalization is a key change for any business model. But it will also mean changes in your corporate culture. Therefore it can only be successful if the transformation process is owned and backed by CEO.
  2. Startup mentality is part of your DNA
    If you want to be innovative and foster new technologies, you will need people that have an entrepreneurial mindset in your organization. And you will want to give them all the support they need. Digitalization means being hands-on, open to trial and error and being convinced of its success. And being given the space to to develop new business models will be key to get ahead in the process.
  3. Protect innovation
    Innovation, just like any change, can often fail if the organization does not embrace it. As mentioned above, it is critical that people working on digital transformation are given the (protected) space to create and develop new ideas and are able to test these in an agile manner. Give them the autonomy to go  and impact things.
  4. Truly understanding your customer
    The key word here is “customer centricity” – if you do not know who your customers are nor what they really need you will already have lost. Services and products should be developed with a focus on what the customer needs rather what the organization believes is needed. And ideally, this should be done as fast as possible to quickly meet the market demands.


But something we must not forget: digital transformation is not only driven by technology but also by humans and how they communicate this transformation.  I think the latter is often forgotten when we hear or read about digital transformation. But that is something I will focus on in my next article. Watch this space!


Time to get inspired again

It has been a busy few weeks for me with lots of travel and deadlines to meet. But now that things are finally returning back to normal  over the summer (hopefully!) it is time to get inspired again by all the great innovation going on the world – and not only from a marketer’s perspective!

New technologies are turning the financial world upside down. The WSJ recently wrote “In five years, the biggest banks in the world won’t be banks, they’ll be tech companies.” And right they are. Big tech players in the internet industry like Google, Facebook or Apple are already working on developing alternative payment systems and other innovations for the financial industry. So time for existing financial institutions to get on the wagon. Barclays is a great example of the few players who are taking this trend seriously. For instance, they recently launched “Code Playground”  a website to teaches young people about coding as part of ongoing plans to increase digital skills among its customers. Ticktock on the clock for those who are not yet looking at the disruptive forces in banking.

And of course the Apple Watch. We all know it will have a big impact on marketing and we are seeing many early brand adopters. Like publishers. The New York Times, CNN and The Economist are all making a run to offer us “wrist sized” content. And right they are – while some of us are still wondering why one needs an Apple watch, others are realizing where the web moves to so must your business.

Want to up your  “customer loyalty”? Then  take a look at Marriott’s Mobile App. They have just launched a new feature where guests can make specific requests (as far as 72 hours in advance). Anything from that additional pillow to make you sleep better to getting an extra bottle of shampoo. There’s even a two-way chat feature in case you have a very “specific” request.

Of course we should not snub tweeting potholes or Google’s fragrance emission’s device (yes it’s a wearable that can tell you when you start to smell a bit in the armpitty region) – so if you want to feel inspired as well, take a look at WeAreSocial “Curiosity Stop” for some new impulses. I really have to give them kudos for having formed an internal Innovation Team who scour the world to spot new disruptive forces and seek out the latest innovations and then put it all into this great, little report.

Leadership and Governance in Family Enterprises


I attended a very interesting summit of Turkish and German family entrepreneurs at the beginning of June in Istanbul. The conference was held at thevhistoric summer residence of the German embassador in Tarabya – a gorgeous house on the Bosporous with the most amazing gardens.

Most of the world’s best performing companies are family owned. They are job creators and drivers of growth in today’s often frazzled markets. But being a family enterprise often poses risks. Discord amongst family members, succession issues, ensuring smooth transitions amongst the generations. All these issues can make or break a family enterprise. And this is where leadership and governance come into play. They are the glue that keep family enterprises together. For generations to come. Or at least can. It is all about managing this “golden triangle” between family, management and ownership.

But how do companies manage to keep all these in balance?  Many may have so-called family constitutions, others have put some type of family shareholder governance into place. And having rules in place to govern is necessary and part of a professionally run company. But there is always something that is missing from a contract. One of the most important factors in keeping family enterprises running is to be able to pass along the common values and to keep an open dialogue amongst all family members. This needs to be installed from an early age on.

But succession planning is also just as important. Family enterprises that are looking for growth and long term continuation need to make sure there is an open path for the next generation to move up sooner rather than later. The older generation needs to give the next enough time so that there is less pressure to succeed and room for failure.   Governments are mostly only liable for 4 years. Management in big corporations only live on 5 year plans. There is no one really liable for ensuring the long term continuation. They are not invested in their undertakings. Emotionally and monetarily. And that is why family enterprises and entrepreneurship are the drivers of the future. And leadership and governance are the cornerstones that keep these enterprises on track and successful for generations to come.

This was the second time that the confererence was held and it is a great opportunity for dialogue and business opportunities and I would like to thank Alphazirkel for the wonderful organization.

It’s all about the brand

gmundLast week I attended a very interesting panel discussion about “Brands, Niche and Manufacturing”.

The discussion took place at the Buettenpapierfabrik Gmund near Tegernsee in Bavaria, a paper manufacturer of fine, hand made papers. Fun fact: they delivered the envelopes for this year’s Oscars!
Present on the panel were, among others, representatives from Gmund, liquor producer Underberg and fashion label Rena Lange. All these brands are in a niche, and they all have a very long entrepreneurial family history.

Some of these brands though only recently started to develop from family names into true brands. Many had grown up with the company and obviously the brand had become somewhat of a self-imposed responsibility. But all agreed that niche brands need to create passion, satisfaction and happiness. They have to stay true to their heritage and make their mark in the niche through quality, pricing and their uniqueness. And as history evolves so should the brand.

An important aspect was the important role customers play for niche brands. Everyone confirmed that the best strategy was to make the customer be the brand advocate. In order to do so, companies need to build up a close proximity to the customer, get to know them, their needs, their lifestyle and use it to incorporate it into the brand image. Excellent public relations was another vital point during the discussion. Good PR, as we all know, is worth more than any spending on advertising or media campaigns  The challenge of course is to keep a constant level of PR and through it  grow the value and trustworthiness of the company and its brand. But it was interesting to hear, that PR is only good when the entrepreneur, the brand owner, gets truly involved. All agreed that agencies (advertising or PR) were helpful but were never able to push the brand and live the brand as good as the company itself.

When asked about budget, and spending, the general opinion was that the most important investment  is into creating an image. Even if this is “only” less than 8% of the overall budget. The panel – much to my pleasure – siad that it was wrong to immediately expect an ROI and that one needed to be patient and consistent. Gmund’s MD Florian Kohler said that one should look at investing in brand image similarly to investing into new machinery. You know that you need it and you can write it off over the years – all the while you are actually creating an asset. And that is what building a brand is all about. It is creating an asset, if not the most important asset of your company. And if you get engaged in and with your own brand this is immediately reflected on the customer.

As a marketer a truly inspiring evening – thank you to Alphazirkel for the great organization!