On Digital Transformation

There’s lot of talk about digital transformation in recent years. Consulting companies have created new practices based on it, knowing that corporations will require guidance on how they should transform toward an increasingly digital world.

What is Digital Transformation?

To put it in plain terms, the premise of digital transformation is that traditional companies— such as Coca-Cola, Walmart, McDonald’s, GE— need to evolve in order to sustain its businesses into the future. Consumer behavior has changed, and so should companies who want to continue their success and defend their market leadership. Executives must adapt to the new norm by reaching their customers digitally. And that involves more than just creating a website.

What it entails is a complex revamp of the enterprise, implementing the right technology systems, organizing its data, and creating a flow of information that is accessible across departments— with the ultimate goal of making data-driven decisions (ie. through big data) and serve customers better (ie. through digital operations and marketing).

Where I’ve seen companies fail is when they oversimplify the process. They think being “digital” is just having a website (there’s hundreds of websites out there; these days, you don’t stand out by just having a website). Or when they think of “digital” as a concept that only resides within marketing, such as buying ad space digitally.

“Digital transformation” should be an evolution of the enterprise from all its nitty gritty corners.

Who Succeeds and Who Doesn’t?

Successful companies in the digital world succeed by any of two means: 1) they started as a digital company (Google, Facebook, Amazon), or 2) they have evolved successfully (Coca-Cola, Dominos, Target). They understood that customers are online and they transact online. Beyond that understanding, they’ve set up ways to serve these customers where they are now— online.

Companies who are struggling are those that don’t yet understand that evolution need to be systematic. It doesn’t have to all happen simultaneously, because that will cause a lot of messiness and disoriention on the culture and employees. Think about remodeling a house: you do it in phases. You don’t remodel all parts of the house at the same time or else there’s not enough space to do what it’s intended for: having a place to live. Yet while you remodel a house in phases, there’s a holistic plan that takes into account how remodeling can make the areas work together in a harmonious way.

What Successful Transformation Efforts Have

Having a plan is a more organized way to transform. Companies who evolve successfully have a consistent vision, and they have created a solid roadmap that set a structure and solid footing on which they can be successful moving toward the future. Employees are also informed by the changes they may experience, and this way they are prepped, can anticipate change, and act accordingly (ie. learn new skills).

Digital transformation should be about transforming the business into operating digitally, the brand(s) in how it communicates and engages customers, and the culture in instilling a collective vision toward succeeding in the digital future.


The Promise of Mobile Technology

It’s 2016. Have we figured out mobile yet?

Mobile has been all the rage as far as I can remember. I’m an avid mobile user, getting my first phone as a 12-year-old living in Asia. Back then, it was a convenient tool for communication, but the mobile industry has since exploded with the invention of the iPhone, creating an unprecedented number of people around the world who are now connected via mobile connectivity.

When I started working in agency land, I began to grasp how much of a game changer it has become. It is now an avenue to consume content, effectively becoming a media vehicle, and an impactful one at that – it has the ability to connect directly and personally with the consumer. The way we treat our phones is an extension of our body, and with this deeply personal relationship with a device, it opens a new wave of opportunities for content creators, brands, marketers, people to connect with each other.

As previously unconnected people adopt mobile rapidly, and as mobile users deepen their knowledge and interaction with their device– constantly updating apps and upgrading to new phones– mobile is here to stay. We’ve established that it has changed the way we communicate. But now it is also changing the way we interact with the world: it helps us locate where things, places and people are; it helps us participate with a wide network of connected users through the web; and it is changing the way we make purchases as consumers.

Mobile technology has brought about new industries and companies that didn’t exist before: mobile app startups, fintech, mobile media buying, to name a few.

What new applications of mobile phones can be discovered? What other uses of mobile phones can be uncovered?

When we think about innovation, we tend to begin our forward outlook from the most technologically advanced application to what the future could potentially bring. But we also need to be reminded of how technology looks in a different environment.

It looks very different in other contexts. For example, in emerging countries, mobile phone usage is high, but most of those who own mobile phones have feature phones and not smart phones. Smartphones are still cost-prohibitive, but this is changing as less expensive models are introduced. Not to mention the even bigger issue: there’s still a lot of people who are unconnected.

So, as professionals in highly advanced industries who think about technology innovation, we should also think about the impact of mobile technology on society as a whole–across different places and socioeconomic backgrounds– and perhaps it is not only in the most advanced places nor among the most sophisticated users can we innovate. But also nurture hope in surfacing a niche right under our noses that could potentially change lives.


The Need for Entertainment in Underprivileged Environments

I follow IDEO on Twitter, and came across a retweet they shared: a NYTimes.com article about entertainment content in developing countries. I shared this article with my Kellogg class (Understanding Media & Content), agreeing with the need for entertainment products (read: entertaining mobile content) in developing countries. Why is this important?

As the article stated, there’s a false sense of belief that entertainment content is a luxury, and people who live in poor areas don’t have a need for these. Implicit in the ability to consume entertainment content is the possession of leisure time, which we think people who are poor don’t have, since they’re mostly concerned with surviving the day-to-day. But the article argues in a concrete and relevant way that the need to be entertained is also felt by people in poor areas. They also have wants, not just single-mindedly pursuing necessities for survival. Entertainment products seem like a luxury because of the monetization models and branding tactics constructed by marketers (like me and my colleagues) around these products.

This topic about human needs reminded me of this HBR piece about meaning as a human problem, not just a “first world” or a “privileged” one. Questions of meaning, purpose and existence are asked by all kinds of people, whether rich, poor, from the developed, or developing worlds.

We have universal desires as human beings, and among these are meaning and entertainment. Along with utility and social recognition. Manfred Max-Neef, a renowned human development theorist, claims that there are a set of fundamental needs that originate from being human. These include: subsistence, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom.

Right up there is leisure. Low socioeconomic status does not eliminate this need. In fact, the search for entertainment is perhaps more prevalent in poor areas, and it could even be argued that it is a tool for survival. Entertainment is a form of escape, a way to get them acquainted with a world outside of their own. It can also spark creativity, and with that, imagination and potentially ambition, both of which could not be underestimated as a catalyst for upward mobility.

A few years ago, I wrote about how marketers can reach poor people in the developing world, particularly in rapidly developing economies in Asia (read: China). P&G has taken this seriously, employing and deploying its in-house researchers to understand the changes in that part of the world.

So P&G, here is what I found that can help inform strategies of consumer products companies like yours. In simple terms: Providing entertaining content is a key to draw consumers and mobile technology is the tool for distribution. Content is cheap to produce nowadays. You only really have to think about a mobile distribution system that encompasses basic to feature phones that is effective and efficient. Create a recipe that combines both and master this to court consumers. But, please: maintain social responsibility when pursuing consumers who have almost next to nothing. Offer them valuable products that enrich their lives, that are worth their money and time, the little of both they have. Not things they don’t need to survive. When it comes to products, there is a difference between fundamental needs, and constructed wants.


The polar vortex is upon us here in Chicago. I thought weather like this (-45 temp/-40 wind chills) only happen in places like, the artic. Being from Los Angeles, I am unfamiliar with any temperature outside the 60-80F range we’re blessed with year round. I called my mother to tell her about the weather and to lessen her worry, and she is trying to urge me to promptly transfer back to Los Angeles. I was just there for the holiday break, and it is paradise compared to where I am now.

Speaking of winter, I’m excited for my two classes this quarter. One is an IMC Law class where we will be discussing law and legal decisions relating to communications, and another is a Kellogg class on Media and Content where we will explore media content production and distribution (as well as business models).

I think these will be very useful classes and the knowledge I will gain will definitely help me become a marketing professional who is aware of legal implications in communication both in regulated and unregulated markets, along with trends and innovative methods to distribute media. Perhaps this will finally help me flesh out my plans for social impact? Maybe it’s through media all along that I will finally reach that dream for global/community development. We’ll see!

Hatching Twitter – First Take

Upon learning that Nick Bilton’s book, “Hatching Twitter,” is an assigned reading for my Media & Content class at Kellogg next week, I thought I’d do some advanced reading and read the entire book over the weekend before the first week of class.

I thought it was going to be just another book written like a biography or a historical account of the company, similar to books like “The Lords of Strategy,” a take on McKinsey’s history as the venerable American consulting firm, or “Snowball,” the biography of Warren Buffet that recounted his life since up to his position today as one of the richest people of the world, if not the preeminent one.

Wrong I was. This book is not like the books I mentioned above; it is written like a creative nonfiction book, or a postmodern fiction. Nick Bilton writes in the first chapter the research he undertook to birth this book: hundreds of hours of recorded interviews among the people involved in establishing the company, government officials, current and past employees, friends, employees of competing companies, etc; thousands of documents that include emails, investment filings, boardroom communication, legal notices, and of course, tweets.

Nick Bilton is a master of collecting various sources of information and threading them together to form a historical account of the history of the company that is closer to objectivity.

Much more than a book about the history of the company, it ponders the philosophical questions that many of us may have asked in critical thinking classes in college: is there such a thing as an objective truth? Is this act of piecing together information enough to explain reality? Do we put more weight on empirical evidence versus personal interpretations of events, or abstract principles? Is “subjective truth” our own individual definitions of truth, all there is, and there is no such thing as a universal truth? Furthermore, to take a step outside the book itself, is Nick Bilton a good interpreter of reality? Is an outsider a better author of Twitter’s history?

For the postmodernist in me, this book is a joy to read!