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Champions of change: CMOs need a maverick spirit to drive digital transformation

"It is not sufficient to delegate digital to a single area within the organisation – businesses need to reimagine and reconfigure their entire operation to succeed in a digital age.”


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PA Consulting Group leads a discussion on digital transformation and the future of digital business at an exclusive roundtable dinner for an executive audience of CMOs. 

To find out more about our programme of events for business leaders, contact us now.

PA’s Rob Mettler, digital business expert, opened the discussion by describing the current landscape and raising some of the challenges that digital transformation is presenting for CMOs:

“Digital business has blurred the boundary between the organisation and the customer. Connected products and social media enable customers to give real-time feedback on products and services, and this places them inside the innovation cycle. While this can be an incredible opportunity for businesses to develop and grow, new skills and new approaches are necessary to manage this data and transform it into revenue. It is not sufficient to delegate digital to a single area within the organisation – businesses need to reimagine and reconfigure their entire operation to succeed in a digital age.”

During the discussion, the CMO audience debated four key aspects of digital business transformation: the mind set required for successful digital transformation, the role of digital champions, digital innovation's capacity to disrupt existing business models, and the need to develop business models that balance the physical and digital aspects of business.

Digital transformation and the maverick spirit

Digital innovation is transforming how products and services are developed and delivered. Online services, social media, smart devices and dynamic payment each offer the potential to tap revenue streams. To profit, businesses must be willing to adopt an innovative and experimental mind-set, radically change how they operate and fully embrace digital transformation.

For instance, access to real-time customer feedback can create a dynamic product innovation cycle in which customers actively shape the development of a product. This represents enormous opportunities for sectors such as pharma and FMCG, but also requires investment in new skill-sets to effectively manage and analyse the insights offered by this data and transform it into actionable initiatives.

CMOs as internal ‘digital champions’

At board level, organisations are often afraid of taking the leap into digital business and engaging in an open dialogue with customers. Frequently, this is due to a lack of understanding of new digital technology or a dogmatic faith in the traditional business model.

It is clear that digital business can’t simply be delegated to a few individuals inside the organisation. Senior management must lead the digital transformation, providing the necessary resource and investment and ensuring that all levels of the company understand and are behind the changes.

Lionel Barber (editor of the FT) demonstrated this leadership in a recent all-staff email: “We are moving from a news business to a networked business... It would be reckless for us to stand still... This is not the moment to falter.” John Lewis is another example of a company that has taken the cultural leap into digital; the retailer is to axe 325 department managers across its stores as it looks to focus more of its sales growth online.

CMOs can play a key role in this cultural change by acting as ‘digital champions’ creating the impetus for digital transformation, educating stakeholders within the organisation and embodying the maverick spirit that’s required for the business to successfully enter the digital arena. 

Using digital innovation to disrupt the existing landscape

It is not sufficient for organisations to simply replicate their existing business models for digital – as the fate of HMV and Blockbuster has demonstrated. Businesses must have the confidence to reconfigure and reimagine how they operate in order to ‘disrupt’ the market and create or steal new revenue streams. A strong example of successful and disruptive digital innovation is the way that Apple has revolutionised how music is delivered and consumed with iTunes. Many high-street banks have also undergone digital transformation, now delivering the majority of their services online, with ‘contactless’ payment just around the corner. 

Balancing digital innovation with the human element

While customers are increasingly ‘choosing digital’ for services such as personal finance and shopping, many still want face-to-face interaction when making bigger purchases – for example securing a mortgage. Some businesses are looking at innovative new ways to satisfy this need remotely – for instance Skype meetings at the customer’s request.  John Lewis has also successfully married its digital business with its high street stores by offering a ‘pay and collect’ service, a move that has contributed to significantly increased sales. 

To grow, digital businesses must find innovative ways to bring the human element and ‘physical space’ into their business model, in a way that best suits their customers’ needs.

To find out how PA can help your business capitalise on digital innovation, contact us now.

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