“Omne possibile exigit existere,” wrote German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz in 1686: “Everything that is possible demands to exist.” Leibniz, one of the first to describe a binary numeral system and also one of the earliest information theorists, would probably smile if he could see how much his statement rings true in today’s digitally transformed world.

Today, a futuristic “smart” version of just about anything demands to exist thanks to digital technology. From smart phones, smart homes, smart speakers and TVs or connected cars to less-common examples like smart hairbrushessmart wine bottles, or RFID-connected flip-flops: we all know there’s almost nothing that has not been “digitised” and connected in one way or the other. Companies have even started to use ai solutions to provide better service solutions, as this not just saves them a ton of money but also acts as an asset to their business.

Whether you realise it or not, you’ve probably already started your digital transformation. Here are five trends that marketers must consider as they create and market their digital offerings.

1. “Bake” digital into your entire organisation

Millennials and Generation Z are digital natives with a clear “digital-first” expectation in their products and services. I’ve noticed they expect every aspect of their digital lives to be highly customised, whether it be in the workplace as an employee or as a consumer.

Customers, employees, investors, media and analysts have learned to distinguish between companies that use digital technology only to solve discrete business problems and those who are able to reimagine their business and embrace digital change both operationally and culturally.

“Strategy, not technology, drives digital transformation,” was the title and key takeaway of a 2015 MIT Sloan Management Review research study. In 2018, this is generally common sense.

Businesses don’t need a digital component in their strategy, their overall strategy needs to be digital. Laggards that don’t clearly and credibly demonstrate the ability to reinvent themselves will not only face losing customers, but also key talent and shareholders, who will move their investments to companies that they consider more digitally mature.

2. Assume a short shelf life

Over the past two decades most businesses have been digitally transformed to some level and degree. Companies now need to get into (and maintain) a state where they constantly revisit, change, improve or kill off and replace their digital products and services in a quick and agile fashion.

And for the businesses I see in my day-to-day endeavors with Global 1,000 companies, which span a variety of vertical markets, that turns out to be exceptionally difficult. The ability to evolve digital properties is something that needs to be developed and planned for, it doesn’t just happen by itself.

Many digital transformation projects were driven using a good portion of old-school corporate goal-setting practices and treated as if the projects would end once the well-defined goal was achieved and the allocated budget was spent. As a result, many digital properties have not been architected with the concept of continuous evolution in mind, or they are being starved of resources after the initial implementation and launch.

Even with the best design and sufficient resources there can still be unexpected factors that prevent fast evolution. A technology, software design or practice that seemed state-of-the-art and futureproof a few years ago might turn out to be a bottleneck or roadblock today, making change unexpectedly expensive and difficult.

Companies simply need to plan as if any of their digital offerings will be temporary.

3. IoT is part of the digital transformation

The growth of the Internet of Things shows no sign of slowing down in 2018. Last year, GlobalWebIndex estimated that there are now 3.64 connected devices per person in the marketplace. According to Intel, there will be more than 200 billion connected devices and sensors by 2020. Given that the population is expected to grow to 7.58 billion, that’s more than 26 connected devices for every person living on Earth — more than seven times the number that exist today.

This means that the channels and touchpoints for customer engagement are becoming increasingly diverse. Companies need to prepare to support users on any type of endpoint, anywhere — not just web and mobile.

Digital properties should — or at least possess the potential to — fully support omnichannel experiences. For example, in a true omnichannel experience end users can browse an online catalogue and make a purchase on the web, on a smartphone or using a speech assistant via smart speaker; and they can start the process on either of these channels and complete the transaction later on a different one.

Which IoT properties, such as wearables or smart TVs, a company should support strongly depends on the product, market and audience. Generally, R&D departments are well advised to use development platforms and technologies that can support building software for multiple channels and avoid anything that is limited to one channel only. Extending a digital offering to a new channel should not require rewriting code from scratch.

4. GDPR makes trust a must-have

With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in effect, businesses must comply with the most consumer-centric data-handling regulation we have ever seen. It impacts any organisation that either does business within the EU itself or has a customer base or employees that include European residents, regardless of where the organisation itself or their servers are located.

GDPR gives consumers much more control and forces companies to handle their personal data in a more responsible, secure and transparent way. The rules for obtaining customer consents are stricter and narrower, and “Privacy by Design” (PbD) is now the law for systems and user experiences that handle personal data.

Yes, GDPR is a painful and expensive undertaking for many companies, and it puts limits on many of the marketing and sales tactics businesses used in the past. However, there are true long-term advantages for businesses in all of these efforts. PbD will likely reduce the likelihood of a large data breach of the likes suffered by Equifax, LinkedIn, Yahoo or Facebook (via Cambridge Analytica) in recent years. Besides, customer confidence in how businesses treat their personal data is becoming a key success factor and foundation for brand loyalty, so it shouldn’t take GDPR to get brands to raise their game when it comes to privacy.

5. AI is now accessible

Artificial Intelligence might still be in its early stages, but it has already become part of many people’s’ daily lives in the form of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. Speech recognition for these helpers can be software-enabled even for older connected devices that were not initially designed with that use case in mind. The ability to use one of the popular AI assistants as an interface for devices and applications is becoming a must-have, and companies need to make sure this is part of their digital transformation roadmap.

AI is also bolstering customer support, sales and marketing functions. Conversational chatbots have reached a maturity level that allows them to supplement or complement human service representatives, call centre workers and technical support staff. AI-enabled software offers a new level of campaign automation that includes the evaluation and scoring of leads and even handles the interaction with prospects at the early stages of the sales cycle.

Sven Dummer, lead product marketing, Janrain
Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK