For companies of all sizes today, digital transformation is not optional. We like how a recent report from IDC says it:

We have now entered the era of the digital business, where transformation must be part of enterprise DNA.

What’s more, we’re no longer operating in a time where digital transformation to survive—or in other words to be mediocre—will work. We’re in a time where organizations must continually transform to thrive, i.e. be the best in their area. More simply put, it’s a time where companies must transform to thrive or die. The prediction that IMD and Cisco made in the first ever Digital Vortex Report back in 2015 is coming true. Nearly half of the top 10 incumbents of every industry are being displaced. (To see how industries rank in their pace of disruption, don’t miss the latest edition of the report.)

Related: 4 Characteristics of Modern Digital Transformation–and Content Implications 

So, many organizations are prioritizing digital transformation, which now typically includes artificial intelligence (AI). IDC predicts that, worldwide, spending on digital transformation will reach $3.9 trillion by 2027. Yet, the vast majority of companies are failing. One recent study found about 70% of digital transformations fail to meet goals or objectives. 

What is going on? We recognize there are many factors in digital transformation success, but one  that isn’t discussed nearly enough is content. We see a company’s misguided or absent approach to content delay or derail its digital transformation on the regular.

So, if you’re a leader determined to make digital transformation succeed and your organization thrive, this article is for you. Specifically, this article helps you better recognize content as a major cause of digital transformation problems so you can lead your team into better solutions faster. How? By explaining the role content plays in five problems—and potential solutions.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to End-to-End Content

Digital Transformation Problem 1: Vision Omission 

Yogi Bera once humorously said that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else. The Content Science team and I find that if the vision for digital transformation is off the mark, the effort will be more likely to fall short of success.

What This Digital Transformation Problem Is

A vision is a description or picture of the future state. If that description or picture is incomplete, not ambitious enough, or completely missing for digital transformation, it’s impossible to achieve success.

I find that, especially at large organizations, even though a digital transformation effort might start with good intentions, as the difficulties with the effort become evident, the scope and objectives scale back to only incremental improvements. There often isn’t an ambitious and comprehensive vision that both inspires courage in the face of difficulty and covers everything needed to succeed.

Additionally, there is plenty of “innovation washing,” where a basic effort to catch up or reach parity is framed as digital transformation. For example, if a retailer today does not offer ecommerce and frames launching ecommerce as a vision for digital transformation, that is innovation washing. The retailer is simply catching up to what is standard now, not transforming for the future of retail and ecommerce.

Why This Digital Transformation Problem Matters

The investment enterprises make in digital transformation is large, averaging $27.5 million per effort. And the stakes are high, as noted earlier. A failed digital transformation often means a weakened and soon-to-fail organization. So, the vision should reflect that level of investment and importance.

When the vision falls short and the digital transformation fails, companies not only waste that $27.5 million budget but also

  • Miss out on the projected impact of the transformation on increasing future revenue.
  • Experience opportunity cost, where the money and resources used on the failed effort could have been spent on a more successful effort.
  • Suffer unexpected losses due to mistakes or delays in the implementation, such as not being able to process sales or ship orders.
  • Hemorrhage top talent or struggle to recruit top talent.
  • Squander investor confidence.

Companies and organizations ranging from Revlon, Target, and Hershey’s to have experienced these kinds of losses very publicly. For instance, when Revlon migrated to a new ordering and fulfillment system in 2018, the company experienced a range of problems attributed to poor planning. Instead of fulfilling orders with more speed and efficiency, the cosmetics conglomerate couldn’t fulfill orders at all. The botched transformation led to a loss of $64 million in sales, a significant increase in operating costs, a 6.9% plunge in stock price, and lawsuits from angered investors. 

So to avoid such a painful mistake, let’s take a closer look at the role of content in digital transformation vision.

Content As the Cause and Solution

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

When business is digital, content is critical.

Content is the substance of digital experiences, so it deserves prioritization in digital transformation, starting with the vision. If content is left out of the digital transformation vision, chances are it will become an afterthought in the digital transformation strategy and implementation. 

Related: The Content Advantage: The Science of Succeeding at Digital Business Through Effective Content

When content is omitted from the vision, the organization will suffer through a series of problems popping up, like a nightmare game of Whac-a-Mole. The rest of this article describes many such problems. And if the digital transformation involves marketing functions, then you can count on martech problems like we describe here.

Where is the evidence, you ask? We have studied the role of vision in content maturity and success since 2015. If you have seen me jump around and yell about content vision, that’s because our data show content vision is the number one factor in content success. In study after study after study, our research shows a strong correlation between defining a clear content vision and achieving success. 

100% of organizations that report extreme success also have a content vision.

Ben Quigley, senior director of pro experiences at The Home Depot, explains the value of vision well in our most recent
What Makes Content Operations Successful? Report.

Content is critical to an impactful experience, so a simple content vision can help all of the teams involved in creating, delivering, promoting and / or governing content stay aligned during the complexity of execution.

Related: Content Vision: Defining Your North Star Webinar Recording

Let’s turn to a second, closely related digital transformation problem that’s really a content problem.

Digital Transformation Problem 2: Casual Commitment

Success in anything demands long-term commitment, and it’s no different for digital transformation.

What This Digital Transformation Problem Is

This problem is essentially talking a good game about digital transformation as a priority but not backing it up with a comprehensive strategy and implementation—or budget to match. This problem also is about managing expectations during digital transformation. Without a clear direction and roadmap that includes what outcomes and results will happen when, leaders will look for a return on investment right away. When that doesn’t happen, their commitment will waver.

Why This Digital Transformation Problem Matters

Of course, all of the reasons mentioned for problem 1 apply here. Let’s add two more reasons.

Successful Digital Transformation Really Does Pay Off

If digital transformation is so difficult and requires such a large investment for the long term, is it really worth it? Research shows more and more that companies approaching digital transformation the right way are seeing exponential impact. For instance, one study found strong correlations between advanced digital transformation and higher shareholder returns, better return on ROTE, more customers, and lower operation costs. 

This example serves as a nice microcosm for what’s happening. A bank completed a digital transformation effort including revamping its approach to loans.

Only 18 months after the initial launch, the approval process was shortened from 28 to 7 days. This leap allowed the bank to become a leading secured lending originator and increase originations by 35%, while reducing origination cost by 20%.

The bank’s long term commitment to the transformation led to significantly more business AND reduced operation costs at the same time. Achieving both simultaneously is far from easy, which leads us to a second reason this problem matters.

Quitting Too Early Costs More Than You Think

If the bank had pulled the plug just before or after launching, it would have lost more than the cost of the digital transformation and its expected benefits. The bank also would have lost the data and lessons learned from what made the effort succeed. Those data and insights are arguably as valuable as the initial results because they enable

  • Further optimizing the launched digital transformation (in this case, the loan approach) to achieve even better results.
  • Applying or reusing the data and lessons learned to digital transformation of another service or offering.

So, let’s take a closer look at the role content plays in the commitment problem.

Content As the Cause and Solution

If an organization does not factor content into its digital transformation commitment, then chances are the budget will not cover the right level of content strategy and implementation. This lack of commitment creates gaps or hacks in three related content systems, which we discussed in our State of Content webinar:

  • Content experience strategy and operations, which address the full customer journey across all touch points.
  • Content lifecycle strategy and operations, which address the soup-to-nuts of content planning, modeling, creation, engineering, and maintenance.
  • Content intelligence strategy and operations, which address collecting, analyzing, reporting, and acting on content data.
Related: State of Content 2024 Webinar Recording

In each of these areas, many gaps or hacks can occur that undermine digital transformation and accumulate content debt. We’ll talk about some content experience gaps in problem 3, so here let’s look at gaps in the other areas. 

When it comes to content lifecycle, gaps in content modeling and engineering can lead to big problems with personalizing the customer experience. For example, Atlassian recognized such a problem for the customer administrators of their software products. John Collins explains how they solved the problem by closing gaps in release notes, both the structure and process behind them, in this excellent case study.

When it comes to both content lifecycle and content intelligence, gaps in content structure and data collection can lead to problems with optimizing content for many performance issues, including search visibility. In this article, I share how we worked with a large home improvement retailer to close such gaps with their DIY content. The result was not only 5 times greater search visibility but also a 753% increase in attributed revenue.

Besides not covering such gaps, the shortsighted budget does not account for bringing in the appropriate specialized content professionals at the right points in the digital transformation effort. Addressing content reuse opportunities, for example, is best handled by a content engineer. As another example, establishing content intelligence requires a content-focused analyst.

If an organization embraces an end-to-end content approach with the right professionals trained in advanced practices, the impact on digital transformation is not simply avoiding failure but also exceeding the expected results. Techniques such as reuse and structuring patterns provide repeatable value, meaning you establish them once and experience the cost savings or revenue increase repeatedly. And techniques such as optimization usually provide compounding value, meaning the benefits actually increase over time, as we saw with the home improvement retailer.

Related: CS Squad Overview

So, without a deep and long commitment, your digital transformation likely will not address content appropriately, which introduces risks of failures and missed opportunities to maximize its results. Let’s focus now on a third digital transformation problem with strong content ties.

Digital Transformation Problem 3: Silo Syndrome

If different departments or teams at your company aren’t aligned from start to launch and beyond, then your digital transformation is at risk.

What This Digital Transformation Problem Is

Silo syndrome is when an organization operates in isolated departments or teams with little productive collaboration and communication. The company comes across to outside partners and even customers as the right “hand” does not know what the left “hand” is doing. While this lack of alignment can have an impact on any effort, it’s particularly devastating to digital transformation. 

Related: 5 Signs It’s Time to Change Your CMS

Why This Digital Transformation Problem Matters

If a company or organization treats digital transformation as simply an IT project or can’t get multiple departments to work together, making change happen will be difficult, if not impossible. Multiple large-scale surveys have identified resistance to change as a top challenge or reason for digital transformation failure. Additionally, such surveys have identified one factor in success is having the CEO, not the CIO or CTO, lead digital transformation.

Of course, this problem leads to the kinds of losses described in problem 1. It also contributes to a change-resistant culture that is essentially a death sentence for a modern organization. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said:

[A person] who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. 

Silo syndrome is a long-time challenge in content, so let’s take a closer look at some lessons learned that can aid digital transformation.

Content As the Cause and Solution

Our ongoing research into content operations has identified silos and the related problems, such as red tape and poor communication, as a consistent top challenge.

75% of enterprises report lack of communication between silos as a top content challenge.

The good news is we know more now than ever about how to overcome silo syndrome, and these techniques can work not only for content but also for digital transformation. One practice is to set up a center of content excellence to align different departments and teams around content governance, education, and technology.

Related: Planning a Center of Content Excellence Webinar Recording

Another practice is to define and work from a customer journey map. Recent research indicates that nearly 40% of companies making progress in digital transformation have mapped an end-to-end customer journey and actively use it across teams or departments to improve customer experience. Because content is the substance of the customer journey, content across all departments or teams must work together to support it. We like how Steven Pritt of Thomson Reuters puts it in our content operations report:

There is no doubt that content plays a crucial role in marketing, but lines are getting grayer where marketing begins and ends. Smart marketing teams will look beyond just marketing and partner with teams responsible for the customer experience (CX). Content must be interwoven in Marketing and CX, and it must all work together.

Related: User Journeys Course with CSA

Now let’s consider another problem with executing digital transformation.

Digital Transformation Problem 4: Lift + Shift Migration

Data and content migration can wreak havoc on digital transformation aspirations.

What This Digital Transformation Problem Is

Let’s refresh on definitions. The Content Science team and I define content migration this way:

Content migration is the process of moving content from one system to another. Steps should include assessing, preparing, migrating, and testing.

Data migration is a similar approach applied to data

Migration might sound straightforward, but for most large companies and organizations with thousands or hundreds of thousands of assets, it’s a complicated proposition. The lift and shift migration problem, specifically, is trying to skip steps such as assessing and preparing the content or the data. Without those steps, it’s impossible to know…

  • How many assets to migrate and, consequently, plan an appropriate timeline or staffing.
  • Whether the content and / or data will fit the new system(s) well or be more like fitting square pegs in round holes.

If the organization has lacked content governance and accumulated extensive content debt or unclean data, then lift and shift migration becomes a particularly messy problem full of unhappy surprises.

And if your new system involves artificial intelligence, lifting and shifting content to train your organization’s AI risks training it on outdated elements such as incorrect facts, old (and potentially biased) voice or style, unoptimized structure, and conflicting messages.

Related: Artificial Intelligence + Content: Understanding the Potential + the Pitfalls

Why This Digital Transformation Problem Matters

Problems with content or data migration slow digital transformation. Consequently, the cost of implementing the digital transformation rises and the time to experience ROI increases. A slow or failed such migration is a leading cause for digital transformations going over budget, with Gartner predicting 60% of relevant leaders will encounter cost overruns through 2024.

Content As the Cause and Solution

The fact content plays an important role in a data and content migration might sound obvious. We’re emphasizing the point because most companies treat such migration as an IT issue, not a content issue. That approach, limited by an IT-only perspective, increases the risk that a content migration will fail or not achieve all it’s intended to achieve.

The top action your company can take to ensure content migration succeeds is to audit the content in your digital ecosystem first, then address problems or opportunities in light of your digital transformation vision and strategy. A recent study found that 61% of companies that report content success run audits at least twice each year. The Content Science team and I have conducted hundreds of audits for a variety of companies and organizations, and the response has never been, “I regret conducting the content audit.” Not a single time. The reason is the content audit yields facts about the current state of content. Something that the organization did not already know about their content assets always comes to light.

Similarly, our research finds the successful actively address content debt. Chris Hester of UL Solutions explains it well in What Makes Content Operations Successful?.

If you can start managing your content debt — remove content you don’t need anymore, manage the size of your images, start managing your page weight — you can start laying the groundwork for more sustainable content practices.

Related: Content Auditing Course with CSA

And our experience with generative AI over many years has me convinced that this innovative technology is only as good as the content it’s trained on. That means highly detailed content standards and governance, such as a center of content excellence mentioned for problem 3, also help prevent this problem. Alli Mooney, vice president of content design at Mastercard, generously shared wise perspective on this issue when commenting on her team’s plans for this year:

To date, many content teams rely on “style guides,” a format borrowed from Marketing and Editorial writing. But this guidance is limited. For one, it lives apart from the design systems that other designers rely on. Words are an integral part of an experience; they need to complement visuals and interactions. 

Then, there’s the shift towards “atomic content” which relies on small, reusable elements. This means that guidelines need to go beyond grammar and voice and evolve into patterns, strings, and components. 

Now let’s turn to our fifth digital transformation problem.

Digital Transformation Problem 5: Forgetting Customer Success

If your organization doesn’t bring your customers along in the digital transformation, the transformation is all for naught.

What This Digital Transformation Problem Is

The Content Science team and I define customer success this way:

Customer success is empowering customers to achieve their goals related to a company’s product or service. Typically, this empowerment involves enhancing the customer experience with timely assistance, tips, guides, notifications, best practices, and even consultation or training focused on helping customers get the most value from the product or service.

While customer success is related to sales, customer service, or support, it’s distinguished by laser focus on the customer’s point of view. Consider the difference between documenting how to use a feature and providing tips to use the maximize the feature based on what other similar customers have done to achieve results. 

For digital transformation, the problem is failing to empower customers throughout the transformation process.

Why This Digital Transformation Problem Matters

Even if your company’s digital transformation seems focused mostly on internal operations, it will ultimately have an impact on customers. In the Revlon failure mentioned earlier, the digital transformation for processing orders launched without first testing it with customers—or really having much communication at all with customers. Testing would have revealed problems before the full launch, and communication would have made any launch problems less shocking and more efficient to address. 

Even if a digital transformation launch is free of technical glitches like Revlon’s, a company without a customer success focus could find itself with a launch that customers do not adopt. If customers do not embrace your digital transformation, it might as well not have happened. We have seen this phenomenon many times, such as making the transition 

  • From print / in-person to digital.
  • From desktop software to web / cloud software.
  • From mostly manual content creation to generative AI / automated content creation.

The risks and costs are similar to those mentioned in problems 1 and 3. Another risk is becoming stuck in limbo between the old and new systems, or a type of digital transformation purgatory. Stephanie Woerner, director of the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) and author of Future Ready, describes an example in financial services:

Digital banks are very exciting, but if you haven’t figured out how to get your customers to use this new bank, you’re stuck with two business units doing the same thing.

The goal for digital transformation, of course, is more efficient operations that delight customers, not duplicate operations that frustrate them.

So, the most successful digital transformations factor in the customer perspective from the beginning. 

Related: 50 Crucial Content Facts to Make Your Content Make a Difference

Content As the Cause and Solution

Content is the substance of the customer experience and, therefore, of customer success. So, defining and using a customer journey map, as we discussed with problem 3, will go a long way to addressing this problem, too. For example, we worked with a large technology company in its transformation from a hardware company to a cloud-based services company. When we defined a customer journey for the cloud-based service and collaborated with stakeholders in different business units, we realized that the new customer journey was very different from the old one, so ongoing customer success was a significant gap to fill. 

Additionally, customer success content should be part of the digital transformation budget, strategy, and implementation. Continuing with the large technology company example, we identified a range of questions customers likely would have, tasks they would need to complete, changes they would need to expect, and much more to drive customer success content. We also thought through the content lifecycle, as discussed in problem 3, and modeled when and where to offer customer success content. For example, rather than drive customers to dense manuals of product documentation, we recommended bringing useful guidance, instruction, and tips to the customer while using the service. And rather than bury API documentation for customers’ engineers in manuals, we recommended making that a separate experience with features like ease of finding and copying code.

For your situation, the exact customer success content needs might be different, but planning for such needs will make your organization more likely to succeed.

Related: 5 Signs Your Customer Experience Problem Is Really a Content Problem

We have covered much ground in this article, so let’s summarize the key takeaways.

Addressing Content in Digital Transformation Problems
Problem + Supporting FactRole of Content
1. Vision Omission
A partial or unambitious vision puts the digital transformation off course.

Enterprises spend an average of $27.5 million on digital transformation.

  • Risks an incomplete strategy that leads to problematic implementation if omitted from the vision.

  • Is proven to be more likely to succeed when a vision is defined.

2. Casual Commitment
Digital transformation lacks a long-term plan and budget, so it becomes lip service instead of impactful change.

Successful digital transformation correlates with significantly higher shareholder returns due to more revenue and lower costs within 1-2 years.

  • Creates gaps and debt due to lack of end-to-end content systems and short-term hacks.

  • Can provide repeatable value and compounding value with advanced content practices such as reuse and structural optimization.

3. Silo Syndrome
Different groups, teams, units, or practices within an organization either do not align at all or don’t maintain alignment during and after digital transformation.

A change-resistant culture is a top reason digital transformation fails.

  • Requires alignment across the organization for the entire customer journey (i.e. end-to-end approach).

  • Benefits from a center of content excellence including governance and education / training.

4. Lift + Shift Migration
A digital transformation effort tries to move data and / or content from one system to another as is.

60% of leaders involved in migration will experience cost overruns.

  • Slows or hampers migration efforts when content is not audited beforehand.

  • Requires a content-centered perspective, not just an IT perspective, when migrating to a new system.

5. Forgetting Customer Success
Failure to bring customers along in the transformation through upgrading user experience, clear communications, and useful assistance or training.

37% of companies have mapped a digital customer journey and are actively using it to enhance CX.

  • Is the substance of customer success and, therefore, makes or breaks customer success.

  • Must be part of the budget, strategy, and implementation.

    The Promise of an End-to-End Content Approach for Digital Transformation

    Content is the difference between your digital transformation launching successfully or failing miserably. This article has outlined five crucial digital transformation problems that are largely content problems. The sooner your organization recognizes the role of content in these problems, the sooner you can make content part of the solution—and the sooner you can realize a return on your digital transformation investment.

    Related: 20 Signs of a Content Problem in a High-Stakes Initiative

    We find that these digital transformation problems are related. So, if your company is experiencing more than one—or even all five—you’re not alone. And you might be overwhelmed with how to address content. Rather than try to improvise a quick content fix to each problem, consider a comprehensive, end-to-end content approach. Learn more about why and how to start an end-to-end content initiative from The Ultimate Guide to End-to-End Content.

    The Authors

    Colleen Jones is the author of the top-rated book The Content Advantage and president of Content Science, a growing professional services firm that turns content insight into impact. She has advised or trained hundreds of leading companies and organizations as they close the content gap in their digital transformations. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications and training through Content Science Academy.

    A member of Mensa and crusader against misinformation, Colleen has earned recognition as a top instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing, and a Content Change Agent by Intercom Magazine. She speaks about content issues in artificial intelligence, digital transformation, and customer experience at corporate and industry events around the world.

    Follow Colleen on LinkedIn.

    Content Science partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

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