Know Who You Are: 'HBR' Authors Say You Just Can't Digitize Your Business And Think You're Done

The world is awash in studies about brands achieving digital transformation. But an article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that this is a premature conversation. The title says it all: “Digitizing Isn’t The Same As Digital Transformation.” 

The authors, Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani, argue that the “accelerated wave of digital initiatives must not be confused with the real business transformation needed for success in the digital age.”

In other words, it’s not enough just to scale up your email marketing and web tech to support increased online shopping in the wake of COVID-19. 

Rather, brands need to “step back and fundamentally reconceive how they create value,” the authors write. “They need to reimagine their place in the world, rethink how they create value through ecosystems, and transform their organizations to enable new models of value creation.”



That requires more than simply parsing email open and click-through rates.

Who’s doing it right? The authors offer these examples:

Philips has transformed from a “multi-industry, manufacturing-centric conglomerate to a company focused on health technology services and solutions.”

Komatsu has been “evolving from selling construction equipment to becoming a leader in digitally enabled smart construction solutions.”

Microsoft has “reinvented its legacy organization, shifting from a focus on pushing products into the mass market, to client solution-oriented teams charged with bringing together the many cross-functional skills needed to tailor services to specific customer needs.”

Most companies have probably not achieved that kind of redefinition, nor is it the first thing on their agendas (who has the time?). A recent study by Criteo found brands are focused these priorities, most of them tactical: 

  • Acquiring new customers — 49%
  • Retaining content customers — 47%
  • Expanding into new offerings—45%
  • Reduce operational costs — 40% 
  • Transforming our business models — 38%
  • Building brand value that connects with customer — 37%
  • Forming new partnership — 35%
  • Improving ROI — 34%

Luncheon speakers still talk about the horse-and-buggy maker who thought he could compete with the automobile by making better buggies when he should have realized he was in the transportation business and started making cars.

What should you do? It’s simple, really. The authors offer these three suggestions:

  • “Reimagine your place in the world, instead of focusing on digitizing what you already do.:
  • “Create value through ecosystems, rather than trying to do it all alone. 
  • “Re-imagine your organization to enable a new model of value creation, rather than asking people to work in new ways within the confines of the old organizational model.”
The HBR article can be accessed here.
3 comments about "Know Who You Are: 'HBR' Authors Say You Just Can't Digitize Your Business And Think You're Done".
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  1. Michael McMahon from ROI Factory, March 26, 2021 at 7:20 p.m.

    The link to the HBR article,, seems to be broken.

    Thank you.

  2. Michael McMahon from ROI Factory replied, March 26, 2021 at 7:25 p.m. works.

  3. Ray Schultz from MediaPost, March 26, 2021 at 8 p.m.

    Michael, I fixed the link. Thanks!

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