Originally published in MediaPost.

Forget digital transformation…right now it’s all about digital acceleration!

We’ve all learned tough lessons over the past two months – most oriented towards our health and well-being – and the health of our businesses, too. At the core of those learnings is the impact a firm’s digital competency has on virtually every area of business, particularly marketing and customer service. The result of that impact has revealed where businesses have significant gaps in digital readiness (especially challenger brands that may be at a competitive disadvantage with digital investment and scale). Now is the time to reassess digital readiness – particularly those initiatives that make it easier for customers to do business with you.

If the world was already operating at a fast pace pre-Coronavirus (COVID-19), that speed of change has now hyper-accelerated. Businesses that once methodically looked at developing digital marketing strategies over annual phased approaches, must now develop initiatives in a fraction of that time, as in weeks, days or even hours. The good news for you – speed to market can be an advantage for challenger brands – because they can be more nimble than larger competitors.

As evidence of the immediate, almost overnight change, look no further than how swiftly organizations have migrated physical channels to online. Healthcare providers have moved rapidly into telehealth, insurers into self-service claims assessment, and retailers into contactless shopping and delivery. Suddenly we moved into a world where digital channels became the primary, sometimes only, customer-engagement method, often supported by AI tools.

If you felt your business was a step or two behind on the digital uptake pre-COVID-19, then you may want to do a check-and-balance on the following right now:

  • Are digital marketing objectives linked closely to your company’s growth opportunities?
  • Do you have a deep understanding of customer interactions with your brand/company, including mobile/social touchpoints?
  • Do you have technology that aggregates and stores customer/consumer data across all appropriate touchpoints?
  • Do you have in-house talent and/or partners available to quickly deliver best in class digital work?
  • What do you estimate the “data maturity” of your organization to be? (e.g. how difficult is it to navigate company silos and/or technology landscape to deliver the big data necessary for marketing and customer service purposes?)
  • Do you have an agile test and learn strategy?
  • Do you have a nimble process for selecting the next CMS, CRM or Marketing Cloud platform?
  • Is your executive team well versed in today’s digital landscape?

Keep in mind these are questions you hopefully were working on before the new world we are now operating in. Only now there is a special urgency to getting the right answers and quickly mobilizing around each of these areas to accelerate digital readiness. Digital innovation must also be a serious focus as businesses are looking for contactless, virtual replacements of their physical offerings, including new digital marketplaces.

Data analytics will be at the heart of so much of your ability to deliver on digital marketing strategies and excellence in customer service. How you deal with large amounts of data in a rapidly evolving landscape and make swift, accurate course corrections will drive marketing effectiveness and levels of customer satisfaction.

Steps you can take right now to accelerate digital readiness:

  1. Get answers to the questions listed above – and be prepared to move with an unprecedented sense of urgency in acting on them.
  2. Increase the speed and frequency of data reviews – you should review multiple data sources on a weekly (or more frequent) basis to evaluate the emerging needs and behaviors of your customers and prospects.
  3. Focus on customer experience including usability. Never have customers had no choice but to access products or services through digital offerings. Competitors will provide options that will expand as we move beyond the crisis. How well will your products and services perform in comparison?

A world in which so much has changed so quickly requires businesses to position themselves to access instant data insights that will shape strategies delivered through digital channels. As a challenger brand, use your agility and flexibility to move quickly in accelerating digital prowess. Acting boldly now, including instituting a test and learn marketing mindset, will provide the best chance of engaging consumers and keeping them happy. It is the only way to hope to have a competitive advantage in a hyper accelerating digital environment – that will continue to gain momentum and increase consumer expectations.

Scott Morgan is a partner and is president of independent marketing agency, Brunner, and is chairman of MAGNET, the global network of independent advertising agencies.