Strengthening digital DNA

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Craig DeLarge
Craig DeLarge

Recently a colleague asked me about how we can accelerate our industry's digital DNA. What is meant by “digital DNA” is our ability to cultivate top-down leadership and support which facilitates digital execution, and chiefly when it comes to cross-functional collaboration and managing regulatory risk.

I think that this cultivation of digital DNA is an inevitability, as we cannot forever resist this societal tide. As the science fiction writer William Gibson has been quoted as saying, “The future is already here—it's just not evenly distributed.” If we pause in the midst of our impatience about a future too slowly emerging, I think we will see that we have come a good ways in this cultivation. Indeed, patient persistence gets all things done.

I like to encourage those of us who are “digital change agents” to persist in: 1) being influential “customer storytellers,” 2) “business case (story) deliverers” and 3) “savvy, open negotiators, collaborators and village builders.” I have found that these three elements have been critical in my work as a digital DNA cultivator. I discuss these themes in my 2008 “Rules of New Media Adoption.”

The first of these points gets at the idea that we can always get better at articulating how digital is impacting the health of customers where we know that this external environment is always developing at an order-of-magnitude faster pace than our internal understanding.

We do a good job of expressing the statistics around these trends—good for the head—but often neglect to dimensionalize those statistics with stories of real customers so that we also move the hearts of decision makers and influencers in our organizations.

I hear the skeptics even as I write this ­saying, “It does not work,” and my retort is that we should not expect admission but know that to be human is to be susceptible to relevant stories. It is what makes the world go 'round.

The second point is about remembering that, as much as we may believe in digital and want others to come along faster, where there is no strongly “believed-in” business case there won't be strong investment either. As such, we can always improve the quality and volume of our business cases (stories).

And yes, I hear those who say it is unfair that we have to say it more often than those who pitch proposals for content and channels we have more ­traditionally used as an industry. But you know how it is…the ­cosmos is unfair. Remember, patient persistence gets all things done.

The third point is absolutely critical to gathering the “village that raises the digital child” in our organizations. This leadership behavior is the way by which we can best enroll our management, risk management partners and other colleagues, especially if they are detractors (who are there to protect us from our exuberant folly). I have found that we move forward faster or feel relatively better when we cultivate such villages.

So as I said, a cultivated “digital DNA” is largely inevitable; the question is how can we continue to show up in ways that accelerate this cultivation for our respective organizations. I hope these thoughts help you with your organization's ongoing digital DNA cultivation project.


Craig DeLarge is global leader, multi-­channel marketing strategy & innovation, Merck.
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