The digital CEO

Alex Clyne is a Scottish entrepreneur, or as he says, “a salesman”. His career has included being amongst the very first to realise (more than ten years ago) the importance of video in recruitment, which led to one of his companies (Obvious Solutions) working with the likes of Amazon, BP, HBOS, Goodrich, Microsoft and RBS before selling to Stepstone.

Following the sale of Obvious, Alex and his business partner, David Geddes, worked in the US for the chairman of Aon Consulting on a business re-alignment exercise for their HR practice. It was during this time that they identified a rapidly growing need for a different approach to digital marketing. Throughout his career Alex has been ahead of the game, and his thoughts on the importance of digital marketing and, in particular, the imperative need for the C-Suite to understand the changing dynamics of the business world are well worth reading.

Where do you see digital in the business world in the next five years?

It’s becoming an intrinsic part of everyone’s business.  The word ‘digital’ will merge into marketing so the two become virtually synonymous.  You’ll still have a theoretical approach to marketing, based on what’s taught in the universities, but the way it’s delivered will be 95% digital.

Where does IT sit in this?

In the late 1970s – and I’m sorry if this sounds like stereotyping - IT meant geeks, ponytails, etc.  In many respects, IT drove companies: you had to talk to IT to get the technology in place and then talk to them again to make it work.  Marketing didn’t respond. It stuck to the aesthetic/theoretical approach and lost its position at the boardroom table to some extent. 

Today, IT people don’t understand that the marketplace has moved on.  IT is becoming commoditised. People can buy solutions off the shelf so they don’t need IT to the same extent. Increasingly, IT will exist to maintain data and look after security, with fewer huge IT projects to look after.  IT will become squeezed into a similar place that Finance finds itself in nowadays – important but not driving sales. Put simply there is a disconnect between IT and marketing. I’m obviously speaking in generalities here – there are some IT who ‘get it’ but they are in a minority in my opinion.

Where does marketing go from here?

Based on my previous comment that marketing and digital will become synonymous, marketing will become the fulcrum around which virtually all firms use technology to engage, to sell, to buy and generally to interact with their customers.  I can almost see us going back to a sort-of 1960s Mad Men situation, where marketing will be the key driver of most businesses. Marketers will be different people from those who, over the last few decades have traditionally populated marketing departments. In effect, marketers will be ‘Digital Natives’ who understand business objectives and how they can be achieved.

Can you explain more about how digital marketing will change the way we think about our life and work?

Digital means so many things to so many people. I can give you a great example of how new thinking should work. I was in New York recently, looking over a new apartment, and there were no cupboards in the kitchen.  There were two dishwashers though: and the intention was that you moved clean/dirty cutlery/crockery between the two as required. I thought that’s cute, but it’s a good example of how businesses need to re-engineer their thinking.

However, what’s very important is how, and by whom, change is driven. It’s emphatically not about giving the Snapchat generation the keys to the executive washroom – at least not yet – but rather about educating the current crop of C-Suite executives that if they don’t learn about this stuff, and embrace the changes coming with it, then they and their firms are going to suffer.

To be continued….
James Dunne, 

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