It’s a term that contains two words with much more than four letters, but you would be forgiven if you feel some executives are starting to say “digital transformation” as though they were cursing. 

For marketers, who know all about how to use language in specific ways to create an impact, digital transformation might seem even more of a buzzword. 

After all, marketing teams were among the first in many organizations to embrace digital tools to build brand awareness, drive demand for products and services and engage a community of their biggest fans. 

The fact that many brands now rely on their digital presence — such as a web site, mobile apps, social media and online ads — means their focus on this area isn’t about to slow down anytime soon. 

In fact, a recent report form market research firm Frost & Sullivan found that more than two-thirds of 1,600 execs surveyed said marketing and sales teams will feel the greatest impact of digital transformation. 

This isn’t just a matter of figuring out whether your brand should be on TikTok. Marketers need to recognize that that true digital transformation will mean confronting some unfinished business — opportunities and challenges they might not have paid much attention to until now. For starters:  

1. The Proliferation Of Consumer Touchpoints Has Only Begun

While this year marks a decade since Apple unveiled the first iPod, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that tablets had been available in the market, off and on, for at least 10 years prior. 

The iPad’s introduction showed how quickly an entire market could upon up around a particular device category, where marketers would have to adapt. 

Keep this in mind before dismissing technologies that have long held promise but may have yet to fully deliver. 

Examples include virtual reality, augmented reality and of course, the Internet of Things (IoT). Speakers and other “smart home” devices will unleash a flood of new ways for brands to interact with consumers. 

This, in turn, will drive a need to approach creative differently (and by tapping into the expertise of trusted partners) to make the most of voice search, sensor networks and other modalities that have yet to be invented. 

2. ‘Transformation’ May Mean New Processes, Rather Than New Products

Technology changes the way information travels, how fast it travels and what you can do with it. That all translates into decisions marketing teams may need to make about the workflows they have had in place for eons. 

According to eMarketer, for example, U.S. advertisers have already spent nearly $60 billion on programmatic display last year, and areas like connected TV and OTT will drive programmatic ad spending to $80 billion by the end of 2021. 

While programmatic already holds great promise, brands are still determining how they want to move forward. Brands like Bayer, for instance, told Digiday that taking programmatic in-house saved $10 million in a matter of weeks. 

More marketers may follow suit, but it will require not only purchasing the right adtech tools but hiring for the right skill sets, figuring out how to spot fraud and effectively managing data. Which leads us to. . . 

3. Digital Becomes More Than A Set Of Channels When Data Is A Differentiator

Before everyone got sick of the term “digital transformation,” many of the same people were complaining about the term “big data.”

Guess what? It’s still around — and may represent the most important unfinished business marketers address. 

The shift towards personalization and even one-to-one marketing simply won’t be possible without a way to effectively capture data from multiple sources and curate it into a set of insights you can trust. 

This means building an onramp towards a marketing data warehouse. Though there are a variety of platforms you can build upon, the key is to choose a solution which allows for data-driven activation and hyper-segmentation. The end goal will be for marketers to work with more data types, more volumes and effectively gain deeper marketing insights.

Think of it this way: the 2010s were largely about transforming digitally based on using tools to manage online ads and the analytics of their web properties. These were all critical for fostering best practices around search engine optimization (SEO) and for managing search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns. The 2020s, on the other hand, will be all about data warehousing done right.

It’s perfectly understandable if you’re among those experiencing “digital transformation fatigue.” Just don’t let a debate over terminology get in the way of moving forward on changes that will let marketing departments demonstrate the true power of what digital and data can do.