5 Reasons Marketers Need Transformation

In September 2015, I attended the Adobe Digital Marketing Symposium in Japan where digital transformation was the theme. In his presentation, Dai Tamesue, Japan’s record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, made the valid point that transformation is essential for individuals as well as businesses. I would like to introduce how his story of transformation helps marketers transform themselves in the digital world.

Here are five reasons transformation is essential for marketers.

1. Having ultimate objectives hones the right skills

One of the transformation decisions that Tamesue made was to identify his objective. In an interview with the Japan Times, Tamesue described the great opportunity the hurdles offered because there were fewer competitors than in the 100-meter sprint. He decided to transform from a 100-meter racer to a 400-meter high hurdler to achieve his goal of becoming a world champion.

In a recent MIT Sloan survey of 1,559 executives and managers on digital transformation, 78 percent of respondents predicted that transformation would become crucial to their organizations within the next two years and 63 percent said that the pace of technology change in their organization was slow. In other words, transformation was needed, but it wasn’t coming fast enough. This delay in action is usually the result of seeing transformation as too daunting of a task.

The solution is to look at what you can transform personally. Are you sticking to your marketing tactics that were successful in the past? As Tamesue’s story demonstrates, it is important to have a clear vision of your objective or you risk changing your success factor and lose confidence after all.

After identifying what the race entailed, Tamesue broke the 400-meter hurdles into segments and focused on mastering each portion of the race.

2. An incremental approach brings clear rewards

As with most change initiatives, the first step is usually the most difficult. It is hard to change at first, especially when most of the marketing activities you’ve done in the past worked fine. But when looking at transformation as equal to a form of self-adjustment, it becomes easier to make the right moves, especially when the rewards can be seen. Once success appears on the horizon, those involved in the transformation become more engaged.

When Tamesue began his transformation to the 400-meter hurdles, he realized that in this race, first you sprint 45 meters, then you clear hurdles every 35 meters until you get to the last 40-meter stretch when you sprint to the finish. He said, “There are 10 hurdles in total and I’d set out by covering the distance between each in 13 strides. But as I tired during the race, and my strides got shorter, I’d switch to 14 until, nearing the end, I’d switch to 15 as I got even more tired. Some runners would rather be consistent and stick to 15 strides, or even 13, between hurdles.”

Tamesue knew that to not only compete, but also to win, he would have to approach the race from a scientific viewpoint. Once he realized his objectives and broke them down into workable tasks, he became more engaged in the transformation. Each new and better approach led to more ideas, creating a snowball effect of discovering ways to fine-tune his performance.

3. Adaptation becomes easier

Tamesue retired from professional hurdling at age 34, authored three books, became an investor, and is currently involved in real estate. He was able to transform from a 100-meter sprinter to an Olympic 400-meter hurdler, and then from an athlete to a businessman. He savored the condition he was in at his peak, but knew he would never be in the same condition again. His journey of transformation has enabled him to better adapt to his environment on a frequent basis.

The point is that once digital marketers commit to the idea of transformation, adaptation becomes easier. Successful marketers have developed the ability to adapt purposefully and continuously to their competitive environments. But lagging marketers who fail to notice the changes going on around them and adapting to them are forced to play catch up when it is probably too late.

4. Helps you avoid the past successes trap

You may remember the “boiling frog syndrome,” that is, if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly bring the water to a boil, the frog will stay there and die. The same is true with our successes. It is easy to allow past successes to lead us to believe that we will always hit home runs. Of course that is not true, but any of us can get caught in that trap.

Just like BF Skinner’s Operant Conditioning with rats, which concluded that reinforced behaviors tend to be repeated, for Tamesue, remaining a 100-meter sprinter was a trap. “Many athlete friends said they didn’t understand my decision, or the idea I would switch to hurdling because I wasn’t successful at 100 meters. … And to withdraw is considered evil. However, I realized my limit as a 100-meter sprinter—though I still had emotional attachments to the race.”

Think twice if you are conditioned to stick with past successes. When we keep a finger on the pulse of our strengths, skills, weaknesses, and talents, and assess our performances, we should be able to avoid the trap and embrace transformation.

Matsumoto transformation (2)

The graph above shows that waiting until performance is already declining not only increases the magnitude of the required adjustment but also puts companies in a reactive position, causing them to miss opportunities for competitive advantage. Especially in the digital world, we may wallow in our cocoon of past success following a traditional marketing style and miss the boat with greater opportunities. Transformation prevents us from sitting on our laurels, enabling us to adapt to the ever-changing digital marketing world.

5. Leads to innovation

Transformation requires innovative thinking. Tamesue went through his transformation with many trial and errors. He said the process was like Zen practice in which the Chinese character “禅” consists of the symbols for “index” and “simple.” He focused on a single objective and found many ways to approach it. This led him to be innovative and grow. For us, transformation will create a disruptor of sorts in the marketing world.

Digital marketing is a field of constant change. Transforming from how things have always been done to a new and better way releases the creative juices, opening new avenues of marketing and can catapult you to areas where you can blaze your own path.

You Can Shake Things Up

Change is difficult, but if we as marketers don’t embrace change and adapt to it, we will fail. Sticking with a marketing strategy that doesn’t work is usually the result of losing sight of our end goals.

Tamesue’s experience convinced me we should be open to adapting to an ever-changing marketing environment. We can only do this by transforming how we think about marketing and how we think about our customers, products, and services. Although you may have vast experiences in the marketing world, the lessons from Tamesue show us that we need transformation will move forward to survive.