Digital Transformation is about leadership and strategy

Charlene Li

Digital Transformation needs time and it’s about creating an environment where people feel inspired and follows not only the leader but also the followers of the leader.

Interview with Charlene Li, worldwide expert in helping leaders thrive with disruption

I had the chance to talk with Charlene Li at WOBI on Digital Transformation in Milan the last 26th of March.

We started talking about what’s connecting leadership to strategy. Both are about change, and the one can’t live without the other. The strategy is more about how the company should change to get from a point to another, while leadership is the vision of where that change will lead from the status quo to the future.

Charlene: ‘Even if the common thought is that leadership and strategy come together, I think that leadership comes first. If the company does not recognise the need to change, it will never move’.

If we had two days to discuss how Digital Transformation influences strategy and how does the leader gets his company to change, we would do it. A transformation happens when strategy and leadership work together to change the form and the shape of what a company does. The result is usually something really different, a change in the core characteristics of the product or service, of the company, of the people or the industry – see the Marketing Distinguo. But what is often mistaken is that transformation is not about digital nor technology:

‘Transformation it’s not about technology, it’s about people and company’s culture. The reason why it is hard is that people have to change, that people have to change themselves. And people don’t like to change… unless they know the reason why is so important. The leader creates that vision, that momentum, the movement to create that change’.

Digital Transformation is not easy. It needs a leader with a vision, it needs time, it needs the culture to execute the strategy. It’s about creating an environment where people feel inspired and follows not only the leader but also the followers of the leader.

‘It’s not possible to make Digital Transformation easy. There is no way. The leader must see where the transformation is going, how different the company will be at the end of the process. He must explain why it’s important and how the company is going to be so much better because of it’.

To start the process, companies should think about their current Marketing Distinguo – what concretely makes them different from the competitor – but also about the differentiation required by future customers. And this is very difficult.

‘This is why I think your approach on differentiation is so interesting (the Marketing Distinguo – ed). People want to start, as you are saying, with their value proprieties buzzwords, right? They are looking at their product and service, they are not looking from the customer’s point of view, and more importantly, they are not thinking about the future customer. Because if we are just trying to meet the needs of the customer today, guess what, we will be there in three months, and we will be three months late. So, I think that the key of a leader is to focus everybody in the organization on the customer. And if the customer changes, then your product or service must change. What most companies do is look for the customer that fits their product and service. That’s backwards. So, I thought you are onto something where it’s not just the unique selling proposition, the positioning, but what’s the unique value to the customer. That’s important. I thought your piece is very good at that’.

The Marketing Distinguo card deck is designed to help companies understand what makes them different from their competitors. Leaders can use this analogue tool to focus on their future customers and even play the game with them, to find the route to Digital Transformation. This is true for big companies as well as small and medium enterprises.

‘I think that the most important thing you can do as any size business, but mostly SMEs that usually don’t have a lot of money, time and people to focus on transformation, is to get together what I call a Customer Advisory Board. That means that customers come in and advise you, so you have a better understanding of who they are and what they needs are. The key is, you don’t put your best customers on there. You put your most future-thinking customers on that board. The ones are going to tell you, you are not doing a good job and what are the reasons. And they won’t be shy about doing that. So don’t put your best and biggest customers on the Customer Advisory Board, because they will route you in the current day, and not in the future, Digital Transformation route’.


Why should I buy your product? Here the analogue tool to help entrepreneurs, managers, consultants and freelancers to answer that question!

Defined by Going Global UK: "LEADING EXPERT IN INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGIES". Coordinator of the Networking Club of Philip Kotler at the Italian Marketing Foundation. The only Italian who accomplished the MIT Digital Business Strategy Executive Program about Digital Transformation (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Co-founder of Weevo, co-publisher of Il Giornale delle PMI, author of "Strategie web per i mercati esteri", Hoepli 2016 (Digital Strategies for International Markets).

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