Off the record: Your peers share their greatest ambitions

The person who follows a crowd will never be followed by a crowd.

R.S. Donnell

Every now and again we reach out to clients and other business leaders we admire to pick their brains and share their more instructive experiences with our readers. For this issue, we asked four of them from the enterprise, start-up and public sectors one simple, yet evocative question:

If you had to choose just one, what online investment would you make now to change the game for your organization?

What we heard was an informative mix of leadership styles, organizational cultures and the age-old tension between getting your house in order today, or trying to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.

The views shared below reflect the views of the individuals involved and not their employers.

Getting on the same page

Matt Petitjean (Matt’s LinkedIn profile and Twitter account) is VP of Digital Marketing at ADP, Inc., where he is responsible for websites and marketing programs that touch more than 16 million people every month. If Matt had one wish, he would rebuild from his core messaging.

I would invest in a strategic overhaul of our core marketing website. I was tempted to talk about mobile, social, or tablet, which are on everyone’s mind these days, but without a strong core to build from, those initiatives would not be successful. Many large corporate websites are falling victim to today’s rapid pace of change and often don’t reflect their firm’s current messaging and business strategy. It’s logical that if you tell your full story on dot-com and subsets of that story in other channels, you should start with getting the full story right first. This type of work also re-engages the business units and forces them to clearly articulate their value proposition.

My strategy has been to build small wins that offer big returns. It’s hard to sell something that doesn’t exist, but when you can point to an example, it is easy for someone to say ‘I want that.’ There are more and more digital channels to invest in, and many of them are valuable. However budgets are not growing at the same rate of change. Digital investments are held to an exceedingly high ROI standard that other marketing investments are not held to. It’s time for companies to put all investments on the table and compare them using the same criteria. ‘Digital Marketing’ needs to become just ‘marketing.’ When CMOs bring digital investments to the table in the same manner as other investments, you will see digital investment accelerate.

Bullish on big data

Chad Ghastin (Chad’s LinkedIn profile) is Director of Email Products at The New York Times Digital. As you can imagine, Chad communicates a lot, with a lot of people. So not surprisingly he sees Big Data as the next big thing for his organization and industry.

My greatest wish? Without hesitation it would be better data and systems integration. There is no shortage today of advanced analytical tools that can handle the ‘Big Data’ challenge. However, making this data actionable, and more importantly measureable, is the main challenge. With so many enterprise systems and data sources across any large organization, it’s a major opportunity to integrate them and create actionable business intelligence that creates a sustainable competitive advantage.

It’s no secret that traditional media companies are dealing with declining ad sales revenue and slim profitability. Digital subscription revenue is our future, but it requires an investment in new technologies that shift from the Ad revenue model to a hybrid model that includes subscriptions. It’s not so much a blocker, but a significant challenge to justify and implement the required technology investments while sustaining the day-to-day business. To work around this we have been especially diligent in our efforts to prove how new technology investments support and drive our corporate goals and strategy.

One organization, one experience

Franklin Bradley (Franklin’s LinkedIn profile) is internal communications and intranet manager at the Architect of the Capitol, a federal agency founded by George Washington to oversee the capital’s most iconic landmark buildings. Franklin’s job is to literally “make government work” and to achieve this he needs to break down his organization’s silos.

To fix our employee intranet, I would apply the Ubiquity Axiom: the intranet must be available anytime, from anywhere on any device. And by intranet I mean all of the websites, resources and tools in our ecosystem. Those that it links to directly, connects with behind the scenes or that employees perceive as being part of their digital workplace, even if they’re not directly connected to our intranet.

The barriers to achieving this are many, but the largest is lack of centralized accountability for these systems. Each one is owned by a separate business unit that has complete control over look-and-feel and functionality. There isn’t a position or panel in our agency that has strategic responsibility for these disparate resources. We would need to first define our strategic needs, and then make a person or panel accountable for meeting them. Only then could we achieve true ubiquity: an intranet that employees can use to advance the business of our agency anytime, from anywhere on any device.

Mobile first

Samantha Bedford (Samantha’s LinkedIn profile) is Chief Marketing Officer at Over the course of her impressive career, Sam has helped to re-invent dating, child care and car shopping for the digital age. And now she’s looking at mobile.

It would not be an ‘online’ investment but a ‘mobile’ investment that I would make.” She says.”Mobile phones are no longer gadgets. They are a key part of our customers’ lives. In my opinion mobile should no longer be seen as a channel, but as the primary platform for product innovation and business growth.

If I were starting a business from scratch today, I wouldn’t have a website; just a mobile presence. Or I’d give the website a supporting role. But of course many businesses do already have a website that generates significant revenues/traffic/engagement, and they have to protect that. This can feel like an obstacle as it can stymie original thinking. But it can be overcome; for example by creating a lean, parallel operation to get a mobile business off the ground that is complementary to – but not driven by – the day-to-day operation of the core web business.