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Digital Transformation and Influencer Marketing with Yann Gourvennec

Morgane Néret
June 12, 2018
Top Influencers

We recently had the pleasure to speak with Yann Gourvennec, Founder and Director of digital marketing agency Visionary Marketing and Digital Business Strategy Program Director at the Grenoble School of Management.

In their book titled Le Digital expliqué à mon boss, Yann and Hervé Kabla provide an overview of digital transformation and how it impacts, and will impact in the future, digital communications across all sectors and professions, dismantling a handful of preconceptions along the way. The authors share valuable advice to those wondering how to start effectively incorporating digital techniques into their strategy.

Q1 - How would you define digital transformation? And what is at stake?

First, it is important to distinguish between the concept of a transformation and that of a change: a transformation is a shift towards an unknown state, and as with anything unknown, some may find it unsettling. 

If digital doesn’t support the business, then it is pointless. The real challenge lies in learning how to identify and use the right digital tools to transform your business rather than the other way around - transforming your business to make digital work. It’s a question of efficiency rather than modernity.

Amazon’s website for example is not the most glamorous, but I know I’ll find exactly what I need and that the user reviews will help me choose the right product. I know my order will be properly processed and delivered in a flash, and that my data is kept confidential. It’s a fully integrated system that has rendered digital components seamless. Their customer experience is unparalleled, and that goes well beyond the technology used. 

In short, transformation isn’t synonymous with change. To transform, you need to add a myriad of change management initiative. Digital transformation in itself doesn’t exist. What exists is a transformation using digital techniques. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

Q2 - The title of your book is ‘Digital media explained to my boss’, why is convincing and involving management so critical? 

Having your boss’s support is always important, but I believe above all in intrapreneurship towards the common good: having people internally who prefer asking for forgiveness rather than permission, and take action for the betterment of the company. What’s important is initiating change. Once you’ve demonstrated what’s possible, you then need support to step things up a gear. 

Doing something for a small group is good, doing something for the benefit of the entire company is even better. You then need to find support and encouragement and therefore involving and convincing your boss. And not necessarily by asking a bunch of questions such as: “Boss! Am I allowed to...?” but more by making statements. “Look what we’ve achieved, look at these results. We need to be allocating resources into these areas!”

By the way, this isn’t about a generational divide: digital natives were born with these tools, and yet as many sociological studies show, a company’s digital maturity doesn’t correlate with the age of its directors or management team. Furthermore, an enterprise’s digital transformation isn’t necessarily linked to its boss’s own knowledge, as an English academic study showed. It’s more about the need to use these tools in order to change the business and the duty of the intrapreneur to convince their boss rather than to wait for them to reach that same conclusion. 

Now, they have the proof in hand to do it.

Q3 - In terms of governance, several consultancies (including McKinsey and Altimeter) are highlighting the shift between CIOs and CMOs and the emergence of the CDO title. What are your thoughts on this? 

I think a CCO (Chief Competent Officer) should be responsible for steering digital transformation. In any case, there are enough organizational charts that become obsolete almost as soon as they are drawn up, since staff turnover is so high in enterprises. A CMO stays with the same company for around two and a half years, and less than two years in France. What truly matters isn’t a person’s ranking in an organizational chart, but who has actually managed to successfully lead a transformation with digital within their company. 

Whoever it is that achieved that deserves to be promoted to the rank of transformation guru within the company. Skills and competencies are what matter, not the job title.

This is something extremely important, because an organization can only succeed if it gives its employees the opportunity to grow and thrive. As to whether or not digital transformation ought to be the responsibility of a single person is difficult to say, as every case is unique. The best may be a plethora of CCOs working on each project, since you can’t excel across the board. 

Q4 - What is the impact of digital transformation within a company?

Transformation is never complete, it ought to be constant mirroring the transformation a business constantly goes through. When I find something that works well, I start thinking of ways I can ensure it doesn’t stop there - otherwise we get stuck in a routine, and that’s dangerous. This doesn’t mean that you stop something else that works well but that you start planning for the day it no longer works that well. A company should always be operating with this mindset because if it stops planning for the future, it gets trampled by the market, and that has nothing to do with digital. Changes in our markets aren’t just happening because of digital but also because of  mass and speed at which behaviors evolve. 

It is critical to always be on the lookout for ways to innovate. Transformations never stops, it’s a continuous process, you can never say: “Job done”. 

Q5 - The advent of digital has given birth to the “Customer empowerment” movement. What is it exactly, and can you describe the new digital consumer?

First of all, we can’t really call this a new concept. The first person who put the consumer at the center of the process wasn’t Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but Aristide Boucicaut, well before the digital age! As the founder of the very first major department store Au Bon Marché in Paris in 1852, he was the forefather of modern commerce: he created the ‘customer is king’ approach and also the one-hour delivery, telephone ordering, sales, price displays, etc. 

Bernard Cova, one of French top marketing researchers and author of Le néo-marketing , was writing about the changes in consumer behavior that we see today, way back in 1992. Consuming has become cultural. We’ve moved from consumption as a tool to garner recognition, a status symbol, a concept inherited from the 1960s and that ended in the 1990s, to a concept in which individuals become who they are through consuming: “I buy therefore I am”, in a sense. 

In this consumption mode, people engage in a torrent of cultural transfers, as the beauty and lifestyle influencer phenomenon has clearly demonstrated. This goes well beyond online babbling or a social media trend - it’s a deeply ingrained phenomenon from a cultural point of view. Users don’t necessarily fulfill themselves with mass consumption, but rather through their choices that may be more qualitative than quantitative. I expect this will be more and more the case in the future, or at least, I hope it will. It has become something of a duty as humans, spurred on by the fear of seeing our planet crumble in the face of mass consumption on an epic scale.

Q6 - What role does influencer marketing play in this digital transformation?

Influencer marketing is hugely important in my mind. I’m very much in line with Mark Schaefer and agree with him on ‘micro influencer’, mainly because I don’t like the word ‘influencer’, I prefer ‘partner’ or ‘co-creator’. Micro influencers can play a great part to develop UGC (User Generated Content). Authentic UGC is what works best. Although this too has undergone profound change, the time of working with influencers for free being pretty much over. ‘Influencer’ is now a real profession.

In regards to B2B, these micro influencers have mostly become consultants. In B2C, an influencer’s Instagram post can command extremely high prices. It should be stated that brands approached it with hefty pay packages, and influencers were only too happy to oblige. This won’t last. I’m a strong believer in full transparency and disclosure. In order to respect transparency, brands will be developing co-marketing programs with influencers, who can provide much more than just cookie-cutter content: they can help improve product design and the customer experience, for example. There’s lots to do in terms of co-creation and co-innovation. 

A major spring clean is needed in terms of disclosure, but I believe Facebook will take care of it and the process has already started. Instagram’s new integrated feature allows users to easily flag sponsored content, which is a good thing. Culling user bases to remove all ‘false followers’ has started happening  and it’ll enable to identify false influencers who have bought themselves a following of dubious subscribers. I think we need to clean things up a bit. Platforms don’t have a choice. Twitter is working on it too. To ensure their services continue developing in the future, they need to prune their communities, to follow the gardening metaphor used by Hagel and Armstrong in their first book Net Gain.

Deepen your understanding of the role of influencer marketing in digital transformation

To continue learning, we highly recommend following all the latest marketing and innovation news over at the Visionary Marketing blog. To find out more about how influencer marketing impacts digital transformation, read the Influence 2.0 : Le Futur du Marketing d’Influence report.

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