What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is a term that many are throwing around and even fewer have a real understanding of or vision for.

It’s easily the next generation of up-and-coming buzzwords that soon everyone will be using in hopes of communicating a much larger vision – much like “customer centricity”, “content marketing”, “marketing technology” and “customer journey”.

Digital transformation and its entire philosophy is based on the idea that in order for organizations to survive the next wave of buyers (think Millennials), they must completely transform their business from the inside out by tackling the biggest pain point: technology.

What Does Digital Transformation Look Like?

Some quick examples of digital transformation that everyone’s familiar with? Magazines and newspapers. Newspaper publications haven’t completely died. Shocked? Don’t be!

The Daily Prophet – a futuristic, magical newspaper from the Harry Potter novels.

They’ve simply transformed into their digital counterparts – and they’re getting smarter about how they enable “subscribers” and move them back into the more traditional subscription model – abandoning or at least limiting print services altogether and offering digital subscriptions.

For example, The Washington Post not only moved into the digital space, but just like a subscription service, they only offer a few free articles every month.

This forces the user to either subscribe just like the old days, or bounce off the page entirely. It’s bold, but the very nature of journalism has changed so dramatically that the entire news industryrr must find ways to survive. This is one of those ways.

Conde Nast (along with others) should applauded for championing the idea of the interactive magazine – where magazine subscribers would not only receive digital versions of their favorite publications directly on their mobile devices, but they were going to be interactive.

The actual interactive cover of Vogue’s March 2013 issue. Only available through supported mobile devices.

Embedded videos, interactive panels and content, and more are present in the digital versions of Vogue, for example.

It’s also very reminiscent of the futuristic, lifelike, almost real-time newspapers in the Harry Potter novels and movies. I’m thinking, specifically, of the front cover of Vogue’s issue where Beyonce actually moved and blinked at you behind the hovering magazine text.

That’s exactly how that industry changed.

How did others “digitally transform”?

The payments industry. We’re able to not only pay money online in exchange for goods, but also keep payment options on our mobile devices – and we can even pay for in-store, retail items with just your mobile phone, too.

Need to send a friend some quick cash? PayPal, Venmo, Google Wallet, and more can all handle that transaction quickly, easily, and safely.

Just about every utilities organization has transformed, although I would argue not enough. Think of the last time you were forced to pay any bill by check. It’s very few times, right? Especially compared to 20 years ago.

Even utilities organizations, however, have to continue their transformation process (Comcast – I’m looking at you and your super incredibly awful process of returning equipment and insisting that we haven’t when we can prove we did).

But what about the less obvious examples?

Mizuno – The Relentess Pursuit for Digital Excellence

Mizuno USA is a story of true digital transformation that we’re so proud we get to tell. If you watched the video above about Keith Neely’s experience through this digital transformation process, then you could probably relate.

As a global, but legendary brand, Mizuno USA has an interesting challenge: compete with other American sports brands, maintain its own center of excellence, and remain true to its Japanese roots.

Mizuno’s products are available in just about every sports store you can think of, and they cater to the running community, diamond sports, and the golf world.

But something you’ll notice is that they don’t have their own store fronts or retail locations – you must go to some other retailer and purchase their products there.
The disconnect between the suppliers, distributors, and their retailers is probably very familiar if you’re in a similar industry or situation – the retailers might have favorite brands, but for the most part, they’re a neutral party and will sell just about anything (and that may or may not be your products).

In the end, you might not exactly get the best information from your retailers about your buyers, too – so that means Research and Product Development is a constant process.

This was considered a major business (and therefore marketing) challenge, so in order to adapt, Mizuno began selling its products online – which is certainly not shocking, but definitely tells a tale of complete and total digital transformation over the past 5 years.

The Past

Mizunousa.com - circa 2013

Mizunousa.com – circa 2013

Digital transformation often starts with just design and the complete concept of user experience. Beyond just “does it look pretty?”, there’s the ultimate question for business owners and marketers: what is this website for, how do others use it, and how do they expect to use it?

One of the biggest challenges Mizuno had was just consistency. Their website – and therefore their brand – seemed a little outdated compared to their competitors.

But it wasn’t just design – there was also a challenge with ensuring their technologies in the background could support a beautiful, consistent, but smart experience.

Mizuno had design inconsistencies throughout the website, especially when purchasing products, so it’s a given that those would be challenged and fixed, but what about the back-end?

Well, actual digital transformation must tackle the the deep, hidden-from-the-public tools and technologies – and for Mizuno, that included their content management system, ecommerce platform, product information management platform (PIM for short), and even their CRM and marketing automation platforms.

The Present


Today, Mizuno has a far better integrated system – and it’s saved them countless hours of time and dollars. With integrations between their PIM and their content management system, they’re able to go to market infinitely faster with access to valuable product information instantly available (as opposed to manually managing product information).

With a smarter content management system, they’re able to collect better data on their online shoppers – further closing the knowledge gap of their buyers and their behaviors – and integrate that valuable information with other vital platmizuno5forms.

Other amazing features from an improved integration? Real-time inventory checks – even on their retailers – are something Mizuno can now offer – so there’s never a time where the customer tries to add something to cart that isn’t in stock.

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Since the cart experience was largely a disparate brand experience entirely, one of the first things we tackled together was deciding what the cart experience should be and matching it up to the new and improved look and feel – all while maintaining functionality.

And best of all? The time and frustration saved when trying to make edits to website. Also, increased conversions on the website – which translated directly to meeting revenue goals for Mizuno.

Mizuno was able to meet their eCommerce goals and overall branding goals from starting the digital transformation process – and they’re looking forward to doing even more.

The Future


The future for Mizuno looks a little like an homage to the past, but is a far cry from where they came from digitally.

Instead of being reactive to the market, Mizuno looks forward to being proactive in the market – and that comes with best practices like personalization, segmentation, and more in regards to campaigns and engagement.

Growing the ecommerce channel and continuing to formulate meaningful relationships with customers will always be a priority. But it doesn’t end there for Mizuno.

Most importantly, there’s a relentless drive for Mizuno to be digitally excellent. Striving for this excellence can only be achieved through digital transformation – and that of course starts with analyzing the people, process, tools, and data of your sales, marketing, and IT departments.

It’s a huge task, but it’s worth it in the long-run. Mizuno has certainly proved that.

The First Step of Digital Transformation

There’s a number of ways to go about your own digital transformation, but I boil it down into a few simple steps:

  1. Build your strategy for digital transformation.
  2. Assign a budget to the entire process.
  3. Determine a (reasonable) timeline.
  4. Decide who will do this for you.
  5. Benchmark every step of the way.

If you’re in project management or have managed projects in any kind of way, you might detect a little bit of a familiar pattern: there’s scope, time, and budget.

The first step is always defining exactly why you need to undergo a digital transformation in the first place, what you think tactically needs fixing, and how you’re going to do it. Sounds simple, right?

For Mizuno,  it was to standardize their approach to digital and how it applies to their brand.

Except that first step alone could take months – especially if you’re in a larger corporate organization. If this is you, please take a deep breath, maybe some TUMS, and just know that I’m both virtually feeling your pain and am with you. But also know that this is simply part of the process – it could take a very long time either for leadership to make a decision, or if you are leadership, to actually hone in on the problem at hand and determine the best outcome.

It also easily takes research – studies, customer stories, panels, and more – to arrive at a clear vision for future digital transformation. If you are going to undergo a transformation, you’ll want it to be the best informed decision your team has ever made.

Either way, the first step is the most crucial.

A Quick Concluding Story

Once upon a time, we were approached by a large industrial corporation looking to build a mobile app. After doing some research, we were recommended to them by one of our partners, and we began the process of gathering requirements and figuring out exactly what they wanted.

The conversation went a little like this:

Arke: So why do you want a mobile application?

The Client: We want a different way to engage with our constituents.

Arke: Do you run email campaigns or anything like that?

The Client: Of course we do! But the engagement isn’t that great. We decided on a mobile app because our competitors have one.

Arke: So what you’re really saying is, you want better engagement in your channels, but you’re expanding on mobile? Why?

The Client: Well, our leadership thinks the mobile app will help. Plus we need to be more digital.

Arke: Even though email engagement is low? What about your other digital channels and campaigns?

The Client: Well, our engagement is okay in those. It could definitely use some help. But really we settled on a mobile app because we thought it would add to everything we’re already doing. Plus, we want to make sure we’re keeping up with our competitor!

Arke: What about Leadership’s vision? Do they have specific reasons for the doing the mobile app? Because it’s going to be an expensive project if you go the custom mobile app route – especially if you don’t expect to get much engagement out of it. And unless you get into some very in-depth research on how your competitor’s mobile app is performing, it might be just a waste for you.

Leadership: We were told to get a mobile app from our bosses, but now we’re not so sure that’s the answer to the problem we’re trying to solve.

Arke: We think there’s actually a better way to see engagement across the board for all of your channels rather than spreading yourself thin (and your budget) with a mobile app. Mind if we audit your current campaign and overall sales and marketing processes?

The first step – the strategic plan for digital transformation – is the most important. It determines everything that falls out afterwards. Nothing else matters more than your “why”.

Not the technologies you pick or the partner you pick or how little or much money you have to do it.

It’s about that ultimate vision for a better digital future for your organization and ultimately, for your customers.

That’s what digital transformation looks like.



Asia Matos was the Director of Marketing at ARKE Systems where she oversaw all of the marketing channels and operations for the organization. In her role, Asia managed lead generation-focused content strategy, traffic acquisition, campaign execution, and event planning. She worked daily with content management systems like Sitecore and Wordpress, the analytics platforms of Google Analytics and the Sitecore Experience Platform, and contributed her extensive experience with email service providers like Silverpop and ClickDimensions. Asia was the editor and writer of ARKE’s blog MarketingTechnologyInsights.com. Asia is now the #FlipMyFunnel Demand Generation Manager for Terminus.