We marketers just love jargon, we can’t help ourselves. Why write simply when it’s so easy to pump up our statements until they are virtually unintelligible?

“Best of breed solutions to maximize human capital and innovation,” is a recent favorite example. 

Do you understand what this company does?

Goodbye to 'Digital Transformation'?

On the other hand, I love the term Digital Transformation: it’s active, aspirational and grandiose. It's a good umbrella term to put a wide variety of disparate tasks and technology elements under. I admit, it is all over our website and in a lot of our documentation. 

But lately I’ve started to think that it might be past its “use by” date. Why?

First, when I think of transformation I think of change. When we first started discussing Digital Transformation we were talking about shifting budgets from analog, traditional marketing programs to digital programs — and it made sense. Today it is less about change and more about expansion and innovation. 

Rarely do we abandon existing channels and programs in marketing, our tendency is to be additive. For example, social media didn’t replace display ads.

Second, transformation suggests there is a beginning, middle and end to the process and that there's an achievable final end-state to point to and declare transformation is complete. 

As long as consumer behavior continues to change and technology evolves, that will never happen. Moreover, viewing digital transformation as a single evolutionary path is misleading and creates enormous internal stress for marketers who worry they are behind on some fictitious road race.

Building Blocks of Digital Evolution

I’m not sure what the right terminology should be — digital innovation or digital evolution perhaps? But we do need to think about digital transformation as a series of interconnected foundational building blocks, rather than a linear path. These building blocks should collectively support an overall strategy to serve marketing and business objectives. 

As time goes on, each of these blocks will evolve and most likely expand in size and scope, and we may even see additional buildings blocks appear. We can start with:


  • Being present in all the environments your customers inhabit — offline, online, mobile, intelligent agents (future). The list keeps expanding

Experience (Unified CX)

  • Delivering the desired customer experience regardless of the device a customer uses, or the company department they engage with
  • This is becoming an increasingly important component of a brand strategy


  • Treating each customer as a market of one
  • Requires in-depth and accessible data about each customer


  • Marketing becomes a service. Brands anticipate customer needs and serve up the right content or products before a customer even realizes they need them
  • To realize success within this pillar will require
    • Advanced AI technology that is not yet commercially available
    • Execution within all other pillars to ensure that “anticipatory offers” show up in the right places and that the offers are tailored to the specific needs of the customer

building blocks of digital transformation

Setting Long-Term Marketing Goals

There is no absolute right or wrong way to order these from a priority and emphasis perspective. Each organization should align strategies and tactics based on company objectives, internal skills, audience, competition and financial resources. 

Learning Opportunities

Having said that, we are in the early days of anticipatory marketing and the technology is not yet available to support the goal of fully anticipating the needs of the customer. A combination of detailed customer demographic, psychographic and behavioral data, along with advanced machine learning and AI technology, is needed to develop capabilities in this area. We will likely see small steps towards anticipatory marketing over the next two to three years as companies work to build their integrated customer database and technology advances.

Ultimately, what’s important right now is that marketing teams establish long term goals for and across each of these pillars, and then introduce the tactical initiatives that will lead to the achievement of these goals over time. Goals should be reviewed and revised on a regular basis.

Cathedral Thinking: A Vision, a Blueprint, a Commitment

Now on to some delicious new jargon for the marketing technology industry: Cathedral Thinking. It sounds grandiose, aspirational and BIG — which is music to marketing's ears. 

A good friend introduced me to the term. He mentioned Cathedral Thinking had become the business term du jour, first popping up in conversations around Climate Change and Brexit and now being used ubiquitously. 

The term has been around since medieval times. According to cathedralthinking.com (yes, it even has its own website): 

"It stretches back through the centuries to medieval times, when architects, stonemasons and artisans laid plans and began construction of the soaring, cavernous structures that served as places of worship, community gathering spaces and safe havens. Though there are many instances to which Cathedral Thinking can be applied, they all require the same foundation: a far-reaching vision, a well thought-out blueprint, and a shared commitment to long-term implementation.”

As soon as I heard it I knew it was the perfect umbrella term to sit on top of our digital transformation building blocks. I’ll be finding as many ways as possible to slip it into discussions related to planning a MarTech stack strategy for the future.

business and marketing objectives

I’d appreciate your thoughts on how you visualize digital transformation. I’m off to find some stones and a chisel and to scour medieval dictionaries for some new old-jargon.

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