About one in four companies have a sound digital strategy. But nearly as many concede they're clueless — and lack confidence in their internal abilities to implement such a strategy.

Those are two of the key findings from Forrester research titled “Predictions 2016: The Race to Digital,” which came out earlier this month.

What this means for all of us is that a large inequality will continue between firms that are either digitally native or digitally transformed — and those firms that can’t or won’t become “digital masters,” as the Forrester researchers call them.

Limping Along

Those in the latter group will continue to “save money” by investing in digital bolt-ons, when they should be realizing how a revolution in digital technology would transforms their business.

They will continue to see IT or marketing as driving digital — or even someone called a chief digital officer — when what’s really needed is for the CEO to lead collaboration across his leadership team and across the enterprise.

And they will lean on consultants and other vendors who are, at best, just getting up to digital speed themselves. While we’re at it, let’s add talent and tool development to the list of things very few firms do well.

Still, despite the research and the imploration to be digital beasts or fanatics or whatever term expresses enough passion for you, let’s be honest: For even the ambitious, digital successes will have to be incremental for long-standing and/or conventional businesses — anyone not a direct-to-consumer unicorn formed in the last couple years by a bunch of hipster MBAs.

What It Really Means

So analysts can speak all they want of sweeping, transformative change, but let us be grounded and ask a humbler question: Where will the transformation begin or continue?

Some will argue for content. Such as B.L. Ochman, a writer and digital strategist since before “digital” was a mainstream word.

“​Being digital now means engaging with customers on a variety of interactive platforms,” Ochman said, pointing to a number of examples.

GoPro and LEGO get thousands of shares on their digital content because it’s “original, fun, daring, sometimes silly, always interesting.”

Starbucks makes news, builds reputation, bolsters its employees and more with its digital content; for instance, it announced on Veterans Day that it would pay its veteran employees’ (and their families’) college tuition. And then there is that chicken restaurant in Australia that made international news by livestreaming Betty, the incredible, tweeting chicken.

All About Connections

For Peter Cellino, founder and CEO of boutique agency Red Truck Labs, going digital is largely about engagement.

Learning Opportunities

“At the heart of all of this is the need to engage. Be active on social, reach out and engage with those in the community, whether that means local, national or worldwide or oftentimes within a small niche,” Cellino said.

Run your online storefront like you would a physical storefront, he said, with chat tools like Zopim and Olark to chat up the customers and pop-up tools like Sumo to collect their contact information. Organize and get to know your communities through customer relationship management (CRM).

“In addition to maintaining an online presence [and] engaging in the social sphere, every business needs to be organizing all of their visitors, leads and contacts,” he said.

Other Key Factors

For others, it’s about processes.

“Organizations feel the pressure to migrate to fully-digital processes that produce results faster by eliminating time-consuming, paper-driven ways of old. As a result, digital transaction management (DTM) is a growing market, gaining the attention of global organizations that need to transform every aspect of their business processes to meet customer expectations,” said Paul Giordano, senior product marketer at Lexmark.

And for some digital means mobile.

“Today, every organization in every industry is digital. From marketing and sales to inventory management, fulfillment, accounting and HR — and apps drive it all,” said Nicolas Robbe, CMO, Dynatrace. 

Digital is here to stay — and digital transformation is a business priority. So maybe it's time for that 25 percent of businesses who have yet to craft an effective strategy to face their fears.

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