Forrester’s Digital Transformation Europe 2016 Forum in London started [June 7], and our first industry speaker was Blake Cahill, head of digital at Royal Philips. Over the past 20 years, Blake has led a series of marketing, creative, client management, product innovation, and thought leadership projects for both Fortune 500 organizations and digital start-ups.

At Philips, Blake is helping to lead the Dutch company’s international rebranding and expansion into new technologies and markets. In his presentation, he spoke about the role of digital marketing in the transformation of Philips into a global digital business, and in entering the Chinese market, providing key best practices and lessons learnt.

I spoke to Blake about his views on the age of the customer and the impact of digital on companies like Royal Philips. Here is what Blake shared with me.

Forrester: How is digital transforming Philips' business and, as a digital marketer, how are you collaborating with and/or advising your peers in other parts of the business on the transformation?

Blake Cahill: Everybody talks about big data and analytics, but where do you start? You have to take baby steps in driving behavioral change to make people more data-driven – both horizontally and vertically across the entire business. Over the past 3 years, we’ve been on a digital transformation journey - creating a harmonized foundation of people, processes, technology and KPIs in our 10 business groups and 17 markets, covering 100 countries, in order to get all businesses and parts of the global speeding up and working the same way.

Whether it’s search engine marketing, social marketing, CRM, e-commerce, web, mobile or digital analytics, it’s important to get people moving in the same, right direction. As the world increasingly connects and digitizes, and products and services increasingly connect, we have need to re-invent how we market and interact with our customers through digital touchpoint and campaigns that drive not just sales but engagement and loyalty. Digital has a huge role in helping campaigns come to life and reinforcing the brand.

Forrester: Thinking of Philips' transformation journey, what are some of the key challenges you are facing within digital and social marketing right now?

Cahill: A lot of last year was about foundation setting; getting digital experts, basic digital technologies and ways of working in place. The biggest challenge, as with any transformation, has been behavioral change. Getting digital experts and natives to do digital is simple, but convincing marketers that always-on engagement campaigns in digital and social platforms can yield better results and build loyalty is one of the hardest, but most important, shifts I’ve needed to inspire.

We’ve also been very ambitious in that we want digital in the DNA of all our marketing and sales people rather than relying on external agencies and special teams, so there’s been a huge amount of training taking place in the past couple of years, embedding these new skills into all our employees.

Our digital training initiatives are about 85% complete at the moment (they’ll touch close to 10,000 people once we’ve finished) but their impact has already been felt. A lot of the business units are developing emotionally engaging content and always on campaigns – something you need to do in the digital era if you’re going to hold peoples’ attention. This is happening now at both a global and a local level, proving that if everybody has the same capabilities, they can take a global template and make that investment go farther.

Another challenge is competition. In 2016, there is an incredible demand for (and a limited supply of) skilled digital talent in marketing. All brands, no matter their size or fame, have to work hard to attract and keep hold of top performers and Philips is no exception. Our approach has always been to continuously build and develop our existing employees, giving them the training and tools to become even more exceptional.

The key to attracting these talents is to ensure we have a distinct employer brand. At Philips we tend to live the ideal of attracting talent through purpose. A huge proportion of graduates cite the company’s ethical and sustainability policies as the primary reason for wanting to join a company – we all want to work for companies that can be trusted, that we can be proud to be a part of.

Forrester: As part of your remit, you are helping Philips expand into new markets. Specifically, your session will address how Philips is operating in China. What are some of the main lessons you have learnt from running an international digital business within the Chinese market?

Cahill: In addition to laying the foundations, we’ve also been piloting and speeding up in some markets where digital moves in an accelerated or unique pace – such as in China and India - due to different digital ecosystems or the pace of consumer adoption of digital and mobile trends. If you ever played a game of Chinese Whispers then you’ll know a message inevitably gets distorted as it travels.

It’s supposed to teach us not to believe everything you hear, but when scaling digital in the Asian market it’s more important than ever not to let misconceptions hold sway. Understanding how China’s digital and social ecosystem works is fundamental to driving success in that market. Chinese consumers have embraced the digital world and they expect companies to do the same in line with their entirely unique, thriving social ecosystem.

It is vital to use local market knowledge and rely on the team on the ground to adapt global campaigns to make them relevant to the Chinese audience. In the past few years, China has been going through an explosive internet adoption period and mobile has played a key role in getting people online. This has had significant impact in terms of Philips ensuring people have a seamless mobile experience and it has radically changed a lot of our projects and ways of working from a digital marketing perspective.

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