Digital Doctor: the measure of success

Digital transformation is not just for blue chips. Digital expert Cat Leaver on the importance of raising your return on investment

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.’
– computer pioneer Ken Olsen, speaking in 1977.


Ten years ago, happily sitting amidst a jungle of precariously tangled wires hailing from a three-piece desktop, many of us would have found hilarity in Mr Olsen’s aged statement. Home computers were the present and the future, with a new generation of digital-savvy teenagers raised on cries from disgruntled parents to ‘stop blocking the landline’ with their dial-up internet connection. Four decades after he spoke, however, Olsen’s statement perhaps rings more true than he, or we, could ever have imagined.

In 2015 very few of us are content with solely owning a computer in our home. We want one as we walk down the street, when we’re on the train, as we lie on the beach, and as we make our dinner in the evening. In 2015, we want our finger on the pulse, we want a computer in our palm; we need access online wherever we are, instantly. Home is just a location, our computers travel with us.

Blue-chip organisations caught on to this trend several years ago – arguably slower than even they should have done – and it’s only recently that even some of the largest corporations have begun to take their digital strategy seriously, rather than add it into their activities as an extended vanity project. It has been documented that 83 per cent of Fortune 500 companies now have an active Twitter account and the vast majority of these have a qualified, experienced department at the helm, with the same budgetary and ROI goals as the rest of the organisation.

However, at its heart, digital is an inherently creative industry, making it surprising that a number of artistic organisations somewhat neglect their online efforts or, much like their corporate counterparts once did, view it as a side dish rather than the main course of a wider growth strategy.

To become a leader in digital marketing, you need to pioneer trends and concepts before the general public – something the arts has traditionally prided itself on. Yet a survey in 2014 showed that only 11 per cent of arts and cultural organisations had experienced major impacts on their profitability through digital efforts. Using new media and benefitting from it are two entirely different things and, while there’s no ‘set way’ to achieve success in the digital stratosphere, if you’re not doing it right you may as well not be doing it at all.

The arts are notorious for bemoaning dwindling audiences and a lack of younger spectators at shows and exhibitions, yet we make it inherently difficult for those audiences to become part of the story. Digital marketing efforts, if in existence at all, are often tailored for audiences who know your work well (after all, it’s much easier to engage a fan). A surprising number of websites, for example, still rely upon out-of-date ecommerce or third-party booking systems (raising the price for consumers, and lessening the profit margin for the organisation) while social media strategies rarely consider effective plans for attracting entirely new audiences to new work.

Yet taking digital to the heart of your brand has proven successful for those who have embraced it: Shakespeare’s Globe, for example, is famous for its digital network (especially its online video library). Moreover, its constant innovation is practised both on the website and across wider digital networks. In 2014, the Globe expanded their network on a mass scale via online channels – pulling in nearly four million website visits from two-and-a-half million users. That year, they also saw a 42 per cent increase in Facebook fans, a 52 per cent increase in Twitter followers, and netted £21.5m (€29.3m) worth of income – up £2m on 2013. Not bad for an arts organisation whose primary focus is on a writer that schoolchildren find notoriously ‘boring.’

It’s naive, of course, to believe that all arts organisations can achieve these figures. In a not-for-profit environment with physical and financial barriers, the Globe is fortunate enough to be near the top of the pecking order with a global brand, a much larger budget than most, and a pool of resources. However, success is relative and ignoring the need to assess what your audiences want from digital drives is not only counterintuitive but also potentially dangerous to the future of any organisation. The fate of video rental company Blockbuster, for example, was written in the stars as soon as the likes of Netflix and Love Film embraced the modern consumer’s ‘want-it-now’ appetite and they backed down.

Digital success does not happen overnight, and it’s here that a thorough transformation strategy comes into play. In the case of the blue-chip corporates, taking a step back and revising how they used digital allowed many to break through complex departmental layers and previously archaic, rigid business plans. Digital transformation is all about understanding where your business stands with digital technology now, where it should be in the future, and how it will get there: whether that’s through tools, team members and skillsets, training, outsourcing, or processes. It’s something that not only needs to be done at implementation, but something that needs to continue for the long-term in the same way you assess any other aspects of your business.

Online strategies aren’t just about conversions, they are about creating communities and engaging with a huge audience on a personal basis. In ignoring thorough digital transformation arts organisations aren’t just affecting profitability, but also neglecting a rare opportunity to re-establish themselves creatively.

If the modern consumer wants a computer in their palm, they want the opportunity for communities at their fingertips. Something blue chips, in my opinion, can never do better than the arts.

Cat Leaver is head of strategy at We Are Ad.