Creativity in Digital Transformation

by Brian Corish

Posted on Jan 9, 2022

As an experience architect for Accenture Interactive (ASGR region), Brian Corish has access to, what he calls, "the greatest toy set in the world". He and host Will Francis discuss how digital transformation is not about rushing into new technologies for the sake of it. Rather it is a transformation of mindset and culture, which is aided by creativity and attention to the customer. Brian also joined the DMI for a webinar on this topic, specifically discussing the aspect of people culture. 

The Ahead of the Game podcast is brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute and is available on our website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube, among others.   


Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A, where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Brian Corish all about digital transformation. Brian is managing director of Accenture Interactive in the Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Russia region. Brian is an award-winning tech entrepreneur and has held senior digital roles at Bank of Ireland, Vodafone, and the creative agency, TBWA. Brian actually joined us for a webinar on this very subject recently, along with Barry Thomas, head of customer marketing and future of commerce at Coca-Cola. And that was a fascinating discussion too. So you can watch the replay of that at Anyway, Brian, welcome to the podcast.


Brian: Great to be here. I've been looking forward to this.


Will: It's good to have you on because, yes, digital transformation's clearly quite a big and important topic, and one that's affecting a lot of businesses. Just tell me what is it that you do at Accenture and how does that end up impacting the businesses that are your clients?


Brian: So this, in Accenture, what I do is I work across Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Russia. So we have some very large clients for Accenture Interactive. And my role is sort of the term is an experience architect. So what we do is Accenture is probably the largest, and it is, the largest company of its type in the world in that we've 600,000 thousand people or so. And I describe it as the largest toy set in the world. It's got everything from amazing artificial intelligence to some of the best creative agencies in the world. I mean, my boss is a guy called Dave Droga. He's the most awarded creative, I think in history. And what I do is kind of look at everything from brand strategy to creative to the muscle that is Accenture, the ability to kind of scale and run things. And I work with clients just to kind of figure out what's their point of differentiation, how can we create cool experiences, and then how do I plug in all the parts of Accenture to build them? So we work with 83, I think of...oh, no, as of this week, 84 of the top 100 brands in the world. So most of the digital experiences that you see from the largest brands in the world are typically built by Accenture. So I get the exciting role of kind of running around a massive organization with loads of really cool toys and getting to plug them together to build cool new experiences.


Will: That sounds really interesting. So are you talking about things like, you know, innovative apps, web experiences, digital outdoor, you know, cross-media, stuff like that, AR? Are we talking that kind of thing?


Brian: Everything. We're literally currently working with some large companies that will have to remain nameless that we're building the metaverse for. We're doing really cool stuff with AR and VR, artificial intelligence is massive helping organizations migrate to the cloud, but then figure out what to do with it. So it's not just the case of just taking what you have and put it in the cloud. It's sort of, okay, well, now you're there and you've got this amazing infrastructure, how can we build these cool experiences? Through to scaling eCommerce, through to marketing operations, so helping really, really large brands just where it's really hard to get people and to put operating models in place. We do that.


Will: So what's the big challenge for them? Why do they need you? Where are they getting stuck most commonly?


Brian: Well, what we do is change and transformation. That's what Accenture does. And it can be loads of things, but depending on the industry, I mean, it kind of typically where we try to move clients from is I think over the past, I'll probably get in trouble for saying it, but over the past, you know, 15 years when we spoke about digital transformation, it was let's replace technology with new technology and then we're transformed somehow. What clients are trying to figure out now is, well, how do I kind of create competitive differentiation? And that requires creativity. And what's interesting is over the last couple of years, creativity has previously been sort of creative agencies that sat over making ads and you've got brilliantly creative people there, but they were never allowed near the tech stack of the business or the product function of the business.


So what we do is, well, we've been doing the tech stack of the business for a very long time, and Interactive is the largest digital agency in the world. I mean, it's $10.6 billion a year in revenue and I think around 60,000 people. So, we're taking creativity and technology and putting them together. And that's what we do. So the challenge that a lot of clients have is, okay, we're going through this journey of digital transformation that's been accelerated in 2020. What do we do? Where do we start? And it's increasing and we're saying, well, let's not start with technology. Let's not start with, "Hey, let's replace all your systems." Let's just start with, "How's your operating model, your culture?" I mean, and we do this stuff ourselves. I mean, I'm relatively new to Accenture, but like really cool stuff like the onboarding in Accenture now is done in virtual reality because of the pandemic. You can't go anywhere.


So they send you a headset and you've got this really cool metaverse where you actually virtually network with people and all of the systems in Accenture, which is probably something we should talk about more are amazing. I mean, everything is powered by artificial intelligence in the back-end. So that sort of stuff of like helping organizations understand what is digital transformation and how are they gonna be competitively different when they do that. If they want to just go and replace a billing system, I don't know, talk to someone else.


Will: Yeah, that's interesting though. I didn't really realize that because, yes, you're right, Accenture comes from a place of having all the...being greater than nuts and bolts stuff and the tech stack stuff, the infrastructure. And so they've realized, I suppose, over the years, there's an opportunity to then they're really well-placed to actually kind of execute on digital creativity. Whereas you're right, and I've been there, I've worked in and I've run an agency that was very much about innovation. And it's hard because you're chipping around the edge. It's like you're not quite allowed in the castle. You're trying to make the castle better, you know, and you just end up putting really pretty flags on the castle rather than actually being allowed across the moat, you know?


Brian: That's a really good analogy because literally, I had the same experience, right? You're the creative agency and you have really smart creative people who come up with ideas for the client of here are some...and they understand the brand and here's how we could change the brand. And then you kind of go to the organization, they're like, "Your guys are creative agencies. You make ads. Keep away from our technology stack, keep away from it because you guys don't understand all of these processes and the structure that's required." Whereas I think the really smart move that Accenture has done is combine the two, right? They have all of the credibility of we can run and scale things globally. We're the biggest in the world at it, but also let' the acquisitions that they've made in terms of creative agencies, they are the best in the world.


I mean, Droga5, I think I was always kind of a secret fan before Droga5 [crosstalk 00:08:06] Accenture is the standard of like one of the best agencies in the world. So what we're doing now, and it's different cultures kind of mixing is like, how do you get a bunch of like creative people and a bunch of kind of process-oriented people, because you need both of them, and stick them together? And so that's the hard part. And that's a part that clients are gonna have problems with too, right? Is at the center of digital transformation, you need that creativity, you need that thing that makes your brand different. Because I think I probably land in that camp more than the process thing. My wife would definitely say I land in that camp more than the process thing if you see the state of my room. But those people, they think differently. And if you're in a big organization, how do you acquire those people? How do you retain them? How do you create, like, a career timeline?


So if I'm a creative director, or if I'm a UX designer, or a developer, there's only so far I get in certain types of organizations and it's like, oh, kind of stuck now, whereas Accenture is sort of like, well, you can keep going because we figured that stuff out. But it's gonna take clients years to do that, to kind of change their model that way from marketing as a bunch of guys over there that do some nice ads, but like they're not making it to C-suite any time soon.


Will: I know that you say, well, it's not just about implementing new technology, but the fact that technology is always changing, that is the kind of nature of the opportunity, right? That is the source of the opportunity for some stuff. You know, for instance, we see, you know, AR and VR still kind of burgeoning and it's that kind of first move or advantage and all that kind of thing. So is that a source of opportunity in your eyes?


Brian: It depends on where you're coming at it from, right? So,it's a source of threat if I'm a very large organization. And what I mean by that is if you look at the cloud and you look at SaaS in the last decade, if I'm a startup, within 24 hours with, you know, my credit card, I can have the same or better infrastructure than most large enterprises have because I just go to a GCP instance or I go to Azure or AWS, and I have a scalable cloud infrastructure that's that cost me next to nothing until I scale. That was usually kind of a barrier for entry for large organizations, right? They had to invest tens of millions or hundreds of millions in their technology because they had to scale. And if you're a small startup...certainly when I had my startups, you couldn't compete with those guys. You were like, we can't build that infrastructure. We'd have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Whereas now, I could literally just hop on Google and switch it on. And that's a threat if I'm a big company because they have legacy infrastructure.


If I'm a bank, I've probably been around, you know, 50, 100 years and I have all of these different systems that have been built over time. It makes me slower because they're all on-premise and I need to move them to the cloud, whereas a FinTech can scale up and start taking my customers quickly and it takes years to compete, so it's a know, emerging technologies and opportunity. I was in augmented reality in 2011, way too early.


Will: It was raw.


Brian: Yeah. And the hardware wasn't ready. It wasn't there yet. So it was cool, but it was useless. Whereas now you're starting to see kind of practical uses for it. It's being put into cars. Your satellite navigation is literally put up on your windscreen in a lot of cars, heads up displays, starting to see practical uses. So, my very roundabout answer is it's both an opportunity and a threat, but I think organizations get a bit too caught up in the technology and they forget the point of deploying the technology, which is either adding customer value, that gives me competitive advantage, that grows my company.


Will: I'm interested in this legacy thing because, you know, how do you handle innovation at a company that has a huge body of legacy systems? Do you just go off and create completely separate ancillary stuff, experiences, and systems, you know, without spending five years plugging that into all the legacy stuff? Can you do that?


Brian: Can, but then you end up with disjointed customer experiences at some point, right? So you can build this beautiful app over here, and know, if I just take banking as an example, now I wanna log in and check my accounts, oh, wait, no, that doesn't talk to that thing and that kind of falls over. But I mean, the approach that we are advocating for, I mean, we've got service design agencies like Fjord, and then here in Austria, we have a company called SinnerSchrader, who are building digital experiences for some very large automotive companies in Germany. What we're trying to do is say, look, let's start with understanding the customer need and reinventing the experience around it, not making it better, not just iteratively making it better, which is where organizations have gotten stuck for a while. And then let's light some fires. So let's start with little prototypes to make sure the thing that we're building is the right thing. And if isn't, having the courage to kill it fast.


Will: And that can happen in isolation, can't it? That prototyping, that MVP, you know, can be just done in the lab as it were.


Brian: Organizations haven't had to operate that way before. And they couldn't, right? These big legacy infrastructure. So the product team would come up with an idea that they think is right. They do some research beforehand, and then off it went to someone in IT who had to go build a thing. And it would take them two years to build it because they're building it on all these clunky systems and integrating everything. Then they released it to market and realize, "Oh, nobody really wanted it." And there's a huge amount of wasted money there. So if you can kind of rapidly try things, and look, that's what cloud allows you to do ultimately, but you can do it before then to make sure that okay, the things we're going to have to kind of throw over the fence and build are the right things. They are the things that customers actually care about. That's where I think there's a lot of confusion over agile, right?


So every organization that you speak to is going, oh, we're gonna be agile and we're know, we're loads of scrum masters and loads. And it's like, okay, but how are you determining what's of customer value and how are you killing stuff that isn't? And that's usually where...well, we've built a new app and we did it in a series of sprints, but nobody actually spoke to a customer in the meantime. And well, nobody's using it. Like, it's that sort of...


Will: Yeah. I think that's the first major watch out with digital transformation to flag up for listeners. Isn't it? That unless it's customer-centric, which is an easy thing to say but, you know, it's a hard thing to really kind of stay true to. Unless it's customer-centric, you're right, it's useless and it's the wrong thing to do.


Brian: Yeah. Start with the assumption you're totally wrong is a good way to start, right? So go talk to customers and, you know, there's loads of methodologies, but it doesn't really...I don't really get caught up in design thinking this week and then some other one in the next week. And it's more about is the customer behavior changing? So is the thing we're deploying, changing customer behavior. Are users actually changing their behavior as a result of the thing that we've released? And if they're not, well, then it's kind of a vanity metric. We've done it for the sake of ourselves. And you can use design thinking to kind of find what are those hidden needs, things customers can't really articulate but it's a problem, they might tell you in research. But if you observe them doing something, you can figure, "Oh, there's a problem there." And then that's where you bring in the creative people who go, "Okay, well, let's just reinvent that, change the entire experience around that thing. And now let's go see if we're right."


And probably 80% of the time we were wrong. And that's where, you know, there's a huge cultural change in organizations there because in a lot of places, it's not okay to kind of say, "Yeah, I spent six months on this thing and actually it's a disaster that doesn't work," because you're kind of rewarded by pushing forward the best stories. So it's that culture of, you know, they always say fail fast and it's not as learning, right? It's that culture of how do you launch something, how do you test if it's working, and how do you, when it's not, have a culture where people can go, actually, that didn't work, but we learned these things for the next one?


Will: Yes. Exactly. You're right.


Brian: And people are rewarded for that. That's a huge shift.


Will: Yeah. Hello. A quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies, to toolkits, and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing. Head to, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast.


So it sounded like we're skirting around some of these things, but just give me the kind of what are the main pillars of digital transformation and picking up things about culture, things about technology and prototyping, sort of just for the listeners thinking, okay, what are the main kind of moving parts of digital transformation? Just lay that out for us in sort of simple terms.


Brian: You can kind of break it down into two parts. And I've been trying to articulate it for years really badly. And it's actually when I got to Accenture, I saw a piece of work and it was called Business of Experience, and I was like, "That's what I've been trying to say for the last couple of years." And there's sort of two parts, right? There's what's what every organization has been on this journey of customer experience and CX, and there's this other narrative that's called business of experience, which is how do you...customer experience is all about touchpoint optimization, right? So digital transformation has been around, how do we make things more efficient? Essentially is how digital transformation has been viewed for the last number of years. So, how do we make our marketing more efficient?


Will we do that through marketing automation? And we do that through better targeting. Will you do that through CDPs or DMPs? And we get really efficient at our marketing. And then, well, let's look at our customer journey and omnichannel customer journey where it's about like a single view of customer, and then it's about making that more efficient. But it's really been about efficiency to save cost. So that's the first phase of where digital transformation has been. I think 2020 has really been the tipping point where brands have realized, okay, we need to do that stuff because customer expectation's continually improving, but are changing, but it's not providing us with any differentiation. We're running to keep still, right? We're getting better every year, and brands are getting better every year, and customer experience is getting better every year, but there are very few brands that are really kind of radically differentiating. So that's kind of the next phase of digital transformation is how do you take the money you've saved through all of this efficiency stuff and reallocate it and double down on innovation that will drive huge competitive advantage for you.


And that's where there's a real kind of shift in how thinking around digital transformation needs to happen. I mean, like over the past kind of 20, 25 years, we've seen a huge shift in how brands kind of need to operate to remain competitive, right? I could be contentious and say, a lot of them haven't transformed enough. I mean, when I grew up in sort of the '80s and '90s, you could build a pretty crappy product and you could lean on the industrial advertising complex to provide you with that differentiation, right? So, you know, smart people in SoHo or Madison Avenue, they came up with this brilliant campaign. You know, and through budget, basically taking over TV and cinema and outdoor, you could convince people that your car, or your jeans, or your washing powder was the best or made them look the sexiest or whatever, and wasn't the case. And then along came this kind of great arbiter of brands, which was the internet. And with kind of a few one-star reviews, all of your hard work is just gone.


So, what's happened is products have gotten better because you kind have to. I mean, it's very hard to buy a car now that breaks down all the time whereas that was perfectly fine in the '90s. You know, like, the worst smartphone you pick up now has got a really good battery and a decent camera. You know, there's no bad products anymore. So we've all benefited from that. The is challenge there are a few brands that have figured out actually the product is getting a little better every year, it's the experience around the product that is where we differentiate. And those brands just dominate the industries that they come into. And you see kind of this really was the trigger for where digital transformation started. You saw brands like Netflix coming in and just...Product's the same, but we're gonna do personalization. And the value they're giving to customers like you can't compete with Netflix now. If you're a media brand, it's like, well, I expect to have billions of dollars of content every year for about $10 a month. Like, it's just how do you compete with those guys? So what they've done is they've reinvented the experience and they've looked at innovation around the experience.


Will: Yes. And they continue to do that. I think that's what's interesting about Netflix is they don't stop, they keep just really trying to lower the amount of friction. They're always on the attack looking for points of friction and just addressing those, you know, making it easy to find something to watch, easy to connect with the things that are likely to be relevant to you. And, you know, they didn't stop when they got all those movies into a digital interface.


Brian: No, and that's what's fascinating about those brands. I mean, you can be lazy and say Apple, but actually, Apple are pretty good at copying other people. But like those experience-led brands. You know, even if you look at Uber as an example, I know that they're not profitable, but if you look at what they did, I mean, taxi ranks even exist anymore? I'm not entirely sure.


Will: In small towns, yeah.


Brian: But they didn't change the fundamental product initially, but the experience of booking it, they changed that. And then they went, okay, now you're in the car. Well, you can play your music and then you can set the climate before you get into the car. And then they went into Uber Eats, and then they went into like...they're continuously about experience reinvention and not experience iterative improvement. So that's the longest answer ever, but when you talk about digital transformation, I think the first generation of digital transformation has been around iterative improvement or efficiency. The next challenge companies have is, well, how do we take the money we've saved and stop just passing it back to the shareholder in terms of dividends? And then go, let's double down and reinvent the experience. I mean, some companies have done this really well. Disney did this really well.


Like, Disney was theme parks and the occasional movie, like they've moved into Disney Plus and really began to sort of eat into the streaming business and you see their share price going way up. They've kind of figured that out. They've figured out actually we're in the business of kind of entertainment and happiness. And how do we reinvent experiences with that as our North Star? But a lot of companies are kind of stuck in the efficiency part. How do we improve MPS? How do we make our call centers more efficient? Cool. That's okay, but I saw a statistic recently, I think is that Gen Z, I hate generalizing by generations, but I think 57% of them would prefer to go to a dentist than call a call center and to deal with an IVR. They just don't want to do it. So you can be as efficient as you want to be, but nobody wants to call you in the first place. So, how do you reinvent that experience?


Will: No, that's a good point. I mean, just to kind of push you a bit on this, let's say that I'm a listener and I'm like, okay, great, yeah, Netflix, Disney, they're great, but I run a florist in a medium-sized town or city. You know, is digital transformation on the table there for a business like that? And what kind of things, you know, should those small businesses be looking to?


Brian: Yes, because you look at the same thing, right? So you look at the customer journey, isn't the right word, but how customers consume your product essentially. And you look at experience reinvention around that, that will provide you with the differentiation. So if you're a florist, look at the distribution model. Do people have to go into your flower shop, which currently given all the lockdowns could be a bit of a challenge? If you look at subscription models, why do people buy flowers? Well, they want nice flowers in their house. Could you look at building a subscription model where every month you pay a certain amount a month and every month depending on the season, we send you flowers? So we send you different types of flowers for your house, or we color-coordinate the flowers that you have in your house based on the decor in your house. And you can start to use machine vision there, and you can start to use recommendation engine.


So, like, the great thing about the time we live in now is pretty much anything's possible with technology. It's the kind of the creativity, the creative solutions that will give your florist competitive differentiation over anyone else. And it may not be a digital thing. I mean, there's a bookstore in London and bookstores, you know, Jeff Bezos' having the world's largest midlife crisis has demolished bookstores, right? Amazon, the idea of you don't go to bookstores anymore, except these guys figured out that, well, what if we do curated recommendations specifically for you based on our understanding of you? So we talk to you, it's a very personal thing where we talk to you, we understand the books you like, you don't like. We're not using personalization and recommendations.


Will: No algorithms.


Brian: Nothing. And we will package these books for you because we know these are the exact type of books you like, and we'll send them to you every week or every month. And they charge, I think, £1,000 a year for that service. And they're booked out, bad, bad pun intended. But their business has transformed. Because if they decided, we're gonna be online too, we're gonna compete with Amazon. They don't have hope competing with Amazon. So it's understanding what makes your brand different. In their case, their people is what made their brand different. They were proper, constantly reading books, and their understanding of their customer.


Will: But it's a digitally available product presumably as well, you know? So they still had to articulate that through technology and make that subscription available online and what have you.


Brian: But very high touch, very personal. They speak to you. They're bookworms themselves. They really understand them. It's not just, hey, other people like you like this, it's really they get to really understand the things you love about books and love about specific authors. And then they go and find the books for you. It sounds really rudimentary, talk to your customer. It's just how many years have we been saying this and we always find some excuse not to? Well, it's all about data. No, just talk to your customer. No, it's all about AI. Again, talk to your customer.


Will: Yeah. Customer insight's crucial. I mean, it's like the florist thing, you know, I was just Googling there and there's a brand I see all the time called Bloom & Wild. And they've done incredibly well over the last couple of years because they created this product, Letterbox Flowers. And presumably, it's based on the insight that people worry about sending flowers and someone might not be in and the flowers get left outside the door. And so they basically created a piece of packaging that somehow keeps the flowers fresh, fits through a letterbox, and that has been their thing. And then on top of that, yeah, they created a really slick eCommerce store probably through something like Shopify, but they've done it insanely well. And so, you know, it can be that. And it's, again, based on that customer insight, customer concern, customer fear, what's keeping your customer up at night, what your customers really want. And you're right, it's all about talking to them, listening to them.


Brian, I've got to ask you, how did you get to where you are and what are the differences? Because you were building startups and now you, I suppose at the other end of the spectrum working for one of the world's big businesses. How did that trajectory happen and what have you kind of brought with you along the way?


Brian: Through a series of fortunate accidents, I think is how my career has turned out. Yeah. I started in startups, tech startups with my own companies through just simply observation. Realized that kind of...I was a DJ. That's how I started and started looking at restaurants and bars and got to know the owners. And they were all like, well, yeah, it's a real pain sorting out our music and not having that right. And then stores, same problem. And then we started to build a company out of that that started to use computer systems that essentially emulated what a DJ would do. Would understand where it was and what crowd would be there and would play music. And then we went, "Well, a lot of these places have screens. We should probably do some ads on screens for them." And this became a digital signage network. So when I sold that, I ended up building kind of creative solutions for brand experiences. So, that's what we did. Just like look at what was discretionary budget at the time, this being 2007, 2008, digital was not a thing. I'm going, how could we kind of create these amazing brand experiences with kind of bleeding-edge technology, which is how I know so much about being way too early in the market with certain types of technology?


Will: But did you do any Bluetooth marketing?


Brian: Oh God. Yeah. And then how do you get people to leave their Bluetooth on because the batteries were crap on phones at the time and they used to just switch them off. But now it's on all the time, so that's fine. But yes, I did. So I'm very familiar with being too early to the market with technology. But it was always about kind of what I'm trying to do is create interesting and exciting experience for people. I mean, I think as I was saying this before, DJing is probably the worst job you can ever start your career with because you turn up and expect like, you know, turn up about everything and expect, oh, there's 1,000 people just going nuts because I'm playing music. Why would I turn up to the office? Does this not happen? So it's always, look, how do you kind of put creativity and technology together? I've had a weird career. I mean, I've gone from there into creative agencies, where I saw the kind of the limitations of brilliantly creative people who I realized very quickly I'm not that creative when you talk to these people who are kind of shoehorned into go make a TV ad or go make a display ad.


And just seeing that industry and I was there around 2012 and just seeing what was gonna happen to that industry, which has. I mean, you're seeing the industrial advertising complex kind of collapsing upon itself at the moment into, "Okay, I'm gonna try this in big companies. I'm gonna try in Vodafone and telcos." And you realize they're big ships to turn, they're really difficult to get an entire industry or a massive player because it's just, to the points we spoke about earlier, you have huge amounts of infrastructure and millions of customers. And it's not as easy years I thought, if I just create this thing and we'll just launch it. And so it's always been about kind of trying to drive that change, which is how I've ended up through a series of kind of debates with very, very smart people in Accenture. Working in Accenture is this...because I think it's kind of I've landed in somewhere where I can kind of be creative and see the impact of what you're doing and having a machine with 600,000 people being able to build some of my more hair-brained ideas. Yeah, I don't know, I've had a very strange career.


Will: That's nice. No, that's nice that you are able to do that, to see those things executed, you know? And that must be really satisfying. So, but I suppose, what have you brought with you from startup life? What wouldn't you know if you hadn't had those startups?


Brian: Yeah. I've learned a lot in large organizations. I mean, what I figured out in startups was the point we were talking about earlier, just talk to your customer because we had no budget. We could barely pay our bills. We set up and we were building stuff that nobody had seen before. So if you didn't talk to the customer being the end client at the time, you didn't have a business. You couldn't pay your mortgage. So we were literally co-creating with our customers, going talk to them and going, "Do you want this?" "No, that's not exactly right." "Okay. Be back in a week. Do you want this?" No, that's... And what I figured out when you join really large companies is there are so many layers in the company, as company just scales, you have to do that, that quite often the people who talk to customers most, usually, people working in stores or people working in call centers are a couple of layers removed from the people who are building the products or doing the marketing. And my kind of thing from startups, which is really simplistic, is how do you put that customer...getting people to go talk to customers again?


And when you do that, the innovation starts really quickly. Organization start to realize, "Oh, yeah, didn't think about that." And I hate this idea of this unicorn, super creative people who kind of...this idolatry that we have of all these innovators, Elon Musk and his bunch of flying monkeys is driving me a bit crazy at the moment. You know, yes, he's a very smart person, I hate the fact that he takes credit for everything that Tesla does. It's not him. He's got brilliantly smart engineers. He's got brilliantly smart user experience designers who are attracted to the brilliant brand he's built, but it's not about that. I mean, anyone can be creative, they just need to be kind of closer to customers and understand that. So, that's the learning I brought to big companies. What big companies have taught me is, yeah, with your startup ideas, there is still a lot of structure that needs to be put into place to make that work at scale.


Will: Okay. Well, look, I can see time's ticking. We've got eight minutes till we're on the hour. So, there's a couple of important things I wanna ask you because I wanna get in here. The first one is I know we talked about this in the webinar a little bit, but what would you say to listeners who are becoming aware they need to, you know, implement some sort of digital transformation in their company? What would you say to those people as a sort of way to get started, as a sort of a critical path to get started with a digital transformation project?


Brian: Start with really understanding your brand. Start with really understanding...and it's usually, not usually, but quite regularly left out is digital transformation typically starts in technology and it starts with, "Hey, we need to replace this thing quick. Let's replace this thing and the business [crosstalk 00:36:50]." Yeah. "Why? I don't know, it's cool." But if you start with your brand, usually the marketing team or the brand team are typically pretty close to the customer and they should fundamentally understand the brand's DNA and what makes a brand different. And if you then translate that to the transformation you're undergoing, that's where you get your competitive differentiation. Porsche is an example of that. They understand their DNA. They understand what makes them different. And what's always made Porsche different is repeatability of performance. They could keep doing the same thing over and over again, and then you could drive home where other cars would've blown up. And it's about the driving experience.


When Porsche made an electric car, they made one that drives like a Porsche. When lots of other manufacturers made electric car, they made one trying to be like Tesla, whereas Porsche, and it's done really well for them have said, "No, no, we're going to keep the DNA of what makes our brand different. And we're going to apply that using new technology." That's the start. And it's usually the part people are left out, the marketing team and the brand team, the people who help you create that north star for what you're trying to do and how it's gonna be different and how it's gonna give you competitive advantage. Nobody in the organization cares other than the C-suite about your margin next year. Everyone cares about why would I stay in this organization? Well, that's the north star for what are we trying to do for society? What are we trying to do for our customers? What are we trying to do for our colleagues? And if you can articulate that everything else becomes a lot easier.


Will: And I remember talking on the webinar, you talked about know, you really stressed the point that digital transformation isn't just about technology. Actually, the transformation is really a transformation of mindset and culture. And that's what anybody listening is gonna find themselves pushing against. So not like wrangling with bits of tech and getting them implemented, but actually kind of changing the culture in people's minds, right?


Brian: Yeah. Hugely. I mean, and, you know, you've heard of the last couple of years about purpose-led brands and what that means and purpose. Where that's kind of fallen down quite a lot is we talk about purpose and then it's handed over to the marketing department, right? So you guys go talk about our purpose and then here's a new purpose. Let's talk to internal coms and have loads of presentations about our purpose with some guest speakers talking about our purpose, not people who work in the organization. And where in digital transformation, that kind of setting a north star of here's what we're trying to do that's gonna get people excited. Why would I want to work for you as a company? That part will start to shift the culture. Look, you're not gonna bring everybody. There's gonna be people who are scared of change. I mean, actually, when you think, most of us really are a little scared of change, but it's that kind of this is where we're going, this is what it means for you and your career. These are the things you can do to kind of transform and learn new skills as we move forward. Because everybody's going to have to learn new skills if you cannot continue to do your job the same way because just everything is changing so quickly. Most of the roles that are important now didn't exist 10 years ago.


Will: Yeah. So, upskilling is kind of a big part of it as well. Isn't it?


Brian: Huge. And again, my bone of contention with unicorns is this, you know, there will be external skill sets you need to hire, and there will be different skill sets you need to hire, but don't forget the people who work in your organization. Like, they become less shiny somehow when they're in the organization. It's how do you bring those people along? How do you train those people? Like, because trying to acquire the best new digital analytics talent, for example, yeah, good luck. You'll get them for a while. It's really how do you kind of help the people internally understand that and how do you upskill them, and how do you make it less scary? So there's going to be change, yeah, but it's gonna be positive for everyone here as opposed to negative.


Will: And that change isn't always, I mean, we talk about digital transformation and the conversation naturally tends towards the big flashy kind of new technologies, but it's not always about that, is it? It could be about, you know, kind of...and it usually is about quite mundane-sounding stuff, the lower-level stuff, the changing our CRM system, changing our, you know eCommerce platform, or the way we do, you know, social media, or something like that.


Brian: Yeah. I mean, it is. But it's just put innovation at the center of what the consumers care about. And it's not about...look, operational improvements are important. Why? Because they free up the budget to do the exciting stuff.


Will: Yes. That's true.


Brian: But where a lot of organizations are getting kind they're looking at the operational improvement as the end goal, and saying, "We're gonna digitally transform and our cost-income ratio is going to go from X to Y." Woohoo. We're going to do all this automation stuff in the back office because, well, it's gonna free up budget that we're gonna be able to create something really cool that when you go to work, you go, "I work for them. And I'm pretty proud about it." Those are the companies that are going to win. And it isn't always about technology, it isn't always about the latest, coolest, newest thing.


Will: Brian, thanks so much. Very, very interesting to hear your thoughts on digital transformation. One last question, where can people find you and connect with you online?


Brian: Probably not Twitter because I'm having loads of arguments with people on Twitter all the time. I spend less time there now. Just on LinkedIn, reach out to me on LinkedIn. The great thing of having a weird name is nobody else has it. So if you just look me up on LinkedIn, Brian Corish (or Brian Corish) on LinkedIn, and I'll be happy to chat.


Will: Great stuff. We'll do that. Well, thank you so much. Appreciate your time. Cheers.


Brian: Good. Cheers. Take care. Bye-bye.


Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training at Thanks for listening.

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Brian Corish
Brian Corish

Brian is a former Entrepreneur of the Year, senior MD at Accenture, and seasoned executive who has just launched Elemental, an AI-focused consultancy to help companies create exponential growth. You can follow the Elemental newsletter on LinkedIn.

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