Digital Leadership: 6 Examples of Brands that Reign Supreme

According to Forbes, 52% of Fortune 500 companies went bankrupt, were acquired, ceased to exist, or dropped off the list due to digital disruption since the millennium. Simply put, the ability to strategically use digital initiatives to achieve business goals is essential to an organization’s survival.

In such times of change, it is crucial for organizations to innovate not only to help drive the transformation of their company and brand, but also to understand how consumers experience technology, assess the impact, and use that knowledge to improve their experience.

In this blog, we explore what makes a brand a digital leader. Whether it’s taking a customer-centric approach like Nordstrom and IKEA, having a clear understanding of the value your company brings - Lego and Autodesk, or taking an innovative approach to both their business and customer like Burberry and Unilever, these 6 examples will leave you in no doubt as to the leadership status of their brand.  

1) Nordstrom: Employ a Customer-Centric Strategy

For almost a century, Nordstrom has been known for its elegant, upscale customer experience. To maintain its position in the marketplace, in the late 1990s the company embarked on a mission to invest in digital technologies that served customers and further empowered their customer-centric employees.

By developing a digital business model and strategy the company focused on providing the ultimate customer experience. Following the creation of their website, they developed a new point-of-sale system featuring personal book software, so sales could track individual customer requests and needs. The launch of an innovation lab soon followed that enabled the development of social apps, mobile checkout, employee texting, and later, the acquisition of a cloud-based men’s personalized clothing service.

This journey to digitalization not only made shopping easier but provided customers with a seamless user experience. By tightly integrating technology with personalized customer data and streamlined business processes, Nordstrom has seen revenues grow by more than 50% over the last five years.

The company continues to evolve as it seeks new ways to operate in the digital retail environment.

”The way customers are choosing to shop in a more digitally-connected world continues to change, and we know we need to find ways for our stores to evolve with them. This is a challenge, but we also see a tremendous opportunity to leverage our stores in ways that will allow us to serve customers into the future better than anyone else.” - Erik Nordstrom, Co-President of Nordstrom.

2) Autodesk: Evolve with Digital

Autodesk: Evolve with Digital | Digital Leadership: 6 Examples of Brands that Reign Supreme

As a player in providing software solutions for 3D design and engineering, Autodesk relied on a licensing model that was struggling to succeed in the face of digitization. Faced with an uncertain future, management made the decision to evolve from its historical license-based software model to a more versatile, cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) model.

The aim of this transition was to attract new subscribers, improve product iteration to develop more intuitive software, and increase user engagement. In addition, they launched the “Spark” program, an effort to integrate 3D printing software with hardware and materials companies.

Autodesk’s combined efforts have positioned the company as a major digital player, using the power of cloud platforms to win customers and realize a projected increase in operating margins from 13% to 30%. With cloud computing on the rise, the company’s prospects are bright.

3) IKEA: Understand Your Customers

While many companies continue to search for solutions to the challenge that digital presents, IKEA has been particularly successful at riding the digital wave. As the world’s largest furniture company, the company is adept at understanding its customers and using tactics to grab their attention.

IKEA: Understand Your Customers | Digital Leadership: 6 Examples of Brands that Reign Supreme

Known for its clever promotions featuring good-humored relationship dynamics, IKEA’s recent campaign, “Where Life Happens,” uses Google search expertise to make everyday life better with its products. By experimenting with searches targeted at specific problems, IKEA renamed their products to solve common life issues. For example, instead of simply advertising the benefits of a particular bed, it relabeled it to “My Partner Snores.” A range of other products were renamed to match their solutions to typical customer issues.

This hands-on strategy continues through the IKEA Home Tour Squad, an initiative that sees IKEA staff visit the homes of families and individuals to help them design hard-to-furnish spaces and inspiring new ways to use their products.

This commitment to their customers has led to other digital projects that embrace the connection between technology and product. For example, furniture that wirelessly charges a phone has a potential market of two billion smartphone users worldwide. 

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad has said this about his hopes for the company’s longevity based on its digital entrepreneurship

“Nobody can guarantee a company or a concept of eternal life, but no one can accuse me of not having tried to.”

4) LEGO: Get Back to Basics

In the 1990s, the Denmark-based LEGO toy company had evolved from a manufacturer of children’s building blocks to a world-renowned organization touting theme parks, clothing, books and video games.

Yet, just a decade later, their lax fiscal management put the company on the verge of bankruptcy. Desperate to bounce back, LEGO executives restructured the organization to refocus on core building products, cutting costs and engaging children with digital technology.

While they achieved success through construction kits and two hugely successful movies, the digital space is where the company has created a place for themselves for the future.

"You can't create an attractive property for children without playing in the digital space. Pretty much everything we do has a digital connotation to it." - SørenTorpLaursen, president of LEGO Systems

Based on this premise. Lego developed the Nexo Knights line, a medieval kingdom set in a futuristic world. Using physical toy sets, they developed the ability to scan knights shields using a mobile device which allows users to download powers to use in their app game. In addition, their building and coding sets such as Lego Boost encourage children to bring their creations to life.

LEGO: Get Back to Basics | Digital Leadership: 6 Examples of Brands that Reign Supreme

These digital initiatives merge programming and physical building, capturing the attention of their target market – children - and cementing the LEGO brand as an innovator in the marketplace. 

5) Burberry: Hire Fresh Eyes

Like most sectors that rely on the person-to-person experience, the fashion industry has struggled to accommodate emerging digital platforms. A fashion leader worldwide, Burberry was an early adopter to the world of digital down to the hiring of its digitally savvy CEO. Under Angela Ahrendts’ control, digital was put at the core of their strategy and rolled out through a series of initiatives designed to drive the business on and offline.

Burberry: Hire Fresh Eyes | Digital Leadership: 6 Examples of Brands that Reign Supreme

One such initiative was the launch of its own social media site, Art of the Trench. Featuring customers wearing its signature trench coats, the site allows users to comment, like, and share posts in an upbeat digital democracy. 

Originally designed to be a stand-alone platform, it grew Burberry’s Facebook fan base to over a million, which was the largest fan count in the luxury sector at the time. Such is its success that it has now been adopted across a number of social media platforms, particularly Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

Other innovations include an e-commerce catalog that matches the company’s in-store inventory, easily navigable mobile technologies for smartphones and tablets, creative and engaging content, and in-store RFID chips that showcase product videos as customers pass by.

Burberry’s ability to quickly develop strategies for the digital marketplace has paid off impressively. Between 2011 and 2015, the company posted revenue growth of 68%, rising from £1,501.3 million to £2,523.2 million and solidified its reputation as a digital innovator in the fashion industry. 

As for Angela Ahrendts, she has since moved on from Burberry to become Senior VP for retail at Apple and the only female senior executive at the company. 

6) Unilever: Join the Disruptors

With the acquisition of the online-only subscription service Dollar Shave Club, Unilever is embracing digital disruption by partnering with niche companies that add value to their customers. In a move that will see the company sell directly to customers rather than through a retailer, the acquisition may be looking to build a loyal customer base and secure revenues.

In a similar vein, the company’s platform for start-ups and innovators, Unilever Foundry has worked on over 100 pilot projects to stimulate and facilitate experimentation within the organization. Other collaborations involve tapping into new video platforms through Vidsy, scaling content through Upworthy and examining consumer habits via video research start-up WeSeeThrough.  

Alongside the Foundry, Unilever has launched a Transform partnership to engage social entrepreneurs to connect their brands with social impact businesses around water, sanitation, and hygiene alongside energy solutions. It is also committed to mobile and digital technologies within financially sustainable business models that meet low-income household needs.

“Start-ups in every sector are reinventing the world and because Unilever has such a big sustainability agenda, we would like to connect more with social impact businesses to help transform what we do.” - Jeremy Bassett, Head of Unilever Foundry.

While these companies use the power of digital in different ways, the common thread is that they apply it to achieving their business goals. By understanding how digital can address the needs of their customers and their business processes, they are driving innovation across industries.

Ian Dodson
Co-Founder @ Digital Marketing Institute