Forrester analyst Amanda LeClair (guest speaker) shares strategies for brands to thrive on change

Illustration of many streetsigns in a single space, implying the many digital transformation strategies available to companies
January 25, 2021


Last year demonstrated that digital experience is customer experience. Nobody knows this better than Amanda LeClair, an analyst with the research firm Forrester. LeClair spent 2020 speaking to leaders that had to reconfigure business structures to meet the challenge of a world going digital.

Adapting to digital business models is as necessary for supermarkets as it was for software companies. For Forrester, this need for more resilient and innovative business models requires a new digital strategy. Brands needed quick wins as they struggled to adjust to new realities — the most significant being constant change. LeClair summed it up: "There is no business as usual in the digital era, there's no steady-state; change is what business as usual is."

Enter the future-fit technology strategy. The new strategy calls for brands to be resilient, adaptive and creative. These may sound just like trendy adjectives, but when applied to Forrester’s core building blocks of platforms, practices and partnerships, they define and drive the future of a brand’s business. By making smart decisions about these three factors, brands can reconfigure business structures and capabilities and, ultimately, build an unshakeable foundation to meet whatever comes next.

Changing customer expectations 

If you think your only competition is coming from direct competitors and adjacent brands, think again. LeClair says that each time a customer interacts with an improved digital experience, their expectations are reset for all future digital experiences. 

According to LeClair, one of the most important things you can do before implementing new tech or seeking out partnerships is to step back and take the time to truly get to know your customers  — who they are, what motivates them and why. And this advice isn’t just for customer-facing roles. In fact, it's likely even more critical for roles that are further away from your customers’ daily lives.

LeClair is confident of one thing brands have to get right to succeed: the basics. With so many choices, customers want to become the best expert in their purchasing decisions. For example, a customer is more likely to purchase clothing off a site with a comprehensive fit guide. "They [customers] want more information. They want, and they expect, things like product information from the manufacturer to be available to them through their retailer's website. They want more videos, AR, VR content, lifestyle content," LeClair says.  

When you've got your basics covered, that's when you're free to be experimental. Your customers will also thank you for it; people are, overall, very receptive to new digital experiences. LeClair says, "The long-term trend is that today, we now see over half — 53 percent of U.S. adults — say that they're always willing to try new products and services. So when it comes to delivering digital experiences, companies must feed into that appetite for new, for experimentation." 

Platform: Struggling with silos 

While we might have access to shiny new technology, LeClair says that brands are still dealing with old problems. The biggest one is that brands struggle to understand who their customers are, how they behave and what they want. "We talk to our clients all the time at Forrester who think they have an idea of who their customers might be; they may be doing some customer segmentation, but they really aren't able to pull together all the data they have," she says. "They're facing disparate systems and data silos." 

So, while companies might be collecting relevant data on how customers behave and how their products or services are performing, it's being rendered, if not useless, then only marginally helpful. And silos — technological, organizational and data — are to blame. 

The issue is that if brands don't start tackling these silos right away, they often become weighed down by legacy technology baggage, frozen by the prospect of having to start from scratch. LeClair thinks this approach is too black and white. "It's going to continue to be a heterogeneous environment, where you will have some components that are modernized, but... there's going to be components that do feel legacy," she says. 

Instead of being disarmed by workarounds or backlogs, LeClair says you should aim for small advantages and quick wins — an approach LeClair refers to as "changing the engine on the airplane while it's in flight." She says that you can "make the most of tapping into your existing datasets today, through things like APIs, so that you're able to start to build in more agility and connect systems that may have been historically quite siloed."

Platform: Don’t invest in tech for tech’s sake 

LeClair emphasizes the importance of going back to your customer journey map if you are looking to build or add new technology into your stack. Don't invest in tech for tech’s sake, or chase shiny digital objects. Instead, find what matters to your customer and start from there. You can either look at the pain points in delivering experiences or begin with the biggest outcomes you would like to achieve.  

When you find the gaps in your technology or decide to start from scratch, Forrester has come up with four principles that can also guide your decision. And those are API-first, cloud-first deployment, enabling practitioner self-service — giving them ownership over their processes and their tools — and automation to do this at scale. 

There are many benefits to API-first, but a big one is that teams and organizations can take a pragmatic approach to transformation. Regarding an API-first strategy, LeClair says "You don't have to completely re-platform, you don't have to buy a whole new commerce system or platform, to be able to start to get creative or build out new frontend experiences as an example. You're able to tap into existing content and data that exists within your organization, but then get flexibility on the frontend to build new mobile or web experiences and not have to reinvent the wheel for each and every channel or each and every experience that you're trying to build."

There's also the benefit that API-first means brands can take a best-in-category approach and choose what functionality they need."[Brands can] very quickly spin up and test successful new experiences, again, versus feeling like they've got to take this big monolith on their back every time they might want to build out a new experience for a specific channel. And then having to reinvent the wheel when they're looking to take the next evolution of that experience,” says LeClair.

Practices: No technology is alone a technology problem.  

LeClair cautions that when you've got the tools, you also have to have the skills and the processes in place to deliver. Technology alone is not enough to fix a problem or fill a gap. "There's a whole set of skill sets and processes that are quite rigorous, quite advanced, to be able to support a full and truly headless architecture", Le Clair says. "So, think about what are those most critical experiences or processes that you're trying to advance."  

LeClair says one the most common challenges that Forrester sees amongst clients is they feel like they don't have the right people or skill sets. An excellent example of this is data scientists. Data scientists are in hot demand, and often wary of entering a company that is the early stages of their digital transformation. Often, they head straight for digital-native businesses. 

So, what's the solution? LeClair says to tamper any expectations that technology will be your quick fix. Instead, embrace a continuous journey. Implement agile processes where you can, and break apart workloads into smaller pieces. Create more opportunities for collaboration. Over time, you'll feel the organization start to adapt to this culture of agile. 

Partnerships: Don’t do it alone 

According to Forrester, it might just be time to let your walls down and let people in. Partnerships and tapping into key innovation that already exists in the market is the way forward. "We see that digital transformation or business transformation is virtually impossible to go at on your own," LeClair says. 

There are a few ways you can go about this. App marketplaces and app exchanges can extend the creativity and innovation that you have in-house. Again, it's another way to select best-in-category functionality. LeClair also suggests building a partner ecosystem to tap into what service partners are offering. Whatever route you choose, it’s important that your technology supports extensibility

According to LeClair, when it comes to digital transformation, one idea that has to die is the notion of "done." The word  “transformation” is a bit of a misnomer as it implies that there will be a finished product. As LeClair says, "Digital transformation is really about a continuous journey. It's about building the skill sets, the processes, adopting the technology, [in order] to have that foundation that can support that continuous change, that's adaptive, creative and resilient."  

To hear more from Amanda LeClair and other experts, subscribe to our digital forecast YouTube playlists. 

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