The key to your digital playbook
I am joined now by Scott Doniger. Scott, welcome to the show.
Greg, it’s great to be here. I’m happy to have a chance to chat with you.
It’s an exciting mission you’re on Scott. You’ve had a long career in branding and marketing, but tell everyone what you’re working on these days.
A good friend of mine whom I met several years ago in Boulder, Colorado at that time, her name is Promise Phelon. She wrote a book called The Way of the Growth Warrior, which was a whole series of mentoring methodologies for technology founders, particularly African-American founders and female founders.
Long story short, she wound up starting a venture capital company in 2021, and I decided to join her in that effort. We are a venture capital company. We invest in early-stage technology founders who are either diverse, female, or both. It’s a wonderful way to give back to these communities that have typically been underrepresented and underserved, not in venture capital, but by the world. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back. There are some stellar, phenomenal founders out there, people that restore your faith in humanity, particularly when there’s so much around us, that is depleting our faith in humanity. It’s a wonderful mission and I’m humbled to be a part of it.
The complexity in venture capital arises in terms of who you’re going to get money from.
I’m excited for you and I have come out of the venture world myself. I know that you’re reaching a community that needs opportunities that they normally wouldn’t get. In your role, you have an operations role or a marketing role. You are probably wearing a lot of hats. Tell us a little bit about how you see digital and what you’re doing to make people more digitally enabled.
Everything is anchored in digital these days. Most of the experiences that we have professionally and most of them personally are digital. I’m old enough to now have lived through several of the waves, including the first wave back in the mid to late ‘90s. Even starting back then, I worked for a startup. I joined as employee number 180 and by the time the company went bust in the first dot-com bust, it was called Quokka Sports. They were 600 people. We were the first company to stream live sporting events on the internet. Back then, the pipe through which digital media was being delivered to our homes was much smaller than it is now. I’ve seen the experiences change over time.
Greg, maybe this is the core of our discussion. What I’ve seen work and not work particularly for leaders of companies of all kinds are many talented and experienced people in leadership roles understand where they want to go, but they don’t necessarily have a playbook to get there. I was fortunate enough to work with a couple of people in a past experience as the director or the executive director of strategy at a company called Sprinklr that wound up going public in the summer of 2021.
I was fortunate enough to build a transformation system. It’s a whole series of artifacts that becomes a roadmap by which corporate leaders in the executive suite can enable and bring together all of the people, resources, and processes that need to take place to transform a company from a digital standpoint. We see that play out in extreme granularity from the experiences that a company might create for its employees on a smartphone to how all of their end consumers might engage with the brand regardless of where they’re touching the brand.
The metaphor that I typically use when I talk about the concept of a playbook comes from the domain that many of us are familiar with, which is sports. Pick your favorite sport and your favorite sports team. Look at professional football. Bill Belichick has written the best playbook for how to play football. It changes depending on the team that he’s playing against. Phil Jackson did the same thing with the Chicago Bulls. Steve Kerr did it again with the Warriors.
In the absence of having a playbook, it’s almost impossible to achieve the success that you want. You have to win on paper first. In the transformation system that I wound up building, I wound up being deployed by dozens of companies to help them understand how to leverage digital technologies to achieve the objectives and the goals that they’re looking to achieve. It’s a series of artifacts that starts with a journey or a maturity model. There’s a model of value, ROI, and operations. Together, what it creates is a playbook for a company to bring together the disparate teams and the divisions internally that are typically siloed.
This is the architecture that I’ve seen work in the past, and I’m trying to bring the pieces of this together to our little venture capital startup now. My role is to deploy the elements of the playbook, even as a small organization. I’ll add this one piece here. Venture capital is a pretty simple strategic entity. You have to take in money. You find companies to invest in and you deploy the money. It isn’t more complex than that.
The complexity arises in terms of who you’re going to get money from and have you been able to craft your story well enough to compel them to invest in you as an entity? From a deployment standpoint, you have to find these needles in haystacks, the diamonds in the rock, and the companies that are worthy of investment. It is a much more rigorous process. It’s not a gamble for us. We’re rigorous in terms of evaluating both the founder and the founder’s company. That’s everything that I have to say in a nutshell.
Let’s talk a little bit to help our readers, you’ve pulled together this system. You mentioned the company you were at. I’m sure it was informed by some other places. How did you recognize that? It sounds like you built a kit of parts that max an ecosystem. How did you discover that? If I were there sitting somewhere as a brand manager, how would I know I’m ready for the playbook?
Those are two interesting connected questions. The first part of it is I had been an analyst at Forester Research in a past life. I worked on a variety of different kinds of models in the realm of what I described to you. This was core to my being. I’m an analyst by nature. I had been on the agency side and it was more of an executive consulting capacity. While I didn’t work at McKenzie, I had always been involved in creating different kinds of models to help clients and customers achieve what they want to achieve.
Customers don’t care who is delivering the experience. They just want a great experience.
In my tenure at Sprinklr, I was lucky enough to meet a guy named Tom Butta. Tom had created and deployed in his career in marketing and consulting an interesting model that I hadn’t seen used before. He was the Chief Marketing Officer at Sprinklr. I was the Executive Director of Strategy, and we came together to put this playbook and this system together. We then deployed it successfully at Sprinklr over a series of years.
Is the assumption now that everybody has to navigate digital? The playbook works because everybody needs it. It’s not a discovery anymore. It’s, “Here’s a playbook. You can get started with it.”
That’s an accurate way to describe it, particularly in companies that you would call an enterprise because there are many different divisions. Take P&G, they have somewhere between 30 and 40 separate brands. Take a company like McDonald’s that has a massive ecosystem of franchisees that are not necessarily required to adhere to everything that the corporate wants them to do. Take Philip Morris company that I had a moral conundrum working with, but Philip Morris was trying to change their entire company. These are companies with extremely siloed internal business divisions.
In some cases and I sat through workshops and conducted workshops where these problems and challenges surfaced, the people responsible for their entire customer relationship management ecosystem, which spans across marketing, technology, and customer service. They were not talking to different division heads because there wasn’t a thing that aligned them to a core goal. What we were able to bring to some of these companies is a playbook that was anchored in how to leverage digital technology to create experiences because customers don’t care who’s delivering the experience. They don’t care about its marketing or CRM. They want a great experience.
When you’ve been in these places, what’s the big challenge? I’m going to ask you for a couple of ingredients in the playbook in a minute. What’s the big challenge that everyone should look out for as they try and digitally enable?
Digital Playbook: Know your customer. Emphatically understand what their lives are like so that every single experience you create for them as a brand aligns with what their expectations are.
I may have previewed it in some of the answers that I’ve been giving so far. I’m a trained and certified customer experience consultant. That doesn’t matter, but what matters is the posturing and the positioning of the customer experience. It’s an outside-in approach. The biggest challenge that corporate business globally struggles with is a transformation, not so much of a digital transformation because there are no shortages of talented people now. We’re several decades into the digital revolution.
The revolution that still has not taken place is the outside-in approach. Everybody within an organization, from the legal people to the product procurement people, from accounting to marketing has to think customer-first. We’ve been saying this for decades now, but knowing your customer, it’s understanding of how to empathetically understand what their lives and experiences are like. Every single experience that you create for them as a brand aligns with what their expectations are.
I worked for ten years at BMW of North America early in my career. It was not a normal thing. We used to talk quite often about the difference between the way many of the Japanese manufacturers thought of automotive production and your brand versus the way the German companies would think about it. At that time, it was a different way of thinking. The Japanese would go out and research exactly the car that the American public was interested in buying. They would then build that car called the Honda Accord.
BMW wanted to build the cars that they wanted to drive the most, the 2002 320i, and try to sell it to people and convince them that’s the car that they should be driving. It’s a different approach. It was a stark contrast in business strategy. Customer experience is at the core of the way business needs to be done. Digital happens to be one of the ways to enable that, for sure, but it’s the outside-in approach.
I still find many brands that are brand-centric, product-centric, features, and function-centric, and people don’t care. What they want is a great experience that illustrates how that company knows who I am and knows what I want. Few brands have been able to crack that nut. Apple did for a smaller segment, and now they’ve grown that segment. Nike has done a nice job of becoming customer-centric too in a lot of ways.
The biggest challenge that corporate business globally struggles with is transformation.
The core of the playbook is how you make the customer experience point and every single moment relevant and it’s quite the transformation. I’m hearing a lot of optimism, energy, and creativity. Can you sum up your feelings about being digitally enabled in one word and tell us why as our final question?
It’s a challenge. There’s a challenge personally. There’s a challenge from the business perspective. It’s challenging. We live in a world that is being disrupted. The most challenging aspect is speed. Human beings were not designed, in my view, to process information at the speed with which we can now access it.
Let’s put it this way. We’re having to change our brains to process information in ways that the human brain is not ready to do. It’s not set up for it. I believe in neurogenesis and brains can be rewired. I’m a real advocate of all of that research. My dad was a neurologist for 60 years. I was never smart enough to follow in his footsteps.
We don’t have the capacity to properly maturely, morally, ethically, and intelligently process information at the speed with which it’s coming at us and the speed with which we can access it. If you’re a business, it’s something to think about. Attention spans were never that long. Now they’re less than three seconds.
It’s a great challenge and discussion. Scott, thanks for joining the show. I appreciate it.
Digital Playbook: Human beings are not designed to process information at the speed we can now access. We have to change our brains to process information in ways the human brain is not ready to do.
Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure, Greg, to talk with you. I hope we can have a chance to do it again. I look forward to more sessions.
Everyone, I Iook forward to having you all tune in next time on this show.
About Scott Doniger
As CMO of Growth Warrior Capital, Scott’s mission is to turn the vision of the Founder and his good friend Promise Phelon (author, “The Growth Warrior”) into a reality — to create outsized returns for investors AND become a catalyst by which economic sovereignty becomes possible for new, underserved startup innovators.
Scott Doniger is a seasoned strategist, marketer, analyst, content creator, and team leader who helps organizations re-think, re-design, and re-wire how they engage as a customer-first entity in a digitally-connected, people-first world. As a trained CX Pro (I and II from Forrester Research), Scott helps organizations align cross-functionally and strategically to create and deliver meaningful and personalized experiences