Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Tiffany St James on digital transformation: Developing outsight

Tiffany St James is one of the UK’s most experienced digital transformation specialists, the founder of Transmute and former Head of Public Participation for the UK Government. She is also NDA’s monthly columnist.

Looking outside the walls of your business and understanding what critical external intelligence is appropriate to inform your digital media, marketing, and digital transformation planning is as essential, perhaps more so, than the internal insight you may have gathered. Some psychologists refer to this as Outsight.

Why Outsight is important

Here are a few key reasons to develop Outsight.

Competitive advantage – Insights gained from your industry competitors can help inform your strategic decisions that keep you ahead the competition, This ongoing vigilance helps identify current competitive threats as well as future developmental opportunities.

Informed decision-making – Outsight is key to make an informed decision. Understanding the broader industry context enables you to take more than an internal perspective, leading to strategic choices better aligned with external market forces.

Risk identification and mitigation – Identifying potential risks before they become imminent threat is a key standalone reason to develop your Outsight. By keeping an eye on regulatory changes and consumer responses to initiatives, you may be able to foresee and identify challenges, and potentially mitigate them to safeguards your companies’ interests. 

Optimising your resources – By understanding how industry is tackling investments in technology, talent and innovation and applying learning to your organisation, you could understand how to allocate your resources more efficiently.

Strengthening your innovation muscles – Exposure to external ideas, technologies and business models can inspire new thinking and creative solutions.  It may help you identify innovative practices and adapt them in your context, driving growth and differentiation.

Strategic Agility – Overall, the ability to understand market dynamics, consumer preference and rapidly evolving technology, helps you better inform your business and your strategic approach. The better informed you are, the more responsive, flexible and agile you are to cope with changes.

A light process for developing Outsight

No matter what size your organisation, your role in the business, your tech stack or access to tools, there are five key steps that can help you whether you have 3 hours, 3 days or 3 months.

Define your objectives and resources for Outsight – Consider what you want to achieve and what you will do with the information when you have it. Be realistic about your resources: your tech stack or horizon-scanning tools and or processes.

Unpack your insight – Always start from your organisation, the information you gather will depend on your objectives for your Outsight. 

  • For digital marketing strategy: what do you have already in terms of strategy, channels, people, processes and technology and budget you have or need?
  • For digital transformation: what are the drivers, outcomes, OKR and KPIs and again, people, processes, technology and budget you have or need?

These a few very high-level starting points and it is a great idea to develop your own hit list over time in terms of the attributes you may always need in your insight bucket.

Review your immediate competition – What you are looking for is best practice and a point of differentiation for your business. You can’t differentiate if you don’t know what they are up to. Against your objectives, review your immediate competitors for their good, public-facing evidence of what they are achieving that is relevant to your objective. 

Review similar industry – best practice may not exist in your business or your direct competitors. Go wider. Look at similar industry. Identify and review the best practice, against your objectives of organisations that are not competition, but are in the wider context of your industry. If in beauty, look at health, if in automative, look at transport more widely.

Horizon-scanning – best practice may not exist in your industry either. We know marketing, advertising and technology are generally further ahead than professional services, so look wider. Against your objectives, who is the best in the world at this, no matter what your industry, and what can you learn from how well you are doing that?

Clay Shirky, an early writer on the social and economic effects of the internet and technologies famously said “It’s not information overload. Its filter failure.” As valid now, perhaps more so, with the petabytes of daily data being churned out. 

Deciding what to look for and what to pay attention to is essential not to be overwhelmed with data and to avoid analysis paralysis.