Having built, led, and supported many digital transformation teams during my career—in-house and as a consultant mostly for healthcare companies— the key question that must be asked is – how is the effort designed to accelerate new thinking?

First off, it must be noted that internal Transformation Teams come and go. I actually think this is a very good thing. The pace of innovation is fast, fluid and happening all around us all the time. Most large companies, however, are built for stability, scale and generally are risk-averse. The two are not natural bedfellows, but must coexist in order for companies to survive and thrive.

Once in a while, however, these Digital Transformation Teams evolve into Digital teams. They drop the Transformation moniker, are given a mandate to service brands, and usually report into Commercial Excellence Teams (or similar) in the hopes that they scale the innovation started by their predecessors.

More often than not, however, these follow-on Digital teams become a hindrance to innovation, and here’s why: many were formed years ago when the innovation environment was very different. It was a time when websites were king, banner ads, search and CRM were the only games in town. Many Digital teams that exist today built up expertise around these old models, are still rooted in old thinking and perpetuate themselves by hiring talent with dated skills. Over time, these teams are unable to integrate innovation and eventually evolve into the exact thing they were meant to shake up – i.e. highly-funded internal functions that protect their budgets, interests and headcount.

While a well-rounded, “change from within” philosophy for companies would be ideal, the reality is that these follow-on Digital Teams face strong headwinds. Their “clients” live in a world of short-cycle promotions, high turnover, overreliance on old models that once drove huge profits (i.e. large sales force), and generally espouse an inherent aversion to risk—this kind of environment makes it is almost impossible to attain meaningful and sustainable change.

Having said that, Digital Transformation Teams—when deployed correctly—should be celebrated because they serve a critical purpose: To catalyze change that simply won’t happen organically.

Here are some lessons learned on how to structure these teams based on my experience:

  • Anchor in business needs: Driving pilots that are directly aligned with BIZ PRIORITIES and every pilot MUST be co-funded by the business partners.
  • Set the timer: Digital Transformation Teams are formed for a set term (i.e. 12-18 months max) to drive change and adoption – a clearly defined time window is critical since it puts pressure on the team to be practical and make change happen quickly.
  • Leverage diversity: It should be cross-functional, hand-picked with up-and-comers that have demonstrated they can drive real change wherever they are – and commitment from each should NOT be more than 20% of their job.
  • Find a powerful captain: The team must be sponsored by member of the C-Suite that has real gravitas and is not just a figurehead.
  • Bring the outside in: The team should constantly rely on external thought-leaders to ensure they diversify thinking.
  • Go deep into the talent pipe: HR should partner with the team to diversify the hiring pipe for key functions (especially in commercial functions).
  • Total Transparency: The team actually shares ALL learnings—good and bad—along the way very transparently.
  • The Rule of Halley’s Comet: Like the famous comet, these Transformation teams must come and go, accelerating change and driving it deeper into the organization with every pass.

The above approach has generated lasting impact at several companies I have worked with, and this can still be seen today:

  • One company shifted its go-to-market brand strategy as a result of digital/social research we spearheaded at a very formative stage pre-launch.
  • In another, Market Research have deeply integrated social analytics as part of brand planning process, resulting in a powerful engine driving marketing and communications programming
  • In yet another, HR recruitment strategy shifted their process and budget away from headhunters to digital recruitment efforts, even for top talent.
  • In most organizations, C-level leaders, and other leaders down the ranks, continue to model the behavior they want the organization to have by engaging directly with more customers via social, and do so more frequently and authentically.
  • Finally, internal social engagement platforms have been woven into the fabric of intranets and key programs to accelerate change management programs, facilitate leadership engagement, and unlock best practice sharing.

But the hard reality is that in most cases these groups become cost centers for the business and end up being cut as soon as the appeal wears off, especially since they don’t sit in the brands. That’s OK, as long as they bring value in the sense that they try to drive change from the inside out, bring in new innovative ideas/agencies/processes/tech, etc. from the outside in, and diligently measure and communicate back everything they learn.

The future? Digital/Social Transformation teams will still be part of the marketing and brand landscape as companies strive to shake-up their thinking amid constant upheaval in the marketplace.  As brand teams become more well-rounded, explore how to use technology more effectively, and embrace digital as a cohesive part of their marketing plans including an omni-channel strategic approach, these digital/social skunk works will become more valued and ultimately, embedded in the marketing function.

Every website is identified and accessed by its own Internet Protocol or IP address, which used to be just a string of seemingly random numbers such as /216.58.218.174. You can thank “Uniform Resource Locators” or URLs for a more intuitive and human way to access websites, in this case: www.google.com.

“Top Level Domains” (TLDs) are the “.com” part of a URL, the .suffix swapped with a few letters that help identify that website as belonging to a particular industry, specialty, or organization. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) enabled new TLDs in 2012, and since then a few have caught on, such as .edu and .gov.

The big news for healthcare companies and their marketers is the release of .health. Registration through dotHealthLLC for qualified organizations is available through November 30th, after which the TLD is released to the general public. Big names in payors, providers, and pharmacy such as BlueCross BlueShield, Pfizer, the Mayo Clinic, and CVS have already registered and are using the .health TLD.

Although fewer users are typing URLs, over 1200 TLDs ranging from .pet to .date to .vodka have already been registered by ICANN, and Google claims they have no influence over search results, using them can nonetheless help organizations better identify and protect themselves, and confirm credibility—three needs vitally important to healthcare companies and their HCP, patient, and caregiver audiences.

Benefits also include:

Stake the claim on name and reputation. At the very least, healthcare companies need to realize that if they don’t claim their own .health TLD, someone else likely will. Similar to .com squatting and pirating from the Web 1.0 age, competitors and unscrupulous buyers could conceivably take your domain after November 30th. Now is the time!

Stake the claim on the new and burgeoning .health domain. More than 1500 companies have already registered using this TLD, thousands more to come. So your clients should have first-choice on website name, and take full advantage of this initial industry-only grace period to be ahead of their competitors and differentiate.

Stake the claim on entire disease areas: The opportunity to associate your healthcare company with disease areas is ripe; for example, owning adhd.health, diabetes.health, atrialfibriliation.health, etc. are for those who register early and often. Same rules apply to unique and salient aspects of brands, treatments, etc.

Establish immediate category recognition and company credibility: Akin to .edu and .gov, where users immediately know the kind of website they have visited and feel comfortable with their authority, .health could benefit your franchises and their brands. dotHealthLLC assures a thorough vetting process to build and maintain trust.

Differentiate and gain attention in a crowded market: Specialized companies can use .health to demonstrate their relevance and commitment to healthcare, such as augmentedreality.health, wearables.health, and marketresearch.health, etc. Affixing .health instantly connects your capabilities to a $3.2 trillion annual vertical.

We therefore recommend our healthcare clients register their own .health TLDs as soon as possible by typing this URL: www.get.health/apply, The jury is still out on future .health adoption and credibility, but if the early signs and industry trends continue, then this TLD will become a prerequisite for success in 2018 and beyond.

As someone that started podcasting over 10 years ago, it’s amazing to look at how this medium has evolved over the years. Left for dead back just a few years back, podcasts have made a major resurgence thanks to the popularity of shows like Serial, Crimetown and Presidential.

Back in February, we at W2O launched our own new audio series called the What2Know Podcast. The show focuses on learning about best practices, insights and innovation from a variety of industry experts. And while the show caters to leaders in the marketing and communications space, we work hard to make these entertaining (and valuable) for anyone that chooses to listen.

Now that we are 32 episodes in, it felt like the right time to take a look back at some highlights from our guests who have included some incredibly talented people ranging from celebrity chef, Tyler Florence, to Founder of the LAGRANT Foundation, Kim Hunter. Our topics have ranged from using social media to creating amazing fan experiences to escaping from Vietnam with a broken back and dysentery.

Here are a few of my self-created awards from yours truly:

  • “Dumbest moment” Award — Normally, I try and do a fair amount of research before each of my interviews but this process sometimes gets short-circuited when serendipity strikes. Just such a moment happened at the NewCo Shift Summit back in February when I bumped into Grammy-nominated singer/SuperPhone CEO, Ryan Leslie, in the hallway. I hadn’t had Mr. Leslie on my list of interview targets but after hearing his keynote presentation, I realized he was a “must get.” Luckily, I was able to do some crash research on him and had enough material to go on. So we sit down and before I hit the “record” button, I address him as Leslie Ryan. Duh. This turned into a laughable moment soon thereafter when we started the interview and Mr. Leslie waves his conference badge at me as I introduce him so I won’t mix up his name again.
  • “Most enjoyable” Award — While I’ve really enjoyed doing many of these interviews, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable my interview with Stephanie Cathcart, global head of external affairs for GE Oil and Gas, went. Following Stephanie’s talk at the National StratComms Summit, I knew we were like-minded but five minutes into our conversation, there was just this incredible chemistry. She is a total digital nerd and understands the importance of great content.
  • “Best music connection” Award — I had met Comcast’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Satchell, several months before at a VIP party hosted by Comcast in support of the Olympics. Our mutual friend, Brian Solis, introduced us and we chatted for a good 30-40 minutes on at a rooftop bar in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. The interview itself was a lot of fun because Chris is an absolutely brilliant technologist but at the end when I asked Chris about the “one album” he would chose to listen to on a deserted island, he shared his top three. And of the three: 1) Achtung Baby, U2, 2) Dirt, Alice in Chains and 3) American Idiot, Green Day, I could have easily chosen any of them for my “deserted island” album. I knew at that point that Chris and I would become good friends.
  • “Sweating bullets” Award — Similar to my “Dumbest moment” Award, I had the luck of sitting down with Mark McKinnon, the Executive Producer/co-host of Showtime’s, The Circus (also the campaign strategist for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and former Texas Governor, Anne Richards). I hadn’t expected that I would be able to interview Mark so when he agreed, I was on cloud nine. Unfortunately, the podcast unit I normally used was back in San Francisco so I had our second unit shipped from Austin. Three minutes into the interview, the batteries died and the bag the unit came in didn’t have backup batteries. Needless to say, I spent the next 10 minutes apologizing profusely to Mark while my colleague, Ally Masi, ran around like crazy looking for four AA batteries. Fortunately, the batteries were found and the show continued. And Mark was the consummate guest.
  • “Holy crap I can’t believe I’m talking to this person” Award — I’ve been a huge fan of the musician, ZZ Ward, for five years now. I’ve easily listened to her album, Til the Casket Drops a few hundred times and was quite impressed by how engaging yet approachable she was on social media. As luck would have it my friend (and President of Techonomy), Josh Kampel, knew her manager. Several weeks after I first connected with ZZ’s people, I was able to land an interview with Ms. Ward. It was one of the few I’ve had to do over the phone but it was still one of my all time favorites.

It’s been an awesome 32 weeks ride with some amazing guests. I look forward to the next 32. A big shoutout to all you listeners. And a special thank you to Blaire Clause for producing the show and Maya Ollie for creating the accompanying blogs and social posts.

You can listen to an abbreviated audio recap of the show below. Subscribe for our weekly updates!

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