The problem with the term "digital transformation," says podcast guest Jill Roberson, is that it implies a one-and-done operation with a beginning and an end.

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"When we say transformation, I think of Transformers," she explains on Episode 557 of Marketing Smarts. "They start as cars and they turn into robots, and they just go back and forth between those two states, but they're never growing beyond transformation."

Digital evolution, on the other hand, is an ongoing process. The market is never static, and any company that assumes they've "completed" a transition will suffer when the market (or technology) changes.

"Organizations need to get comfortable with constantly being introspective, looking at the way their business is operating, and being open to small and iterative changes over time, not just waiting for a backlog of change to build up and then tackling that every 5 to 10 years," Jill says.

And that's not only in the case of tech advancement. Tech advances, but people should, too: "Technology is not going to solve all of the problems. You can't just purchase something, get it implemented, and all of a sudden everything is magically helps to facilitate, but ultimately we still need to incorporate and take into consideration the people aspect of evolution."

Listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcript: The Shift From Digital Transformation to Digital Evolution

George B. Thomas: What is the difference between transformation and evolution? More importantly, digital transformation to digital evolution. Today, we're going to talk about that topic, the shift from digital transformation to digital evolution. Of course, Jill Roberson is going to be on the journey with us. We're going to talk about what keeps Jill up at night around this topic, what the heck we even mean when we say digital transformation and why is digital evolution the way that marketers and businesses should be paying attention, we're going to bust some common myths, we're going to talk about hurdles, success, and get some words of wisdom from Jill.

Jill Roberson is an award-winning digital marketer with expertise in omnichannel marketing strategies, testing, personalization, and maximizing marketing technology investments. As VP of digital marketing at Velir, Jill oversees Velir's marketing program and practice dedicated to crafting and implementing digital marketing strategies for Velir's client portfolio to drive engagement and loyalty with target audiences. Previously, Jill served as senior director of product marketing at Sitecore, where she was responsible for bringing products from concept to commercialization, as well as being a thought leader for the role digital experience solutions play in the marketing programs that create connections and build relationships with target audiences.

It's time to get into the good stuff. I am excited because today I get to hang out with Jill Roberson, and we are talking about a shift that maybe some of you have taken. We feel like many of you may not have taken it. The conversation is around the shift from digital transformation to digital evolution. Is that intriguing to you? It sure is to me. Let's get started.

Jill, how are you doing today?

Jill Roberson: I'm doing great, George. I'm happy to be here with you.

George: I'm happy that you're here with me, too. Otherwise, this would be a real boring 35 minutes for the listeners.

One of the things that I like to do is I like to ask interesting questions that, hopefully, get us to interesting places. I always start the podcast out with the question around what keeps you up at night. We fully understand that this could be a nightmare, or this could be a dream, whichever. What keeps you up at night around this topic of a shift from digital transformation to digital evolution, what's in your brain, what's keeping you up?

Jill: I think it's an interesting topic. The thing about digital transformation is it's something we've been talking about for years. I remember when I started in the digital customer experience space 12+ years ago, the very first conference that I went to was all about how organizations need to digitally transform. Now, over 12 years later, we're still talking about this. So, digital transformation is a big topic. The spending around digital transformation continues to grow. In 2022, spending on digital transformation hit about 1.8 trillion dollars. By 2026, studies are showing that it could grow to 3.4 trillion.

But the thing that keeps me up at night is that other studies show that 84% of digital transformation projects fail. When we're thinking about the shift to digital evolution, the fact that it's not more prominent to me is bothersome. Digital transformation as a concept is still relevant, but the way that organizations are approaching it and funding it, and also failing as they are going through it, is really quite stressful to me.

George: That sounds like a nightmare to me. If it's stressful, then I'm probably waking up in a cold sweat. One of the things that I like to do on the podcast is level-set, meaning get everybody up to speed before we take off with the rest of the questions. I fully understand that there might be Marketing Smarts listeners out there that are like, "I hear you saying all of the words, but I'm not sure what all of the words are." When we say digital transformation, what the heck do you mean in this conversation?

Jill: Sure. It's a great question. I think it also goes into the first question, too. When it comes to digital transformation, everybody has a different definition of it. I think fundamentally the concepts are the same, the definitions might vary. When I think of digital transformation, it's about the adoption of digital technology to ultimately transform business processes and services from a non-digital place to a digital place. So, using technology to aid the way organizations are operating, as well as interacting with their audiences.

When I say digital evolution, it's a similar concept, but more of a gradual and iterative accumulation of change. When we say transformation, I think of Transformers. They start as cars and they turn into robots, and they just go back and forth between those two states, but they're never growing beyond transformation. Evolution really is the same thing as transformation, but in a way it's more digestible. It changes organizations over time.

Also, it takes into account the fact that once you transform, you're not just done. It's not like hands are clean, we're going to have this big ribbon cutting ceremony, we have officially transformed. That's implying people are going to stay in the static state. Digital evolution takes into account that as the market changes around us, and as audience and consumer needs change, we will continue to evolve, and that's something that we're always going to be working on, not just ending at a transformative point.

George: So interesting. Marketing Smarts listeners, we're talking about the shift from digital transformation to digital evolution. Jill, let's get real for a second. Why the heck does there have to be a shift?

Jill: I think it's great to start with an example. If you think of organizations that have failed to continue to evolve, I'll bring up the B-word, Blockbuster. There it is. You look at the threat that they were facing from Netflix and from streaming companies, and they were like, "We've transformed a little bit," but they didn't keep evolving. If you can harken back to those days, they did start sending some DVDs, a little too late, but they stopped evolving, and therefore Blockbuster is not really a thing anymore.

Why it's so important to evolve and we're talking about it is because things change around us. If you look at what happened during the pandemic and the impact it had on the way that people work, how businesses operate, how we interact, those things really challenged organizations to have to continue to evolve. Organizations need to get comfortable with constantly being introspective, looking at the way their business is operating, and being open to small and iterative changes over time, not just waiting for a backlog of change to build up and then tackling that every 5 to 10 years.

George: Love it. When we think of this shift, and it feels like it's a journey, what are some key elements regarding this shifting from transformation to evolution that B2B marketers and the companies that they work at should be paying attention to?

Jill: I think there's a couple of things that are impacting the need for this shift, but also fueling how we can go through constant evolution. When we look at the space, things like rising customer expectations, where consumers are expecting personalization and there's more and more data collection over time, we as consumers are willing to give our data in order for a value exchange.

For organizations to accommodate that, they have to digitize and have the right technology to understand what consumers are expecting, and then also accommodate that and change their tactics or what they're delivering, or how they're operating their business to meet those expectations. I think that's a big thing that we need to think about, which is as marketers we make all of these assumptions about what our consumers and our audiences need, but now we have all of the data that we need to really meet those. That's where evolution needs to focus is on listening to what your audiences want, marrying that with what your business can deliver, and then ultimately executing on that in an evolving fashion.

I think two other things that are really impacting digital evolution is just the general shift to cloud technology. By 2024, the average company aspires to have their cloud spend represent 80% of their total marketing technology and IT hosting budget. Businesses that are moving to the cloud are able to adjust their marketing technology quicker based on those findings of what customer expectations and customer data are telling them.

This ability to plug and play technology, have the latest version at your fingertips with cloud-native or SaaS software, is also driving evolution. I think another part of it is just kind of this growing push of composable marketing technology. We touched on the pandemic before, but that's something that we saw. Organizations were stuck, either who had transformed or who hadn't yet, and had this legacy technology that was holding them back. If they wanted to rip and replace a piece of it, they had to take the whole thing out.

Now, with this notion of more composable and flexible technology, organizations have this agility to continuously evolve. Maybe invest in a tool today that is going to meet their needs for the next 18 months to 3 years, and then just swap that one piece of technology out. That's really fueling a lot of the evolution that we're seeing. Evolution is much more approachable now, too, in terms of both getting investment, as well as just moving initiatives down the road.

George: It's interesting to hear you talk. My brain is literally going in the direction of this is deep conversation, this isn't some surface level stuff that's easy for people to just do. So, I want to go off the beaten path for a second, because it doesn't feel like one human is moving this boulder. The question really is how the heck do we get started with this change?

Jill: It's a great question. I think all of the pieces are there sitting in front of the marketers listening. So often businesses and organizations have plans, three to five year roadmaps, 10 year goals, big bold vision statements. A lot of times, when we're talking transformation, people are working toward getting from A to B. That assumes that you know where you're starting and you know where you're going.

I think in order to get started, you really have to take a step back and look at the directions step by step. We're not just thinking about how do we get from A to B, but all of the steps along the way. Taking those business goals or the roadmap that might be laid out and being able to break that down into six-month to twelve-month projects, so we start making progress and demonstrating change. I think that's a big way to get started, and I think there are huge benefits to that, too.

Also, the cultural change. One of the biggest challenges with digital transformation is it's an upheaval of what people are used to, so it's oftentimes really difficult to get employees on board when you're going through such a cultural shift of how the business has worked and is being run. When you go through an evolution process and you define smaller milestones, that also gives the opportunity to get people invested in the process and not just pull the rug out from under their feet all at once.

I do think it is having the roadmap, breaking it down, and just having open conversations about what we can do today and then what we can do to plan for smaller milestones in the future.

George: Love that so much. So much good there. What are one or two common myths around digital transformation, or even digital evolution, that you want to debunk here on the Marketing Smarts Podcast?

Jill: I think when we talk about transformation and what the myth is, I want to say transformation is not going away. This notion of still digitizing or introducing technologies to facilitate change is there. It's really just the approach which we're taking to get there. We talk about breaking things up into more manageable milestones, getting incremental funding for initiatives, and I think that's the big thing. It's not that transformation is not going to happen. It's just that it's ongoing.

That's really where the term evolution is so important for people to focus on, because you have to engrain in your organization the culture of just never being comfortable. The way things are changing around us are forcing us to evolve. That transformation layer is there, but it's really responding to what's happening in the market and happening in a particular industry or happening to consumer expectations to be able to really accommodate that.

George: Amazing as far as debunking the myths. One of the things that I like to do is get into the tactical. Are there any tips, tricks, templates, hacks, frameworks that B2B marketers can use when attempting to shift from transformation into this evolution mindset?

Jill: I wouldn't say there's a template out there. That would make it almost too easy. It's still a big initiative and a big undertaking even to evolve versus transform. I think when it comes to tips and tricks around it, the first is to leave your ego at the door. A lot of times when we're thinking about marketing efforts or looking at operational processes, things like that, people hold it so close to the chest and they take it personally.

I think we always have to be open to the idea that there could be a better way to do stuff. Yes, it might be uncomfortable at first, but at the end of the day, we have to ground ourselves and what our business is trying to achieve and the benefit that an organization or a business is delivering to their consumers. Focus on that. Focus on the end user beneficiaries of this evolution.

I think the first tip is to leave the ego at the door. Digital evolution is not personal. It's something that has to happen to respond to market trends and shifts in the way that everybody is interacting nowadays. I think that's the first tip.

The second tip is also kind of going back to a myth as well. Technology is not going to solve all of the problems. You can't just purchase something, get it implemented, and all of a sudden everything is magically fixed. I would say the tip here is technology helps to facilitate, but ultimately we still need to incorporate and take into consideration the people aspect of evolution. Thinking about how it's going to change our day to day, how we use technology and the digitization of processes to our benefit, how we best leverage them. I think that's the second tip.

The third is to involve multiple stakeholders. A lot of times things like digital evolution will stem from either IT or marketing, or a combination thereof. Ultimately, that evolution is something that should impact the entire business, so making sure to break down silos of conversation around evolution is going to make sure that you're taking into consideration all of the input as part of this process and not leaving anyone outside in the cold. I think that also helps to get buy-in for these changes that are going to be made, so making sure that you're bringing diverse opinions to the table when you start the process of evolution, but also as you go through it.

George: So, we know how to get started. You've now given us some tips for along the way. What are the hurdles you've seen that are going to get in the way of organizations and the B2B marketers who are trying to drive this change?

Jill: We talked about the fact that a lot of digital transformation projects fail. That being said, it's still a thing. So, I think one of the biggest hurdles is actually just convincing people of the fact that it's evolution versus transformation.

People get so jazzed about transformation, "Oh my god, we're going to transform. Let's throw a bunch of resources and a bunch of money at this project. In two years, we're going to celebrate, we're going to pop the champagne." It's getting people out of that mindset.

I wouldn't say digital evolution is super new, but it definitely hasn't been engrained in our brains the way transformation has, so I think the biggest hurdle is just getting buy-in on the fact that we're not just going to do this once. This is constant work. It's like diet and exercise. You want to have a good regimen of that so that you can stay active and stay healthy. It's the same thing. Convincing people that they need to think about the business and the evolution and how it's going to change consistently I think is a big hurdle, a mental hurdle for people to get through to even get these projects off the ground.

Then I think once you take that first step and you're able to show results of a change, of an evolution, much more quickly than you could with transformation, then I think everyone starts coming over those hurdles with you, and now you're really running the race, for lack of a better analogy.

George: I think that's a good analogy. I definitely think that when running the race, we need to watch out for those things. Speaking of running a race, we'll go with another analogy. We've run the race, we're on the podium, we have the gold first place medallion around our neck, we're winning. The question for that is what the heck does success look like, how do we know that we've reached this digital evolution nirvana?

Jill: Very similar to the fact that digital evolution looks different for every organization, I think success is going to look different, too. In my mind, success of getting to that digital evolution nirvana is getting your team into a constant state of evaluating what is being done, not just sitting back with our feet up on our desks saying, "We're good for a year or two, we don't have to worry about anything, what we have in place is perfect."

I think success really looks like a constant evaluation of what is being built, both internally for operations, but also what is being delivered in terms of how the business is being presented. I think that really is a point of success. Again, no one is comfortable exactly where they are. Things can still feel good and we're still hitting metrics, but there's almost always this desire to understand what's next. The constant asking of the question, "What's next? What more can we do?" I think when people get to that point, then you've really hit this great stride of digital evolution.

I think another way to measure success is we talk about for evolution you want to take a long term roadmap and break it up into smaller milestones, so having realistic metrics assigned to those milestones, and as you're checking those off, I think that indicates success as well.

I would caveat that with any learning is a success. If an organization is going through evolution and is making change, if they're learning something about a better way to do something internally or a better way to engage their audience, then the evolution is succeeding that way, too, because we're continuously learning and evolving based on those learnings. To me, anytime you're learning, it's successful.

George: I love learning equals success. Jill, obviously you've gone down this journey, maybe even helped other people with the journey. You've been helping people all day today with the journey. Along the journey, we usually learn things, meaning we get wisdom. What are some words of wisdom that you would want to share with the Marketing Smarts listeners about the shift from transformation to evolution mindset, or maybe it's marketing, or maybe life in general, what are your words of wisdom?

Jill: Sure. I would say there are two pieces to it.

One, in terms of digital evolution, really think of yourself as a trailblazer. Getting organizations to refocus or shift their focus, I should say, from big bad transformation to smaller incremental rounds of evolution is not going to be easy. Going through any sort of change is hard. Playing a role in terms of helping an organization or your business shift their mindset to constant evolution, constant learning, relying on data more than they have in the past, that's a big thing. You're really trailblazing. We've focused on transformation for so long, this shift is not an easy one to make. Take pride in the fact that if you're starting this process or spearheading it that you're really helping the business not just today, but in the long term.

I think the second piece of it is get comfortable being uncomfortable. The way that we learn and become either the best versions of ourselves, the best employees we can be for our business or our organization, the best leaders we can be within those organizations is to constantly think, "What more can I do? Where am I too comfortable in what I've been doing in the past? Can I move the needle? Can I try something different in order to make change?"

With that comes also the comfortability of failing, being able to take the hit, take the L, and say, "Maybe that wasn't the right approach, but I'll continue to evolve." I think that's such a big piece of it is the learning aspect, being uncomfortable, and also just being okay with the fact that you're not going to get it right 100% of the time. That learning piece of it is going to continue to move the dial on digital evolution.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with David Greenbier about generative AI powered conversations and the conversation automation index, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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