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A Customer-Centric Digital Strategy that Spins All the Gears of Your Future Business

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

We started the digital transformation (DT) discussion at a strategic level, where we talk about how DT must transform more than just the technology, but also the people process and culture of the entire company. Then we shifted to a more operational level and talk about why business must adopt Geoffrey Moore’s 4 gears model in order to survive the digital revolution. From this perspective, DT is simply the roadmap of the journey that transforms the business from a traditional 2-gears model to the new 4-gears model.


Over the last 2 posts, we derived some practical tips from behavior economics that help practitioners overcome their company’s resistance to change.

  1. The starting point of DT should be something your company is already doing—acquisition (i.e. marketing).
  2. The ramp from acquisition to engagement, and then to enlistment will emerge naturally as a necesity for the continual success of your DT program.


Since this baby-steps approach is driven by success, it’s harder for enterprises to abandon the DT initiative during this multi-year journey, because they would be forgoing success. Although this provides an operation guideline for spinning the 4 gears, the specific of how you transform your marketing and what precisely you do to engage and enlist is dependent on your vision of DT. Moreover, the marketing technology landscape is huge and complex. And there are many ways you can transform your digital marketing operation.


Today we will go back to the strategic level at the beginning, where we identified 3 ingredients that successful DT must have from the start. We have discussed many concepts and models around DT. The following picture is a good visual summary of what we’ve discussed so far.DT journey baby step 700px.png


The Challenge of Connecting the Dots

Recall from the very first vlog of this mini-series, we found 3 initial ingredients that are crucial to the long-term success of your DT project.

  1. A customer-centric strategy
  2. A clear vision of what DT means to your brand
  3. The right technology that is fully integrated into your digital ecosystem and simple to use

Although one can easily argue the importance of any one over the other two, they are all equally important. We must have all 3 of them, or we should wait until we have them all before we embark on the DT journey. In reality, the 3 success ingredients all influence each other. Creating a customer-centric DT strategy is always an iterative process, as is forging a vision and choosing the right technology.


The challenge is that we now know the end state, and we have a way to get there with minimum corporate resistance (i.e. baby steps). This will further constrain the vision and the customer-centric strategy we can explore. Not all vision and strategy will bring us to the 4-gears end state. Of those that will get us there, not all will work with the baby steps approach we outlined.


For example, your vision may be to transform your email marketing by using big data to better segment and target your audience. This can even be done in a customer-centric fashion to give customers a better customer experience (CX) by serving them hyper-relevant email that they want rather than spamming them. And you have chosen the best technology in the market that is simple to use. Although this vision encompasses all 3 success ingredients, the success of this DT initiative will not lead your company to spin the engagement gear. Because successful email marketing improves click through rate, which drives more traffic to your e-commerce sites and ultimately increases monetization. Evidently, we are back to the 2-gears model again. Albeit profitable in short-term, this won’t sustain and won’t save your business from being outcompeted by those who’ve learned to spin the 4 gears.


Similarly, revamping your web analytics, SEO, webinar, or listening platform, probably won’t help your company spin the 4 gears either. Forging a vision or a customer-centric strategy under the constraints imposed by the 4-gears model and the baby steps principle is very hard, because we must connect all the dots in prospect. But without them, we risk either miss the boat at the end or suffer corporate resistant along the way, none of which we want.


What is a Total Community? 

true community of your brand 700px.pngIn our experience, it’s often best for you to come up with a vision that’s compatible with your brand’s mission, because that should be unique to your company. But there is a customer-centric strategy that is consistent with the 4-gears model and connects all the dots along the way. It’s known as the total community strategy, and it involves engaging the true community of your brand on digital channels. The only disclaimer I like to point out is that this is not the only strategy that connects all the dots. However, it is one that I know is repeatable, because it’s been tested over many years of Lithium’s business operation.


To understand total community, we have to understand the distinction between social networks and communities. Most social media practitioners probably do know the difference between these 2 social structures and treat them equivalently—they are all just social media. While this isn’t wrong, it misses some important properties that have limited many practitioners from realizing the full potential of their social media initiatives. In short,

  • A community is a group of people held together by some common interest.
  • A social network is a group of people held together by interpersonal relationships.

For a more detail exposition on this topic, please review my cyber-anthropology mini-series. If you really want to dive deep and understand the communication, structural, and mathematical distinction between communities and social network, I recommend following this academic discussion.


Given this basic understanding of community, what is the true community of your brand? Most people probably think it’s your brand’s online community. This is not quite correct. Although the online community is certainly part of the true community of your brand, it is only a very small part of it.


To answer this question more accurate, we have to use our definition of a community and ask, “Who are all the people who have a common interest around your brand?” The group of all people who have a common interest in your brand is the true community of your brand, regardless of where they may be. Your brand’s true community is defined by the shared interest about your brand, not the geographical or digital boundaries. This group certainly includes customers and prospects, but it also includes employees, partners, and influencers etc. To avoid confusion with the usual connotation of the word “community,” and to emphasize the breadth and completeness of your brand’s true community, we define to this group as the “total community”


So, by definition, your brand’s total community is the true community of your brand.


Total Community as a Customer Centric Strategy

The concept of total community can be quite confusing, because it can mean several different things depending on your vantage point. There are at least 3 perspectives that I am aware of.

  1. From a social science perspective, the total community of your brand is, by definition, the group of people who have a common interest in your brand. So it’s just a group of people. I must ephasize that this group doesn’t include Your competitors surely have an interest in your brand, but it’s usually not a “common” interest. They are more interested in your demise than your success.
  2. From a business persptotal community strategy business 700px.pngective, total community is also a The total community strategy says brands must engage their total community (the group of people that constitute their true community) to provide them with an awesome CX wherever they may be. Since your total community consists of a very diverse group, they are dispersed across many digital channels. Some of your customers are certainly in your online community, but the majority of your customers are not. Yet, they are participants in various social networks. Your employees are inside your enterprise, and your partners and influencers may be on several 3rd party websites. The total community strategy says you must engage and provide excellent CX in all these digital channels (i.e. online customer communities, the greater social web, inside your enterprise, as well as 3rd party websites.). Like it or not, your total community is digitally distributed.
  3. Finally, from a technology perspective, total community is also a technology platform that enables brands to engage their total community and give them great CX wherever they may be. So the total community platform is a software platform that helps brands provide exceptional and personalized CX while engaging their online customer communities, the greater social web, inside your company, as well as on 3rd party websites.



Now we have 3 different vantage point to help us understand DT.

  1. The 4-gears model provides an image of how your business should operate near the end of your DT journey. It serves as a beacon to give you directions along the lengthy DT journey so you will never lose sight of your final goal.
  2. DT is a roadmap that guides the business transformation process. It starts with the adoption of new digital technology, but need to manage the change of processes, employee behaviors, and the culture for the entire company. Since this is a multi-year journey, we’ve use behavior economics to help us overcome corporate inertia along the journey.
  3. Finally, the total community strategy is the customer-centric strategy that helps shape your vision and guides the technology selection at the beginning of your DT initiative. This will ensure that you have all 3 success ingredients before you start the transformation process.


We came a long way. In fact, we have traversed the DT journey from start to finish, and then back to the beginning again. Below are all the prior entries of this mini-series. Next time let’s try to wrap up this DT mini-series.

  1. Successful Digital Transformation Must Go Beyond Digital to the People, Process, and Culture
  2. Why Transform Your Business Digitally? — A History Lesson through the 4 Gears
  3. The Offensive Logic to Digital Transformation — Customer Experience
  4. The Next Level of Digital Engagement
  5. The Right Start — The Behavior Economics of Successful Digital Transformation: Part 1
  6. The Ramp Up — The Behavior Economics of Successful Digital Transformation: Part 2


*Image Credit: ar130405.



Michael Wu, Ph.D.mwu_whiteKangolHat_blog.jpg is CRM2010MKTAWRD_influentials.pngLithium's Chief Scientist. His research includes: deriving insights from big data, understanding the behavioral economics of gamification, engaging + finding true social media influencers, developing predictive + actionable social analytics algorithms, social CRM, and using cyber anthropology + social network analysis to unravel the collective dynamics of communities + social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics + its application to Social CRM. He's a blogger on Lithosphere, and you can follow him @mich8elwu or Google+.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.