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One of the most famous and indeed successful digital transformation initiatives ever carried out was at Burberry.
Angela Ahrendts, often cited as the person who transformed Burberry, had this to say about what it was like when she first became CEO: “As I watched my top managers arrive for our first strategic planning meeting, something struck me right away. They had flown in from around the world to classic British weather, grey and damp, but not one of these more than 60 people was wearing a Burberry trench coat. I doubt that many of them even owned one. If our top people weren’t buying our products, despite the great discount they could get, how could we expect customers to pay full price for them?”
If Digital Transformation is about anything, it is about the customer – putting the customer at the core of everything that a company does.
And for a company like Burberry, with its world-famous trench coat, a good starting point might be to ensure all staff wear the coat themselves.
But back then the Burberry trench coat was seen as old fashioned.
Angela Ahrendts made a key change, from targeting everyone, everywhere, she focused on the millennial generation and at the luxury end of the market.
Ahrendts said: “Even in a burgeoning global market, Burberry was growing at only two per cent a year. The company had an excellent foundation, but it had lost its focus in the process of global expansion. We had 23 licensees around the world, each doing something different. We were selling products such as dog cover-ups and leashes. One of our highest-profile stores, on Bond Street in London, had a whole section of kilts. There’s nothing wrong with any of those products individually, but together they added up to just a lot of stuff—something for everybody, but not much of it exclusive or compelling.”
And so, under the leadership of Ahrendts, Burberry underwent a seven-year transformation, changed from selling a moderately successful coat with no clear audience, to a massively popular brand across the world – a trend setter.
But the turnaround at Burberry was digital, the customer was at the core, the new look company experimented, tried new ideas, but was also focused. She said: “We had great people, but we were organised like a department store. We had a person over each men’s category and a person over each women’s category. They made decisions that worked for their departments but might not make sense for the whole business. We needed to change, to focus on the big picture: the brand.”
Digital transformation initiatives are about technology, for example, in migrating to the cloud, but they are also putting the customer at the core – as happened at Burberry – and creating collaboration within the company. To paraphrase Ahrendts, shifting from a department store type organisation with rigid silos to a more unified company.