Episode 17 Decoding Digital Transformation: A Brand’s Journey Through the 21st Century

In this edition of Thoughtcast by Onething, Divanshu is joined by Onething’s UX Leads Antara, and Venky. The topic in question is the means by which companies embark on a digital transformation journey. In covering the gamut of journeys in digital transformation, the trio discuss the role design plays in a modern, rapidly digitising world, and its implications. Don’t miss the debate on digital transformation on the newest episode of Thoughtcast by Onething.

Episode Transcript

 [Divanshu]

Hey everyone, welcome to an all new episode of Thoughtcast, I’m Divanshu Thakral, your host, and I have two wonderful people with me today, Venky and Antara. They are UX Leads at Onething, and what we’re going to talk about today is, how brands have to keep evolving, how brands have to up their digital game to stay relevant, to have that brand loyalty that they’re always looking for. Venky and Antara have been a part of numerous digital transformation journeys, and I think their experience would really help designers, founders, product managers to actually learn more about what is digital evolution, or digital transformation.

Welcome Venky, welcome Antara, thank you for doing this with me, I know you have a lot of work that you have committed to, but would be a fun thing to do together. So, Venky, when we talk about digital evolution, when we talk about digital transformation what does ring in a designers mind?

[Venky]

Well, I think digital evolution at least from a design standpoint, to me it means trying to stay relevant, you know? Because this is a market that is now saturated with digital elements, like, even brick and mortar legacy brands are coming into the digital space, and trying to sort of create that user-base through this digital space. It’s very important for you to stay relevant as a brand, by evolving yourself, by evolving the design aesthetics that you stand for, or stood for, and then sort of trying to create something incrementally new, every couple of months, or every couple of years.

I think we’ve been a part of so much of this in the past right? I’m sure you can talk about how we’ve done that through the years, and not just here, but like, through our own design journeys, have seen brands evolving like that.

[Antara]

So the need for digital evolution I think comes down to a few key things right? One is brand loyalty, customer retention, customer satisfaction, now what is brand loyalty? It’s about the perceived trust, the perceived value, the repeated purchase behaviour and how do we deal with repeated behaviour in times when it’s constantly changing? It’s constantly evolving.

It’s expected of these successful companies to constantly re-iterate, keep up with the brand, to keep up with the times, but it’s a little hard to do that right? It’s easier said than done, for smaller agencies we work in a setup where it’s constantly agile, things are not sort of set in stone, but for larger companies, which have followed this process of hierarchical waterfall effect, it becomes very difficult to take these decisions and constantly reinvent the wheel. 

[Venky]

I mean that’s a very good point that you’ve made. We’re talking about digital transformation, digital evolution, and what we think is that it’s usually the smaller brands that need to ‘keep up’ so to speak. But, I mean, look at the Googles of the world, the Microsofts of the world, and look at how they have changed up the way they look, not just in terms of the UI of their products, or just the interactions or whatever. Even something as basic as their logo. When you think of a logo, you think this is for the next 10 years, people are going to recognise me with this, but if Google can go and actually change their logo, and not just once every 10 years or so. They don’t have any set idea of, once every 5 years we need to change it, nothing like that! They’ve done it immediately within a year or two if it hasn’t worked, they’ve stuck with something for 10 years. Microsoft for that matter has done that as well, right? Facebook has done it, you think of any big brand, and they try and evolve themselves, and keep in-line with the current standards, be it design, or be it customer-related standards. You’ve done quite a bit of this discussion with people, clients, or potential clients, you’ve had the same conversation I’m sure, what would you say about this?

[Divanshu]

What I’ve felt is, design is one part of digitally transforming yourself. Design is not the only thing that is required or that transforms a brand digitally, or evolves it digitally. It is a process, what is more important is, let’s take a step back, design thinking is something that is becoming more and more imperative to this process right? In my conversations, a lot of people think, we want to get our app design, platform designed, that’s an output. Design thinking is a step-back, why do you actually want to do it?

Are you targeting a new set of customers? Are you targeting a new market? Or are you letting go of certain business lines that existed earlier? For example, we worked with MyMoneyMantra, which is one of the largest offline marketplaces for financial products right? They were completely a physical value chain in terms of getting users, giving them financial products from various banks. But once we started with them, on the digital transformation journey, which is still going on, we had to not think of say a website, or a web-platform or an app, we had to think more like a service design, which they built around it. And now, they call themselves as ‘Phygital’, so they have a physical value-chain, they have a digital enablement platform, more than one platform, where they are able to reduce their costs, which occurred earlier, and they’re able to connect with the customer without human intervention. So it has actually led to the first step towards them being, and thinking completely digitally. I think that’s one great example. I can feel that a company which was completely into physical means and they’re moving to a very different direction.

Obviously the pandemic helped everyone realise that we have to move ahead with it.

[Antara]

Yeah! Brands now make you feel like you’re part of a community, right? You belong, you are in it together, even when you look at Apple right? What is the entire idea, initially it was just about an iPhone, now it’s not, now everything is about the Apple community as a whole, or even like the Oneplus community.

[Venky]

So, that’s a great point, right? What you’ve said about having that experience for your consumers to add value to the consumer life-cycle, to add value to their experience. Yes, there is a MoneyMantra, which had to sort-of transform the way that they are looking at their market, and how they’re approaching their consumers et-cetera. 

But there’s something like a Swiggy as well, they’ve done small, incremental changes across the app over the years. I mean something as minor as a tracking, for the orders to come-in. That alone adds so much more value to the product, because now you have that trust in the product, that you’ve ordered for something, and it’s on the way, and you can track what’s happening, right?

I mean, what would you say about something of that sort. Because we build something like this all the time, and we have to, going back to what you said about design thinking, actually have to go back to the root cause of a problem, to come-up with a different and varied solution to that problem.

[Antara]

Picking-up from your point Venky, so Swiggy right? Like you said, they’ve made these incremental changes of the tracking system that they incorporated. They went sort of leaps-and-bounds ahead of their competition, just because they listened, they incorporated Swiggy genie, which was one of the initial concepts at the time where during COVID, during the pandemic, that was what was required. People could not go to the market to get stuff! They wanted it at home, and Swiggy listened.

So the idea is that, considering now that we have so much research, we’ve got so much data, if we only pay attention to these smaller, incremental changes, brands can truly thrive and evolve in a century where nothing remains constant.

[Divanshu]

I think you’re right Antara, but where I see, and probably I talk to brands and core-product companies on a daily basis. Where I feel few brands are slightly lagging in terms of such thinking is because if you actually see a structure of a large brand, there are no product managers, very few brands actually have product managers.

They have marketing heads, marketing managers, brand managers and all that. And that product level, or design level thinking doesn’t come-in, you know? What we see as change or data understanding is a role of a core product team, or core design team. I think that’s where whenever we plug-in with a large brand, our scope of work is very different from when we’re working with a core-product company. We bring-in that product strategy thinking, that product manager mindset first of all, that ‘hey, this is not about graphics designing, or screen designing’ which is the first, natural behaviour of a brand because they’ve been through, and worked with marketing agencies earlier, is where the thinking, and process needs to change in the whole thing.

I think the first challenge for them is to understand that a process of product design, or experience design is very different from what is happening in, say, a marketing agency, or anywhere else. There is what we’ve, or I’ve learned or experienced working with some brands, I don’t want to name them, but you know we’ve had challenges earlier, with large enterprises in this space, and the same thinking was missing.

Why don’t you pick-up a few points from there, without naming the brand?

[Venky]

You’re absolutely right! So, what happens is that legacy brands, when they come into this space, they think about the product, like you rightly said, in terms of screens. And it’s not just legacy brands, as Leads, we’ve seen it so many times, right? Rather than asking us about what goes behind making that screen, we are left trying to explain the design itself, which never really works. I think that’s a key-part of evolving, is understanding that, your product is more than just a set of screens or flows. It is understanding what needs to go-behind those flows, what are the kinds of things that people would-be doing when they’re going through that flow. Which is where those incremental changes come into play, because you can’t have, just a set of screens, you can’t have just some fancy illustrations and expect people to do everything on the product, and just come to the product and sort of sit there and work with it just because it looks pretty.

It needs to evolve with the people and with their expectations. I mean, you’ve said it so many times to different people, the kind of things, what do you tell our clients?

[Divanshu]

Before Antara puts in her point, I’ll add to it, because product and brand-creative are two very different things. And that DNA shift needs to happen in that thinking where the perfect screen, or perfect outcome, you don’t need to wait for it. Let the product evolve on it’s own, thats where brands can up their game, let it go out, let the users use it, it’s fine if you don’t have all the flows, you don’t need them, start lean. Don’t wait for one year for something to go-out, I understand brands have so many users and all that, but the more features you put-in, and wait for it to go-live, you’ll have higher chances of failing that product, because there are so many variables.

[Venky]

So that’s a good-point that you’ve picked up Divanshu, because the fact is, you cannot expect to launch with a fully-fledged product. There are so many steps along the way that you have to follow, there are so many tests along the way that you have to do, to ensure that the experience that you’re trying to gear towards what is your perceived audience at that point, because you don’t have a product, and you don’t have an audience. You have a perceived audience, you have a bunch of assumptions.

So it’s very important to validate it along the way, and you can only do that if you conduct your acceptance testing, your tree testing, every step of the way there is a bunch of different tests that you can do to ensure that you are setting-up the right experience, and that also is evolution. Evolution doesn’t have to be, once you’ve made the product and now we’re going into phase 2.

Phase 0 to phase 1 is evolution right? And that’s exactly what counts, that is what you need to be doing every step of the way, keeping those markers, keeping those checks, and ensuring that your core flows are flawless enough that once they go-out into the market, even if there are only 3 flows in total, people use them and come out the other side feeling great about it. I mean, what would you say to that point, the fact that people think it’s just a push of a button, and everything just happens.

[Divanshu]

Competitive, or competition FOMO is driving this industry that is good, that is good for design companies like us. But, what is not good is just trying to be your competition, or probably just a couple of features will make you better than your competition, it wont! what will make you better than your competition is actually stepping-back, and rethinking that ‘hey, does my user need it? Do I have the same set of users’.

Understanding your users, understanding the objective that you’re trying to attain with those users will help you think that, I might not even need so many features that my competition has, let me just roll-it-out with 3 things, I’ll do better.

But that mindset is very different, and difficult to attain. It’s easier for us to say this, because we’re on the other side. When there is hierarchy, when there are bosses to be reported to, when there are stakeholders, they want to see things on screen, you know? This is X, this is Y, if we are Y, it has to be more than X. That’s a change that we need to bring-in, in product evolution, in design thinking, in the way that we work with large brands I believe.

I think that’ll help brands to also launch products faster, evolve better, and actually, I wouldn’t say beat, but, walk along, or have users along with high-growth startups, because startups are really moving fast, they are learning everyday faster, and all that.

And if they have to sustain with these startups, they need to think like them. They need to have leaner teams in product, product teams in the company, they need to cut-down the slack in terms of the long hierarchal chain that they have of approvals, and all that, I think that’ll really help them re-think.

I think that’s a great conversation for us to draw-out certain good-points, I think our listeners would love it. Thank you for doing this with me Venky and Antara, I think you’ve enjoyed it I believe?

[Venky]

Absolutely!

[Divanshu]

Thank you listeners, I hope you’re enjoying our conversations, and we’ll keep bringing you some really good content. We have some really-good guests lined up for the next few weeks.

Keep listening, keep watching, thank you so much!

Expand Full Transcript