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How to Build a Digital Company (Thinks Out Loud 302)

How to Build a Digital Company: Team collaborating using digital tools

If we live in the future — and we do — your company must also live in the future. But what does that look like in practice? How can you get there? What do you need to do to improve? All good questions. Fortunately, we have some answers for you. The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud looks at how to build a digital company, one that will last for years to come, so that you and your business can live in the future too.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 302: How to Build a Digital Company Headlines and Show Notes

Free Downloads

I’d mentioned during the show that we have a free download for you, which you can find right here:

  • Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix. As promised in the show notes, here’s a PDF that can help you assess your company’s digital maturity. You can use this to better understand where your company excels and where its opportunities lie. And, of course, we’re here to help if you need it. The Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix rates your company’s effectiveness — Ad Hoc, Aware, Striving, Driving — in 6 key areas in digital today, including:
    • Customer Focus
    • Strategy
    • Technology
    • Operations
    • Culture
    • Data
  • A Brief Introduction to Thinks Out Loud. As a bonus, we’ve also included this PDF document that highlights some of our core episodes to help you dig into what the show is about. We think it will help you capture the show’s essence while you’re working your way through the 300-plus episodes published so far. Download it here.

Show Notes and Links

As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode.

Thinks Out Loud is sponsored by SoloSegment: SoloSegment increases large-enterprise, B2B website conversion with easy-to-install software that automatically connects website visitors to the content they need to see to achieve their goals. SoloSegment does this using anonymous data and machine learning ensuring privacy compliance, addressing the many anonymous visitors, and improving the efficiency of marketing teams. Visit

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 17m 18s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 302: How to Build a Digital Company Transcript

How to Build a Digital Company Show Opening

Well, hello again, everyone. And welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 302 of the Big Show. And thank you so much as always for tuning in. I very much appreciate it. It means an awful lot to me. I think we have a really interesting show today, a really cool show for you today.

How to Build a Digital Company Introduction

And I want to build on what I’ve been talking about for our last couple of episodes. Really, the last, oh gosh, five or six or seven episodes. But the last couple specifically, I’ve really been talking about the future. I’ve been talking about, you know, how do you become, how do you look to the future and become the company you want to be? How do you build brand 2030?
You know, I mentioned this last week, that the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is of course today. And if we’re thinking about where you want to be in 10 years and the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. Well then today is 10 years ago for 2030.

So this is really where you need to be thinking about how you’re going to be the business you’re going to be down the road. And a big part of that is embracing the shift to digital. It means becoming a digital company, or at least a digitally native company, a company that exists in the world as it is.

What it Means to Become a Digital Company

And I will talk more about that later, but as you imagine, as you know, as you’re seeing every single day with work from home and everything going on with the pandemic, there has been a huge shift to digital by customers. And yes, some of these shifts may be temporary due to the pandemic, but they also appear to be an acceleration of the longer term trends. As I talked about, oh, a bunch of months ago, as Microsoft said in their Q1 earnings call, we’ve seen two years of digital transformation in two months now.

Being a digital company doesn’t mean that you get a hundred percent of your business from e-commerce or transfer all of your work online or all of your work remotely, or spend a hundred percent of your marketing dollars on it. Okay. In some cases that last one might be a good idea. But it doesn’t mean that everything changes.

It means that you have to build digital, you have to integrate digital effectively. With your people, with your platforms, with your processes. I’ve often said that the frightful five or AGFAM, you know, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, don’t have a digital transformation problem. They grew up in a world that was already digital. And this is really about shaping your company in a world where digital already exists. If you were starting your company from scratch today, what would you do differently given that digital is already integrated into the lives of your customers, of your employees, of your suppliers, of your vendors, of your competitors? What would your business look like?

And before this episode is out, I’m going to give you a tool or two for how you can do that. But that’s really what we’re talking about.

What We Learned About Digital During Hurricane Sandy

You know, if you want an interesting story as kind of a case study, you know, during Hurricane Sandy, a company I worked with was forced to work remotely. You know, when people say what we’re going through before, we’ve never seen before, that’s not necessarily true. Certainly many of the elements we’re seeing today never come together in this same way before, but. But there are plenty of lessons we can learn from the past. And in Hurricane Sandy, you know, there were many businesses displaced from their offices for a week or two. Okay. A week or two is not six months. But it’s also, you know, something that many companies had not had to deal with regularly at that point.

And Hurricane Sandy, if you recall, was in 2012, Now at the time, most of the companies, vendors mailed invoices to the company. The problem is that for a couple of weeks, no one was there to get the mail. And as a result vendors, weren’t getting paid, the vendors weren’t happy. They were slowing down their services. It was a big old mess. And the company decided that the right solution was to outsource their invoice processing to another vendor. And the vendor’s solution to this problem was to require that all invoices needed to be faxed to the company. And that might sound like a good idea. But even in 2012 faxing invoices was not a normal thing was a step back from what a good number of vendors. And I happened to be one of them, which was emailing the invoices.

Now I know for some of you, eight years ago might seem like a long time ago, but remember email had been around since the mid nineties, you know? I’d had an email account for more than 20 years by this point. I joked with one of my contacts at the company, is it okay if I invoiced them for the cost of a fax machine? Cause even in 2012, I didn’t own one because nobody was faxing. Most of the companies I was working with weren’t using faxes any longer by that point.

And my point here isn’t to scold the client, nor is it to make me the hero of the story of, Oh, I’m so cool. I had email for a long time, right? That is, that was just a consequence of where I was at a given point in my career. And of course, what I do for a living, you know, me not using email or using digital tools eight years ago would be like a carpenter, not owning a hammer. It doesn’t make the carpenter cool. Because they had a hammer. It’s just that, you know, what makes that person a carpenter.

Your Customers Expect Digital

It is to say that you need to think about what your customers and your community all expect today. I’ve used this formulation a lot when talking about how millennials or adults under 40, as I like to call them, aren’t entitled because they live their lives on mobile phones. There’s simply living in the world, as it is. Think about it. There is not a person listening to this show who is entitled because we expect indoor plumbing or electricity. That’s just the way the world works. And for millennials or adults under 40 or whatever you choose to call them, digital is the way the world works. They’re living in the world as it is not the world as it was.

And so when we talk about becoming a digital company, that’s all I’m talking about. I’m talking about how do you become the company that you need to be? Because that’s where the world is not where it’s going. There was a stat I saw on Econsultancy this past week that showed that 96% of enterprise leaders are prioritizing digital transformation. 96%! I mean this in all sincerity. When is the last time you saw 96% of any group say they were going to support anything? That just doesn’t happen. And if that’s not a sign of where we are, then I don’t know what will be.

How to Become a Digital Company

Digital is just it’s part of life. And so becoming a digital company really means being a company that exists to serve its customers as they are and where they’re going to be for some time to come. And if that’s the case, the first question you should have is great, that’s fantastic, you’ve sold me. What do I do about it?


And as I always talk about, you have to start with where you want to go. What is your dream? What is your hope? What is your goal? What is your objective? And you probably have a good sense of those, but you know, check out last week’s episode, check out the episode before that if you’ve got questions about what to think about there.

Assessment of Where You Are

The next most important thing is to get a clear view of where you are right now. This is the place where I think a lot of people fall down or need help. You can’t create a path to where you’re going if you don’t have a sense of where you are. And there’s a tool that I use, I’m going to link to it in the show notes. It’s not going to be gated content. You can just download it for free. But it’s a digital and e-commerce maturity model that I use all the time when talking to companies. It looks at four stages of maturity across the six functions within your company.

And the six functions are, you know, your, your customer awareness, your strategy, your technology, your operations, your culture, and your data. And how mature are you in using those? What’s your stage of maturity? Are you in those stages being ad hoc, aware, striving, and driving?

Now, just for some quick insight, ad hoc means you do it sometimes, but it’s kind of random. There’s very little cohesive plan or foresight in how you put this together. Aware means you’ve started to bring some planning to the mix, but there’s not a lot of integration among the various people. Striving means you’re working to integrate, but you still have a ways to go. And driving means you’ve got many of the pieces in place and you’re setting yourself up to continually learn and continually improve.

And as I said, you can download the sheet on my website, in the show notes. And you want to rate where you are in each of those areas. You don’t have to be fancy about it. Just pick the one that feels most like where you are in each category.

Where is Your Company Today?

Your business exists in whichever column has the most boxes checked. You know, are you an ad hoc company? Are you an aware company? Are you a striving company? Are you a driving company?
Your highest rated boxes represent your current strengths. And that’s great. Good for you, no matter where you are. Because this is a process, as I’ll talk about more in a moment. Look at those and ask, how can we build on those strengths to differentiate ourselves from our competition or create a better experience for our customers?

Your lowest rated boxes represent your current weaknesses or your current opportunities. And it’s okay if you have a number of them. No one, no one, no one is perfect at this. But ask, how can we improve in those areas? How can we move up a level or two? Because that’s how you’re going to get better. That’s how you’re going to go from ad hoc to aware, and aware to striving, and striving to driving.

Digital Transformation is Never "Done."

Now, one thing you’ll note is that there’s no mature category or done category. And that’s on purpose. Digital is going to continue to evolve as new tools and technologies emerge. You’ll likely start all over again at ad hoc for some part of that. This is an ongoing process. My point about the frightful five, you know, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, not having a digital transformation process going to let you know, kind of a lie. It’s a myth. They’re continually working to progress through these stages too. They’re continually learning. That’s a thing that a driving company does, is it recognizes you’re never done. Sometimes you have to move back to the beginning and start all over again. And that at its core is what being a digital company means.

It means meeting the needs of your customer, having a strategy that takes you to where you want to go, making sure your technology and your operations and your culture supports that and using data to learn and continually improve. And that’s how you become a digital company. That’s how you continue to integrate this into what you do.

And ultimately that’s how you create the future that you want for your business.

How to Build a Digital Company Outro

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes, including the worksheet that I just described by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 302.

You can subscribe in any of the episodes that you find there to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every week. You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Radio, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found.

Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud, or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those. I would also very much appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating or review while you’re on your favorite podcatcher. It helps new listeners find us, helps us show up better in their search engines and it helps new listeners understand what the show is all about just a little bit better.

Thinks Out Loud on Social Media

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me by sending an email to Again, that’s

Sponsor Message

I’d also like to thank our sponsor, SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning and anonymous behavioral data to automatically connect website visitors to the content they need to achieve their goals. Why anonymous behavioral data? Because it ensures privacy compliance while still addressing the needs of your business and your site visitor. It improves the effectiveness and the efficiency of your marketing team and makes your website work better overall. You can learn more about SoloSegment by going to Again, that’s

Show Closing

With that I just want to say once again, how much I appreciate you tuning in today and how much I appreciate you tuning in week after week after week, this is episode 302. I’ve been doing this show for good gosh, eight years or more now. And it just means so much to me to have you tune in and listen,

I hope you have a great rest of the week, wherever where you happen to be wherever you may be, wherever you are. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. If you’re here in the States, I hope you enjoy the labor day weekend holiday. Get a nice long weekend in before you come back and hit it hard next week. And I really do look forward to speaking with you here on thinks out loud again next time. Until then, please be well, be safe and as ever take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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