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How to Transform a Legacy Organization Into a Legendary Company Startups are the business fixation of our time but a history of achievement is still the the best foundation for future of greatness.

By Rebekah Iliff Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Every business that pre-dated the Internet now faces the same challenge: How to transform to compete in a digital economy? From the financial services industry to global retailers, whether we like it or not, technology has forever changed the way we tell stories, interact with customers, build products, and ultimately generate value for the economy.

Upgrading strategic thinking.

In his timely book, The Digital Transformation Playbook, globally recognized digital expert David Rogers argues that digital transformation is not about updating your technology, but rather it's about upgrading your strategic thinking.

I couldn't agree more.

Related: Five Things Startups Can Learn From Digital Transformation

Whether you're an entrepreneur who is forging new ground or a business owner who is attempting to stay relevant in a rapidly shifting economy, what are some things to focus on as the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" unfolds? While technology has certainly created opportunities, it also requires discernment and new skill sets -- which can be inspiring and infuriating all at once in a competitive landscape.

A few months ago, in a passionate attempt to set a framework for my own thinking around this topic, I was serendipitously connected to Samantha Paxson, Chief Marketing & Experience Officer at CO-OP Financial Services.

CO-OP is taking the lead in helping the industry make this shift and deliver value at scale while ensuring that purpose-driven companies are ahead of industry standards. What I realized, after speaking with her at length, was that their model was somewhat industry agnostic and useful for understanding how to transform legacy thinking into holistic thinking – thus shifting outdated modes, which can leave us vulnerable and irrelevant.

Here are a few Paxson-inspired insights from the front lines of the financial services industry. If they can do it, we all can do it.

#1. Fluid engagement.

The world is much different than it was even five years ago. In that world, engagement still took place primarily in the real world over cocktails; and digital marketing was a passive one-way experience of blogging or posting articles.

Social media has completely changed the way customer engagement occurs, and the effectiveness of social media usage can reflect positively or negatively on a brand.

According to Paxson: "For organizations this means designing the company in such a way that the customer is part of the process. It's no longer about pushing out a product or a service based on operational needs, but rather engaging with the customer on every channel at as many points along the path as possible."

In other words, you're job becomes baking your product or service into the fabric of their lives. It's about being collaborative and connected, not merely transactional and operational.

Related: 10 Social-Media Marketing Strategies for Companies

"A legacy organization thinks about engagement as a one-way street: I engage with you to sell you something. Transformed businesses understand engagement is a pre-cursor to selling, of course, but is a long-term opportunity for two-way conversations that can help ensure loyalty down the road."

#2. Consumable analysis of big data.

The vast digital realm has created the era of big data, where countless metrics are tracked over large sample sizes. At AirPR, we see the advantages data creates, while also understanding the complexities it brings as metrics often depend on the specific needs of an organization.

Big data changes the way businesses analyze the successes and failures of their marketing, PR, sales, and customer service initiatives, driving ways to improve processes and revamp campaigns for more efficiency.

"The implementation of big data requires selecting the appropriate tools while also ensuring the safety and security of that data -- so that neither the organization nor the customers are left vulnerable," says Paxson.

Another big pitfall of legacy organizations is relying too heavily on technology or data without "humanizing" the experience. In order to truly transform an organization into one that both relies on data yet knows where to apply it appropriately; it must be put into a form that is easily consumable by employees and decision makers alike.

Related: Four Lessons for Every Entrepreneur Creating Big Data Solutions

This allows them to understand and act on insights in a timely fashion. Transformed organizations think about how data flows across channels, while simultaneously integrating the entire experience and making sure it's secure.

#3. Integrated marketing.

"From my experience, companies have to be functionally integrated to deliver on number one and number two, and they have to understand the points of intersection between each silo. But marketing is an area where legacy organizations can begin to test their ability to integrate functions and add more value along the customer's buying journey."

To her point, today's marketing is driven heavily by a mix of online ads, sponsored content, and search engine optimization -- methods that place your content front and center to audiences that can be targeted and managed across a number of demographics.

For pay-per-click content, the channels have also exploded into the realm of social media, allowing for targeting by a platform's user information. Beyond paid content, marketing generally now encapsulates earned and owned media content as well.

With advanced analytics and attribution models for both PR-driven content and advertising content, marketers have the ability to see the full picture in terms of which campaigns are driving conversion. What does that require?

Well, whether we like it or not, it requires conversations with those data-driven folks whose job it is to put the "science" around PR, advertising, and any marketing efforts.

Related: How An Integrated Marketing Approach Can Help

How do you know if you're running a legacy organization? If your marketing department doesn't think it's necessary to coordinate with PR, advertising, analytics, and yes, sometimes even sales.

#4. Customer-driven value proposition.

Today, a company's value proposition must be continually tuned and re-tuned in order to match solutions being sought by empowered and information-rich consumers and businesses alike.

"Traditional businesses focus on how to craft the appropriate message to the customer," remarks Paxson. "But transformed business focus on how to behave differently so that silos are broken, the "value ecosystem' is designed around the customer, and the message becomes clear based on the behavior of the organization."

For example, Netflix used to send out DVDs by mail. Amazon used to only ship books. Both companies pivoted with the digital revolution, embracing new avenues and evolving as technology created new products and services related to their core values.

These tech giants succeeded because they were willing to reexamine their value proposition and shift accordingly rather than being stuck in their original silo.

Related: How to Develop and Evaluate Your Startup's Value Proposition

Bringing it all together.

This is one of the most important lessons of the digital age: Technology moves fast, sometimes in ways that even very smart people can't predict. In the age of smartphones, the next evolution is everyday smart appliances and vehicles, all connected in a smart city.

This constant flow of data, as well as the increasing integration of connectivity into every type of consumer product, opens the door to new value propositions across all industries.

If you move too slowly, and refuse to listen to your customer's demands, or changing market indicators, chances are you'll quickly lose market share. Or worse, be forced to spend an extraordinary amount of money on re-working your legacy organization into a relevant player.

Related: Leaving a Legacy

By engaging fully, analyzing deeply, integrating wholly, and putting the customer first, you can take almost any business from legacy to legendary if committed to embracing the steps required to get there.

Rebekah Iliff

Chief Strategy Officer for AirPR

Rebekah Iliff is the chief strategy officer for AirPR, a technology platform to increase public-relations performance that serves Fortune 500 and fast growing technology companies. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, where she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies which positioned talkTECH as one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the U.S. Iliff holds a B.A. in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in organizational management and applied community psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).

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