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What is your digital maturity?

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 01 Dec, 2021
Essential Essential topic

Growth frameworks to assess opportunities to increase digital marketing effectiveness

Ever since I’ve been involved with working with businesses to improve their digital marketing I’ve seen a huge variation in digital maturity. The value in reviewing digital maturity is that it can quickly give you a ‘line in the sand’ benchmark for your organisation to improve upon. The process to review and improve maturity is:

  • Define digital maturity in different categories using a framework with the right scope
  • Identify opportunities or weaknesses across digital capabilities within the framework to prioritize improvements
  • Demonstrate the business case and priorities for improvements to colleagues (or clients if an agency or consultant)
  • Set objective targets for improving maturity to review against in future

Of course, the appropriate level of maturity for any business will vary depending on the context. In some industry sectors where digital channels have become a primary channel to market such as retail, financial services and travel, it has become essential to increase digital maturity to compete. In other sectors like some business-to-business industries and Pharma where traditional channels may still be the most important communications channels, maturity may be lower. In larger businesses in sectors where the case can be made for investment, there may be more resources to support the digital transformation needed than in smaller businesses that have other priorities for investment, so may have a relatively low maturity. On the other hand, small and medium businesses are often more agile to respond to marketplace forces than larger businesses, so if they see the opportunities of

In my experience of working with businesses from the very largest to the very smallest and across many different sectors, I’m a firm believer it’s valuable for every type of business to assess their maturity, particularly relative to others in their sector. So, in this briefing, I’ll recommend how to approach maturity evaluation depending on your business context. I’ll also showcase some recent new maturity frameworks that have prompted me to cover this topic.

… and your personal digital maturity?

Before I look at the business frameworks, I’d also say that it’s valuable for people working in marketing and business to review their personal digital maturity. This relates to reviewing their experience and skills for helping their business increase their digital capabilities. Whether you are a manager directing improvements in digital marketing or a specialist marketer looking to develop your digital skills it’s useful to understand what your gaps are and what the priorities are to develop your skills. If this sounds useful, we have developed a free interactive tool to assess your digital marketing skills. I’ve structured the assessment across our RACE planning framework and designed it to be efficient. You should be able to complete it within 5 to 10 minutes and you will receive a score out of 100.

What is digital maturity?

This is a good initial question to ask since the scope of digital maturity will vary a lot depending on the focus. In larger digital transformation projects, it may have a broad scope covering digital business and with a focus on digital technology and digital data. Digital business includes using digital communications to support interactions with a range of partners from suppliers to channel partners and customers.

Often the scope of digital transformation will be narrower, offering the opportunity for a brand to transform customer value propositions, business/revenue models and communications. This focus is valuable since it reviews opportunities for businesses to compete more effectively by changing the basis of competition through new marketplace offerings.

Finally, there is the narrower scope of digital maturity where the focus is improving marketing communications strategy and implementation through better-integrated marketing campaigns and always-on digital marketing. This is our main practical focus at Smart Insights.

The Smart Insights digital maturity frameworks

I first started creating frameworks to assess digital maturity in the early 2000s as part of consulting and training to help businesses improve their digital marketing. This was a natural evolution for me, since when I started working, pre-web, I was involved in managing teams of software developers creating what we now call marketing technology or ‘martech’.

We first created these tools to prompt change around 2010 and while we have made some updates to reference new technologies like AI and machine learning, the overall structure has remained sound and relevant.  This campaign-related example from our free digital maturity frameworks is one of several similar 'one-pager' maturity assessments including overall digital maturity and for individual digital marketing channels and tactics.

Campaign planning digital benchmarks

As I explain in this article on Benchmarking digital marketing, it was and still is common to review maturity of the processes for developing complex software in order to make it fit for purpose - and to limit errors. These concerns are also in common with digital communications which is often based on martech.

To help create the Smart Insights digital marketing maturity frameworks I adapted the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity model (CMM) for software. While detailed assessments differed, it appealed since it has 5 clearly defined stages that correspond to improving maturity. I’ve used these on our digital marketing capability frameworks such as this one

We have free versions of these benchmarks available both as:

  • Downloadable visual frameworks - great for discussing current performance in workshops.
  • Interactive digital capability grader tool - these can be rapidly completed in 5 minutes or less to give a score with recommendations of how to improve.
  • That’s where my inspiration for benchmarking businesses for digital marketing originally came from. It’s likely that you don’t, if you work in marketing, unless your background is similar to mine. I used to manage software development back in the day, before the web, yes that long ago…

As we’ll see, maturity frameworks are often developed by large consultancies for large international brands, but I was keen that our offering would also be relevant for small and medium-sized busineses and cover both strategy and practical communications techniques. The tools above do this, but to help simplify what a digital marketing strategy needs to address, more recently we have created this framework showing the six pillars of digital marketing which is available as a template in our free digital marketing plan template.

Our pillars show a grouping of different types of initiatives that may need to be prioritized and worked on to improve maturity. Perhaps you need to improve your measurement and reporting or perhaps a content marketing strategy is needed, or marketing automation to support conversational messaging. It starts on the left with management or governance who need to enforce a strategic, planned approach based on data-driven marketing selecting and reporting on relevant KPIs. Note that this crucial aspect, ‘Strategy and Governance’ is missing from the Google framework, but is included in the Gartner framework.

In larger, especially international brands, there is the challenge of increasing maturity 'across the board', i.e. in teams working across different products and countries. To help here a Digital Marketing Centre of Excellence can help. Our members' guide to best practices for creating a Digital Marketing CoE explains how to review which digital marketing activities should be reviewed centrally and which locally.

Let’s now look at these two more recent digital maturity frameworks.

The Google - BCG Digital Maturity Framework

In August Google released the appealingly, but likely misleadingly titled Fast track to digital marketing in association with Boston Consulting Group who created the report.

This framework covers these 5 aspects of maturity. As would be expected from Google’s commercial interests these have a strong focus on customer acquisition via media using data-driven approach.

Unlike the framework above there is less focus further down the funnel considering digital customer experiences and brand customer engagement.

However, if your focus is mainly media centred in a large business, it could be worth completing the 30 minute digital maturity assessment on Google to enable comparison with your peers.

The Fast Track report also has some benchmarks showing how maturity is improving within the businesses they survey.

The Gartner Digital Commerce Framework

More recently Gartner have released a one-page digital commerce maturity framework focused more on e-commerce rather than digital communications, but it is similar in the governance issues it covers:

It’s a one-page summary similar to ours. It covers similar themes to the classic pre-digital business management framework, the McKinsey 7Ss.

We’ve seen that there are a range of frameworks for assessing digital maturity and how they can be powerful for evaluating your current and planned use of digital media. It’s important for you to select the right type of framework for the scope of digital within your business and it should ideally relate to the maturity of others in your sector.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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Digital Marketing BenchmarkingDigital maturity

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