Digital Leaders Must Evolve Beyond Industry Narratives

BrandPost By Jordan Whitmarsh
Jul 15, 2021
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

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Credit: istock

The need for digital leaders to understand their customers may sound obvious, but it’s more difficult today than ever – especially when the selling model is business-to-business. It’s often tempting to group customers into neat bundles, wrapped in an ‘industry vertical’ bow, and call it a day.

In some instances, this approach might be the right balance between effort expended and getting the understanding nearly right. Increasingly, as both customers and their technology partners look to differentiate in a crowded market, one must ask … is anything other than a discrete customer focus enough?

I am not suggesting that industry vertical narratives should be ejected from the way digital leaders operate. Once they are created, they can be repurposed customer after customer. What makes them useful is precisely because they are not customized.

Every organization, however, is unique. Its size, target customer, geography, offerings, pricing strategy, and of course—industry vertical all contribute to its approach to the market. So why is it so common that the industry is the bucket in which the organization is organized?

Differentiation has always been important, but in an increasingly globalized, digitalized economy, organizations must compete in a vast international marketplace. Having unique offerings and experiences are crucial to make an impact.

Let’s take a fictitious example from the Travel and Transport vertical. More specifically, airlines. Should a low-cost, budget airline be treated in the same way as a premium carrier? One has the key strategic differentiator of keeping ticket prices as low as possible, the other differentiates on passenger experience. They both operate to serve completely different customer bases, with completely different offerings, in a commoditized market of getting from A to B.

They do, I will concede, share some similar challenges, but by focusing on what makes them the same as their competition risks promoting poor behavior. You can’t lead by doing what everyone else is doing. Similarly, you can’t differentiate with just more “me-too.”

Instead of focusing on what makes your customers the same, focus on what makes them different. That is, after all, where their focus should be.

Unfortunately, understanding the uniqueness of each customer is not enough to be impactful. That understanding can, however, help build narrative specifically for them, using the industry context as the scaffolding.

Ignite your understanding

HPE has developed a capability to create customized narratives for our customers, quickly and effectively. We call it Ignite, part of the Digital Next Advisory framework.

Ignite is a process facilitated by an HPE Digital Advisor who is responsible for managing the process and providing the customer’s voice during an engagement that brings together those with material insight and the customer in question.

To be the credible voice of the customer, the HPE Digital Advisor must perform a rounded research endeavor using publicly available materials. There are several go-to resources such as the customer’s annual report, earning statements, quarterly updates, and social media of their key executives – even YouTube and Wikipedia.

This gives the HPE Digital Advisor a good feel for the organization’s profile and how it is positioning itself to the market.

Beyond this contextual insight we identify a specific set of elements including the organization’s ongoing strategic and digital initiatives.

During a 4-hour workshop, the HPE Digital Advisor selectively introduces this research and elicits insight from key individuals, which is captured and expanded using the HPE Digital Journey Map.

The outcome is a narrative, which reflects the specific strategic priorities of the customer and aligns that customer with the most tailored value proposition that HPE, as a digital leader, can deliver.

The result is a significantly more meaningful dialogue between partners. As my colleagues have discussed in other articles (see links below), by using the HPE Digital Journey Map as the common framework in which to articulate the discussion we can align on a common language which stems from the unique context of the customer with which we partner.

To find out more about Digital Next Advisory or engaging with an HPE Digital Advisor please contact us at

Some helpful links: Revelations on the road to modeling DX agendas Moments That Break Down Barriers to Transformation Activating Digital Transformation with an “aha” Moment


About Jordan Whitmarsh

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Jordan Whitmarsh is a worldwide digital advisor for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, focused on the incubation of innovative approaches and solutions across the services portfolio. In an edge-centric, data-driven, and cloud-enabled world, he is an evangelist for the role that digital plays in advancing the way we live and work with a keen interest in how the digital edge shapes value creation and technology interaction and how the technology supply chain makes it happen. Jordan spent more than 12 years working with HPE customers around the world to help them execute on their disruptive transformation agendas across cloud, edge, IoT and workplace solutions.