The key for brands to succeed at digital commerce is setting KPIs linked to measurable data, with individuals assigned and accountable for meeting KPI targets. Next is making sure that you have a digital team that has a passion for working with data and is enabled with support of brand management to drive exponential digital sales growth.
Sara Scrittore, Colgate-Palmolive’s VP Customer Development Asia-Pacific, said many brands face an “Organizational Dilemma” as they work to expand digital sales in a fast-changing business environment.
“Focus the organization on outcomes versus tasks, and hold individuals accountable for pre-determined KPIs,” she said. “All companies have a digital transformation strategy, but we break down the journey into milestones that are very specific with specific timelines.”
Scrittore, speaking on the topic of how brands should structure their organizations to win at ecommerce, said the biggest challenge faced by digital teams within many brands, especially established FMCG players, is resourcing.
“Because the [typical proportion] of digital business is still small, it is difficult for us to get the right level of investment. But resourcing is not just about money, it is also about securing a disproportionate number of people and a disproportionate level of what I call ‘share of mind’ amongst the leadership,” she said.
Dealing with legacy issues
“Colgate-Palmolive is not a native digital company. We have a legacy in our organization that is structured around the traditional functions — marketing, customer development, finance and logistics — and no matter how well these functions collaborate, there are still degrees of silos.
“But on the other hand, technology has changed the way people live, making it very difficult to be clear on black and white responsibilities. It doesn’t matter what your model is, it is getting ever messier, which makes the lines intertwined and the division of responsibilities not easy. This is what I refer to in the context of organizational dilemma.”
Digital commerce in the Asia-Pacific region is booming, and the digital commerce landscape has been completely reshaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, pushing the shift towards online shopping into overdrive. But some brands are struggling to shift their business structures to seize the opportunities as shoppers move from offline to online.
Andrew Hill, Client Director at Edge by Ascential APAC, said that 2020 has been a pivotal year in digital retail, “filled with challenges and changes, frustrations and triumphs and winners and losers.”
“Where I have seen winners in 2020, there have been great people and great processes in business,” he said. “Having great people in place is critical, but having processes in place which guide and facilitate information flows, guide actions and output, is important because it makes people more efficient and more effective. It ultimately starts with making sure that you have a good plan in place and that you have the right tools and resources in order to operate through the channels you are competing on.”
Digital commerce often involves opportunities and requirements to grow the business not just incrementally, but by significant multiples in a relatively short space of time, which can be very disruptive to an organization’s structure.
“For a company like Colgate-Palmolive, 10% growth rates are fantastic, but digital commerce is a space where you need to grow 10x, not just double digit, and that involves a disruption in what you do,” said Scrittore. “What you did last month is already irrelevant, you need to be constantly renewing yourself and experimenting, which is not something that comes naturally for a non-native digital company.”
Clear organization structures
Organization structure needs to be clear and effective and suited to the nature of individual brands, but precise structures for digital commerce depend on individual company circumstances, said Josephine Siow, Coca-Cola’s Integrated Marketing Communications Manager, Media & Digital.
“Digital commerce is a complex landscape and because it is so fluid, different businesses have different structures to meet their different needs,“ she said. “Different sub-channels have their own unique routes to market as well as different consumer journeys where you need to talk to them at different points to drive transactions.”
Colgate’s Scrittore agreed. “There is no magical formula to convert this jungle of people journeys into an organization structure without grey areas,” she said. “In my experience, there is no perfect organization structure. Consumer journeys are complex and fluid and activate the touch-points that are more important for your company and your specific objectives.”
‘Share of mind’
Management buy-in and support for digital commerce growth is also crucial.
“At Coca-Cola, we have a strong mandate from our global CEO James Quincey who during the COVID period has really found out that we need to embrace the seismic consumer behavior shifts during this period, particularly in ecommerce and that we need to get ourselves well-positioned to realise our long term goals,” said Siow. “That gives us an additional boost when it comes to negotiating for a ‘share of mind’ from our leaders when it comes to budget commitments. It is a lot easier when you have that level of mandate top-down.”
Locally, she said, digital teams should identify key members of management who can be sponsors and influencers on executive decisions. “Especially in digital commerce in the FMCG world, you need to know who will back you up, especially if you want to have a voice in cross-functional meetings and leadership team meetings.”
But she said the huge advantage of digital commerce over offline shopping is the availability of data and analytics.
“It is a lot more measurable that traditional business channels, but it is important to make the data simple and succinct and actionable by stakeholders,” she said. “The need for a mindset shift to create a more collaborative structure is even more critical today if you want to win at digital commerce.”
Gritty and flexible
Digital commerce team members need to be open to the fast-changing markets and mentally prepared for challenges. “It’s messy, you need to be gritty and flexible, you need to be able to work through the ambiguity, you need to use initiative,” Siow said. “Things change quickly and we will always need to take the initiative to break through and open the doors.”
Declan Kearney, Managing Director, Edge by Ascential APAC, said that staffing and management of ecommerce needed to take into account the instinctive feel for digital of younger people. “Brands need young, dynamic, digital natives who live and breathe the digital experience in order to drive the right values and generate results for the business,” he said.
For the year ahead, Scrittore said she sees the trends moving even faster in the direction of digital commerce. “We are looking at 2021 with a lot of optimism,” She said. “Of course, no one knows what will happen with the pandemic and the virus and vaccines, but the reality is that the world’s new norm is digital, and that makes our lives in digital commerce teams and digital marketing teams much easier than it would have been 12 months ago. All companies have realized the need to digitize.”
Fill out the form below to request Colgate-Palmolive and Coca-Cola’s presentation decks at the SEA Digital Commerce Accelerator event.
To learn about how Edge by Ascential and Yimian by Ascential can help
structure your ecommerce business, please contact our consultant team at