Digital will become the backbone of your entire business strategy. More than half of eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals we speak with agree, yet a mere 20% have mastered yesterday’s basics, such as a seamless handoff between channels.  And as Paul Barker, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, Hallmark Digital, Hallmark Cards notes:  “Today, digital has to be a part of everything we do at Hallmark.  Digital is a part of product, retail, marketing, in store, and of course on the web and on devices.”

In the run-up to Forrester’s Forum For eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals in Chicago on November 5-6, Paul was kind enough to answer some questions that we posed to him. I hope you enjoy his responses as much as I do, and I look forward to seeing many of you in Chicago!

Q. When did your company first start getting serious about digital business?

Hallmark launched its web site in 1997 as an ecommerce site and also free e cards.  We wanted to avoid retail trade conflict so we experimented with selling products and solutions that were not available in our stores.  That led to consumer confusion and an inability to scale.  We then migrated to mostly a marketing site, with very little commerce and free e cards.  Later, we used as a launching platform for new businesses such as fresh cut flowers, gifts, home décor and other new businesses.  Today we have embraced an omnichannel strategy, blending our digital solutions with retail solutions for both our stores and our mass-retail partners.  We also are pursuing more digital connecting business concepts as well as offering short- and long-form digital entertainment solutions.

Q. What steps has your company taken to infuse digital business and skills throughout your business?

Today, digital has to be a part of everything we do at Hallmark.  Digital is a part of product, retail, marketing, in store, and of course on the web and on devices.  It is important that everyone understands and owns a bit of how digital impacts their area but it is also important to recognize that the level of skill to actually do the things that get traction is not something for dabblers in digital.  Marrying the highly skilled, digitally savvy experts with our diverse business partners who need digital solutions has been a part of our strategy to infuse knowledge and effective solutions across the organization.

Q. What is different about the way your company runs digital programs now versus when you started out?

When digital is a part of everything you do (product, marketing, retail, entertainment, etc.) then it has to be brought into the upfront business strategic planning work.  It used to be an afterthought or just managed as a separate, stand-alone entity….nobody thought about digital except that group.  Today it is very different at Hallmark.   Now everybody is thinking about digital and it is present in upfront planning stages.  There is often a digital expert who has a seat at the table.  Also, for consumer-facing solutions, the work is very different than traditional enterprise IT work.  We had to create a separate division with expertise in consumer-facing digital solutions.  It used to be run out of our IT organization but was always overshadowed by other internal enterprise IT priorities.  So we built a digital organization focused on the consumer side. 

Q. What advice would you give to an eBusiness professional trying to elevate the role of digital business in their organization?

Stay focused on your target consumer/customer needs.  Understand what your business and brand has to offer that is unique.  Understand what assets and capabilities your organization can bring to bear.  Be fluent in the ever-changing landscape of digital solutions, software, platforms, tools, APIs, devices, OS, etc.  Your organization will count on you to be the experts at this and if you aren't there will be lots of "digital amateurs" who will pursue these.   Finally….have a thick skin.  It is sometimes a thankless job when you are dealing with partners who don't know what they need or want but feel like, for example, that they must have an app because "everyone else has one."  Or "we must have our own device" or "our own engine" or proprietary software.  Helping partners understand what business you are you in and what you are not (hint, you aren't going to out-Amazon Amazon, our Apple, or Facebook, or Google, etc.), but rather, how you can use the open innovation environment and tools that are already out there to bring your business to life, make it more relevant and make your products and services more appealing to your customers. This is what I spend most of my time doing at Hallmark, and helping the organization avoid being seduced by the next digital shiny object, but rather: How does that innovation give us insights as to how we could be more relevant to our consumers?  I suspect I am not alone in that endeavor.