Digital Marketing Interview – Ann Holman, digital strategist

Throughout my digital marketing career, one thing has remained consistent, I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with a number of interesting, creative and passionate people from all walks of life operating in start-ups, private and public sector and higher education. 

I caught up with Ann Holman – a strategic digital director who assists companies from all backgrounds with the need for digital transformation and we discussed the importance of how organisations need to consider change to adapt to a digital future, why more larger organisations needs to act more like a start-up and views on the need for change in the education system…


Tell us a little about Ann….

Originally I ran leisure centres and health clubs. Then about 20 years ago I became a strategic consultant – I still am except I work on business strategies for a digital age. I help companies with digital transformation and social business projects. Looking at how they can develop and grow more people centric business models that deliver a better experience.

When I’m not doing that I cycle, if I’m honest, I’m a little obsessed. Will be completing LEJOG in 2015.









When did your digital career start?

I’ve been working in digital and social media now for about 8 – 9 years.


Types of companies you worked for?

I’ve worked right across all sectors; public, private and third sector. From manufacturers to travel companies to banks to Universities.


Can you tell us a little about your project, Our Think Lab, How it started, and the objectives?

Ourthinklab is a company that I set up a while ago that focused on the R&D around digital and social media. It began with organising groups of people together to discuss the implications of tech, social networking and digital trends.

These conversations and discussions were then turned into content focused on a blog and video. It currently works as a digital transformation consultancy. In the future, Ourthinklab will actually become an online learning hub for digital transformation and social media for SME’s.






Digital Transformation – can you explain it to us in a Tweet?
About using digital techniques to implement new business models, leverage operational improvements and enhance the customer experience.


Your background has seen you work in multiple different digital industries and sectors – what do you see as the biggest barriers to transforming an organisation to a digital future?

There are several that I have witnessed and experienced.

1. Lack of understanding and fear of change – Some brands see it as a threat rather an opportunity to increase revenue, reduce cost, improve brand loyalty and attract and retain the talent they need.

The problems the ‘high street’ is facing at the moment is largely due to the fact that retailers are ignoring the fact that consumers simply want to do things online as well as offline. It’s not a threat but an opportunity. I believe if they had grasped this 10 years ago, they would not be suffering as they are at present.
2. Infrastructure isn’t set up for digital. This includes old IT systems, culture of the organisation, processes too rigid, managing the performance of the wrong things and not capturing data that brings insight. Plus most companies operate in silos still, our customers don’t. Therein we have a problem.
3. Management skills. I think this across the board; it involves IT, HR and the ‘c’suite. What disappoints me so much is when I meet marketing professionals who really don’t get digital marketing or are still in the frame of mind of resisting the change because it doesn’t fit their ideal. It’s lazy and it’s tough – the customer is driving these changes, its up to those of us involved in marketing to meet that need. Optimise and leverage employees – they know more than the c suite about social media and digital.

4. Not enough funding. I say this but it’s changing. The big corporate companies have realised in the last 18 months that they can use this to increase shareholder value in a very unstable and competitive environment. Plus they know they need to attract the best talent in the world to be sustainable so they are allocating large budgets to make this happen.

Whether they implement the strategies they currently are drawing up is another thing. You can see it in the banking, medical, retailing and government sectors. Its a massive wave of change. The changes that our Coastguard has made recently in the UK is simply digital transformation.


Do you have any advice in selling a “digital first” culture to a board of directors?

A great brand today is customer centric, data driven and managed by content/stories. Get the business case right. Boards of Directors are concerned with a number of things; profits, cash, talent, customers, brand profile/integrity. Use digital transformation to demonstrate those things and you will be half way there. I always say ask yourself these questions before making the business case;

1. What do you have? A business strategy or a digital strategy?
2. How will digital impact your businesses future?
3. How are you currently using digital? Is it part of a transformation project or are you just bolting it on?
4. How are you using digital to transform the customer experience?
5. How does the way you are dealing with digital compare to that of your competitors?
6. How are you making use of the data available to you when it comes to understanding the customer?
7. How do you/will you measure your digital results?
8. How will it change the way you operate as a business?


Do you think higher education (universities) should be providing more syllabus to support a digital future?

Yes definitely. I think that, not just universities but other brands, are way behind the curve. We are at a stage where customers are way ahead of the brands we are buying from. This includes syllabus. Some of the things still being taught about marketing on some undergraduate courses are nothing less than frightening. Its 2014 not 2004.

If the UK is to come close to competing in the future we need to ensure that our students of today are equipped to be able progress and thrive in an environment of constant, fast change. I recently read a digital strategy from a University which was simply about how much digital hardware they had that could deliver broadcast messages. That is not digital.


Should graduates not worry so much about formal qualifications and go work for a start-up?

Well I think this depends on what you are interested in. If you want to be a Doctor then perhaps not but if you want to go into industry definitely. Start ups are some of the most agile, innovative companies in the world. Large brands are going to have to replicate this somehow so yes it’s a good idea. You can always do a degree later like I did.


What are your thoughts on the next frontier/challenge for digital marketing?

1. For senior marketers/decision makers to realise its changed forever and to implement the funding and infrastructure changes required.

2. How to mesh the digital and physical customer experiences so they are almost
seamless.  Building the relationship between the two spaces is going to be obligatory

3. Creating content that stands out and adds value, doesn’t add to the noise.

4. Keeping it simple and lining campaigns up with trends.

5. Becoming far more socially conscious with campaigns and brand identity rather than the previous capitalist, broadcast ones.


What’s on your reading list?

Leading Digital – George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, Andrew McAfee
From Arrogance to Intimacy – Andy Williamson, Martin Sande
Rough Guide to Sweden


Who are your respected people in digital worth following/subscribing to?


Any advice for a newbie digital marketer learning the trade?

Understand business in general not just marketing then you’ll have an easier job of selling the business case. Understand what motivates you may not motivate your boss or the customer.

Understand that its not about what you want, its about designing your marketing around what the customer wants. So don’t build a website that you think looks fantastic, build it around in depth audience insight and mapping.

A marketers job is not delivering what the brand wanted in the advertising age, its about facilitating what the consumer wants. The brand’s role is increasingly evolving and in some cases will be irrelevant.


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