Darren Guarnaccia of Uniform On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readJan 19, 2023

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Digital transformation can reduce the cost to serve and acquire customers. Automation is a powerful tool and can streamline many steps in a customer’s journey. Customer expectations are always rising, and speed of response matters to customers. Enabling service tools that are available 24x7 and self-service capability in mobile and web experiences not only reduces support costs, but it also makes your customers happier because they get what they need faster.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Guarnaccia.

Darren Guarnaccia is an executive leader with deep expertise blending best-in-class product marketing and product management strategies to solve business challenges, differentiate products, and drive exponential, product-led growth. Today, Darren is the President of Uniform Systems, a Digital Experience Composition Platform (DXCP) that is helping marketing and development teams collaborate deeply to deliver amazing customer experiences by blending legacy technologies with cutting-edge headless and composable solutions. Darren oversees marketing, product strategy, and enablement at Uniform.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I got my start back in the 90s as a developer and database administrator, building systems for a financial services firm. It was there that I first encountered this weird new thing called the internet and I was immediately enchanted. I knew then that I wanted to build solutions online. From there, I’ve managed to be at the crossroads of sales, marketing, product development and strategy at a variety of marketing technology companies, and predominantly focused on customer experience technologies. Since reading Customers.com back in 1999, it’s been my mission to help brands help their customers achieve their desired outcomes using digital experience technology to remove friction from their customer’s lives, and build long term customer value.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

There are so many to choose from, because that is really how we learn. I think the funniest mistake I made (though I didn’t think it was at the time) was when I accidentally deleted an entire database of customer information from a data warehouse, and realized our backups were failing. I had to hand enter thousands of lines of customers data, along with some of my team, and it was painful. I bought many beers as a way to apologize for that blunder and learned a hard lesson about sometimes slowing down to go faster. As the Navy Seals say, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve had a lot of help along the way, from mentors, coaches, role models and amazing authors, but one person stands out from the rest. My first manager at my first job taught me what it means to be a leader, not just a manager. I learned how to lead from the front and create the right environment for people to flourish and do their best work. Nowadays, we call this servant leadership, but back then, it was just what he did, and what he taught. My favorite story he would tell me is that there are two types of managers. Manager A believes that everyone wants to do their best work and will work hard to achieve success. Manager B believes people are lazy, and you must stay on top of them to get results. They are both right in their own way because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Manager A attracts and retains hard working talent, while Manager B can only hold on to those he must micromanage, so in the end both become true. I love that story because it taught me that we create our own situation, and we can always change it.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There have been a lot of great books that I have read over my career. An early important read was “Emotional Intelligence,” by Daniel Goleman. This book gave me the courage to be human as a leader and tap into a team’s emotions to give every team member what they needed instead of treating them like corporate drones. Later in my career, I fell in love with Simon Simek’s “Start with Why,” which anchored on a brands purpose and story. As I progressed to leading product teams, I was enamored with Melissa Perri’s “Escaping the Build Trap,” because it made me think in a customer outcome centric way when building products, instead of just pumping out more features. All of them helped evolve my thinking and have built upon one another.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I wholeheartedly agree, purpose is powerful. I always want missionaries on my team rather than mercenaries. When Uniform started, its founders saw a troubling trend emerging. New technologies were emerging in the digital experience market that were purely API driven. This was wonderful for technical teams, but left out an important constituent, the business users that were responsible for creating and managing those experiences. Marketers, merchandisers, and other digital delivery teams lost all the important tooling they were used to in the previous technology generation. So, the founders decided that was the problem they were going to solve. Their goal was to bridge the gap being created by this new technology, and to create a platform where marketers, merchandisers, designers, and developers can all work in the tools they love while still taking advantage of the best technologies for their customers’ experiences. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and Uniform’s mission is to make it great for every team that is delivering digital customer experiences.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

One of the cool projects we are working on is digging into how modern digital experience teams work and collaborate. Beyond the technology, it is important to also bring best practices and methodologies to your customers on how the best in class operate and how to get there. This aligns to our mission of helping unlock technology to reimagine and accelerate how ambitious teams collaborate, innovate, and build incredible digital experiences that drive success for organizations. It is about people, process and technology, and we are bringing all three of these together in customers offerings.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

In its simplest form, digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to improve customer experience across the customer journey. It’s often linked to becoming more customer centric as an organization as well. I tend to think of it as the process of using digital experiences and automation to remove friction from our customer’s lives and in the ways they interact with a brand or organization. It helps to view things from the customer’s point of view, and what they are trying to achieve or what outcome they want. After all, people don’t buy products, they buy outcomes. There’s a famous story about customers not wanting a drill, they actually want a hole in their wall, and really, they want a picture hung to create a beautiful place to live. Digital transformation is the process of using technology to streamline our customer’s journey, through awareness and loyalty to help them achieve those desired outcomes so they will become a repeat customer.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Unless you are a very new digital first startup, your organization can benefit from thinking about removing customer friction and streamlining their journey with you. All industries, from government to manufacturing can benefit from thinking this way. The industry term is called “outside-in” thinking or getting outside your building and seeing what your customer sees. There has been so much innovation that can improve customer experience and satisfaction, while reducing operating costs that it’s worth exploring for every organization.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

My favorite story was a customer I worked with years ago that sold baby formula to families. What is so interesting about this brand is that they understood the real outcome that predominantly mothers would be looking for: confidence and safety for their child. To that end, the brand designed content that helped mothers understand how to best to help their baby, setup call centers to answer questions, delivered meaningful and relevant information as their baby grew, and even created vending machines to deliver formula should you run out in the middle of the night. All of this was delivered across mobile, web, call center, email, and additional channels. All of these channels had to be connected and coordinated. This was done with the mothers in mind and how the brand could help them along their journey. It differentiated the brand and created loyalty in their customer base, so that it’s now being passed down from mother to daughter across generations. Of course, beyond growing their customer base, and the loyalty they enjoyed, everything improved operationally. Customers were happier and required lower support costs. Profitability also improved by virtue of reduced cost to acquire new customers and their new brand strength. Digital transformation was a game changer for them because the put the customer at the center and created a journey that delivered their customer’s desired outcomes.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Depending on the state of an organization’s technology footprint, a digital transformation can be a very complex process. Sometimes there is a required amount of modernization that must happen first before any customer facing impact can be attempted. This can often lead to frustration and a project losing support if expectations aren’t managed carefully. Another common mistake that can happen is jumping the gun on technology before really understanding the current customer processes and internal workflows. It’s important to start by mapping customer journeys and then identify friction points and opportunities to enhance the customer experience. Once that inventory is complete and prioritized, it’s best to phase these improvements over time, and to track improvement and impact to make sure support and enthusiasm remain high across the life of the project. When it’s time for technology selection and implementation, it’s important to think about not just the implementation, but the maintainability of these projects and programs. Customer experiences are ever evolving, and it’s important to maintain agility and flexibility so you can respond as your customer’s behaviors and needs change.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Digital transformation, when done with customer centricity as a guiding principle can unlock several new opportunities for organizations:

  1. You can grow and accelerate your business through expansion like never before. When you offer an amazing, friction free experience, customers buy more, and stay longer. That translates to better net retention rates (NRR) and better average revenue per user (ARPU). This is the most profitable and fastest way to grow. As the famous Harvard Business Review quote goes, “It’s 10 times cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire a new one.” Imagine now what your growth can be when you’ve delighted your customers at every turn. A great example of this is Sprout Social, and social media management platform. Sprout was able to overcome its competitors in a short period of time by relentlessly focusing on removing friction from their customer’s onboarding experience and ongoing use of the product. They used live interaction and in-product experiences to guide customers to success and spent the time and money to drive success in their install base, leading to an NRR of 105%+ and outgrowing their competition as well through ARPU expansion.
  2. Data is the product. With digital transformation comes the opportunity to think about how to instrument your products and services to learn about your customer, and what makes them successful. That data itself is a valuable asset and could even be a product. Customers want outcomes, not products, and data can help ensure customers achieve those outcomes. Another social media platform, Hootsuite, was able to use the social media publishing data across all of their customers to help their users know what the best time is to publish given their goals. This was a huge hit with the customer base, as social media teams had always struggled with knowing the best time to publish content.
  3. Digital transformation can reduce the cost to serve and acquire customers. Automation is a powerful tool and can streamline many steps in a customer’s journey. Customer expectations are always rising, and speed of response matters to customers. Enabling service tools that are available 24x7 and self-service capability in mobile and web experiences not only reduces support costs, but it also makes your customers happier because they get what they need faster. Likewise, streamlined acquisition journeys that use product led growth approaches can allow customers to self-service trial products and aspects of the product and buy with no human intervention, still further reducing the cost to acquire. The meteoric rise of Slack prior to its acquisition by Salesforce is a great example of how fast a great customer experience along with the ability to self-service can help an organization scale.
  4. Digital transformation can help you deliver outcome centric products and services that offer value. Along with instrumenting your product and services the right way, you can also make the customer and product experiences reinforce the value constantly. A great example of this is Loom, a video platform whose mission is to help reduce meeting load for its users. As users create videos, Loom shows its users the number of meeting hours saved due to the videos they’ve created.
  5. Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing is still one of the most powerful types of customer acquisition channels there is. When WOM is coupled with any form of viral spread, the combination can drive exponential growth. Digital transformations can provide just the type of experience and service that can lead to a strong WOM program, because happy customers love telling their friends about what they love. Add to that any product that connects people, and you have the potential for a viral explosion, by making it easy for your happy customers to share their stories with their friends and family. A great example of this is the explosive growth of ChatGPT. Everyone is so excited to tell everyone else about how amazing that is, and Open.AI is struggling to keep up with demand. However, as Open.AI starts to commercial and monetize the product, they can easily add in text to every answer showing the response was powered by ChatGPT, with a link to set up an account. Thus, every shared answer is a viral opportunity waiting to be spread.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

It always starts with trust. People need to believe it’s ok to take risks. Innovation is messy, unpredictable and always comes with risks. This is why it is important to create the psychological safety to take those risks, and to be wrong. Indeed, the best organizations celebrate the failures (learning is disguise) as much as the successes. In my previous role, we set up a failure and learning channel to share our stories to showcase the value of the learning and destigmatize failures.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote came from my time in ROTC in college. I was on a PT run in the morning and was with one of the noncommissioned officers, who could see I was struggling. He said to me “Mind over matter, Guarnaccia. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” It was a lesson on grit and perseverance. Whenever I encounter something difficult in my life, I say those words to myself. Innovation takes grit, and you are going to fail. A lot. I’ve failed over nine times until I got a win. The win was big, and worth the risk. I use those words as a reminder to keep driving forward.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I do most of my writing on LinkedIn. You can find me at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dguarnaccia/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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