Level 4 - The Trendsetter


Your team is a well-oiled machine. You have a clear vision, a clear strategy, and certain tactics are delivering success for your digital channels. You believe your investments in technology are beginning to pay off.

That’s not to say you have problems; but given enough time and patience your brand can overcome most obstacles. You’ve built leadership in your company that holds itself accountable, and your values can be clearly stated.


At a Level 4 your company is faced with one of two challenges:

• Technology investment likely came at the expense of having clearly defined processes. Processes and procedure have suffered, so you have a few very key people or systems that are stretched to their limits.

• Or, you have too much process and procedure and you’re finding you’re not as nimble as you used to be. Making decisions takes many meetings, executing takes many more. You wonder how anything gets done – but things do, eventually, get done

There are no contingencies in budgets and extreme attention to margin and P&L create a “play it safe” culture. This is where most brands stop evolving. There are many prestigious brands who never grow beyond a Level 4. Level 4 companies can often be described as being “stuck”. New products or services are more easily created when driven by top-level executives who cut through red tape for pet projects; while all other departments are left to wallow in their own swim lanes and never become cross-functional.


There are many threats in the world of a Level 4 ‘Trendsetter” brand:

• Newer businesses launching in your category are adopting current technology, while your stack is feeling stale.

• The technology that once made you a successful startup may now have become a liability.Others are emulating you, your message, your ideals, or outright copying your products.

• If you’re backed by private equity or other outside capital backing, you’ll begin to feel pressure to reduce costs, skill up, or both.

This is the point where most digital teams find themselves resource-constrained: overly reliant on a handful of internal operators while most of their fate lie with outside vendors and partners. Take care to recognize what is vital to have in-house (merchandising, marketing) vs. what you can outsource (code development, infrastructure managed services).


Creating teams that are nimble by nature, reporting directly to a smaller group of stakeholders, and having greater control over their own success is the path to becoming a Level 5. For a company that has become risk-averse due to its dominant position in the marketplace allowing a small group to operate outside of the normal chain of command seems foolish or risky – and it can be – but risk-taking is what got you to be a dominant player in your industry to begin with.

For a digital commerce team at a heritage brand this kind of structure could mean that a Director of Ecommerce or VP of Digital has direct decision-making authority on platform selection, technology choices, partnerships, product assortment, merchandising, and promotional calendar. Not to say that these roles don’t cooperate with other channels, because the most successful Level 4 brands are the ones whose retail channels discover how to work with, and not against, each other.


The Trendsetter invests in technology and marketing campaigns that become part of the cultural zeitgeist. On the consumer brand side, they’re household names. In B2B they’re industry titans who dominate in technology and in supply chain. Most businesses will never reach this level, and a scant few will grow beyond.

Level 1

You are implementing basic ecommerce and marketing strategies. Your customers can navigate the site, enter the checkout funnel, and securely purchase products. But you have the potential to drive even more traffic and conversions, with some expert guidance.

Level 2

You are implementing more ecommerce and marketing strategies. You are actively acquiring new customers and streamlining checkout.

Level 3

You are improving the customer experience by incorporating personalization and allowing for user generated content. You are actively monitoring and improving performance.

Level 4

You are providing more services to your customers inside and outside of ecommerce. Even more marketing and UX improvements are also paramount.

Level 5

You have optimized your store throughout. You are innovating and offering better customer experiences than most.

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