I’ve been a fan of Twitter for a long time. But sadly, the platform is no longer what it was. It has become a massive echo chamber of competing voices and no way to adequately sort the wheat from the chaff. Some argue that it’s getting back on track, and I hope it does, but I’m yet to be convinced. Until then, this cartoon by Brad Colbow does a beautiful job illustrating the slow death of a once great social media platform.
This article was first published on CIO.co.nz
Digital, in all its forms, has changed the face of business. From customer experience to sales to operations, rare is the industry that has remained fully analogue and unaffected.
Businesses have tended to address this change by creating a standalone digital strategy (or strategies), often confined to the marketing or IT departments.
While digital was still in its teenage years, this approach was understandable, if not ideal. Everyone was working out just how this new technology impacted their customers, their processes and their bottom line.
Today, this approach is no longer good enough. Digital has matured to become an innate part of our daily lives. Just as customers are channel-agnostic, making no distinction between digital channels and ‘everything else’, so digital must be recognised as an intrinsic part of the business strategy, not silo-ed or confined to one department.
In other words, your business no longer needs a digital strategy. It needs a business strategy for a digital world.
The distinction is critical. Under the old model, your business could stay ‘as is’, with a bit of digital on the side. The new model forces your business to evolve, and reset its focus. Digital is not a tool. Digital is not a channel. Digital is a culture of connectedness, with the customer at its heart. Your business must learn how to operate within, and take advantage of, this culture.
To paraphrase Jay Baer: “the goal is not to be good at digital; the goal is to be good at business, because of digital.”
Creating your strategy
A business strategy for digital will have to consider a number of new evolutions, such as the shift to user-first or design thinking, the role of innovation, devops and systems management, business speed and agility, and more.
Digital presents a number of opportunities – to become more efficient, productive, responsive, innovative, collaborative and agile. But which do you embrace?
Digital also presents a number of challenges. It requires certain capabilities, management structures and culture, which in turn means decisions around investment, risk appetite, scale and so on.
As with all good strategic planning, it comes down to hard choices around where-to-play and how-to-win (to borrow a phrase from A.G.Lafley and Roger Martin’s Playing to Win). How your business can deliver (or not), in the context of a digital world, should ultimately inform the strategic choices you make, and in turn, how you create a competitive advantage.
For example, I have a client operating in a highly competitive marketplace. They recognise that competitive advantage will most likely be gained by using the benefits of their size to develop a unique experience only they can offer. Their target audience skews young, so digital must be at the heart of how that experience is created and delivered. Internally, delivering the experience will require coordination between a number of business units, not just marketing and IT. It will also require a change in culture to a customer-first approach.
They have made difficult choices that recognise the role of digital as a fundamental driving force within their business and their market, and will prioritise investment in the capability and skills needed to deliver. But their digital activity is very much in the service of key business goals, such as revenue, brand position and uptake. It is not in the service of Facebook likes, banner ad impressions or web traffic.
Every choice regarding digital will have an impact on your business, and it’s a fine balance – moving too fast can be overly disruptive; moving too slow risks being left behind.
However, this integrated approach is actually easier to manage. Another example: companies embarking upon digital transformation often mistakenly equate ‘transformation’ as an investment in technology. The transformation strategy is silo-ed in the IT department, neglecting important factors such as culture or process. The transformation then faces barriers around internal buy-in, transparency and accountability, inevitably leading to delays, cost overruns or an ineffective programme. This is digital in the service of IT, not the business.
When digital transformation sits as part of the business strategy, new IT infrastructure simply becomes investment in a capability to deliver on that strategy, as opposed to being the strategy. This ensures visibility and integration from the top down, and the ability to tie investment back to key business goals.
The importance of leadership
Leadership is the other vital ingredient in this mix. The number one reason digital initiatives fail? Poor governance and a lack of advocacy from the top.
My view is that many C-level executives have, in recent years, been afraid to admit what they don’t understand about digital. Silo-ing the digital strategy into one department is a convenient way of avoiding it. But once embedded as part of the business strategy, there’s no escape.
It is important to note here that, when dealing with digital, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to admit what they don’t know. Digital is a complex beast, with multiple specialisms. Your intern will always know more about Snapchat than you do. What leaders must have is an understanding of digital’s potential impact, an eye for the opportunity and the ability to make informed investment decisions. They don’t need to know the nitty gritty of every channel or technology.
Digital is not a mystery. It’s simply a new way of thinking about how your business connects with its customers, staff and the wider market. Embracing digital as a core thread within your business strategy is recognition that the world has changed, and for your business to grow, it needs to change with it.
- When, where, why, and how you participate in digital should be firmly anchored in the business’ strategic priorities.
- Digital should work in service of the business, not in service of itself.
- Know your audience – a digital business is customer-led, not product or sales-led
- Capability is key to digital delivery – many companies fail to invest adequately in resource and infrastructure
- Digital change within a business must come from the top. Without leadership, it will not happen.
- Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.
As digital matures, organisations must redefine how digital is incorporated, or even referred to, within the business. With this in mind, here are five digital essentials to help your business make the most of digital in 2016:
- It’s not digital strategy. It’s business strategy for the digital age.
The point has been reached where the ‘digital’ tag is essentially irrelevant e.g. ‘digital marketing’. Every business unit now has a digital component, every senior manager should have an understanding of digital and the role it plays. Now, that understanding is not present in all organisations, so the ‘digital’ tag persists. But your business strategy should reflect a world and an audience that is inherently digital – even if your business is not.
- Customer experience is a priority
Regardless of whether you’re B2B or B2C-focussed, customer experience should be a priority, if not the priority, for your business in 2016. It’s the basis on which many companies plan to compete, but more importantly, it’s the primary means by which customers will judge your business. Their demands are exacting and the challenges they present are many, but the rewards are more than worth it.
- Know thine audience
Your customers leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs wherever they go. As such, it’s easier than ever to understand their needs, motivators and behaviours. Investing in this understanding is one of the keys to delivering a successful experience. It doesn’t have to mean granular persona development – even your website analytics will provide a raft of clues. But the best results are achieved through a combination of qualitative and quantitative research – talking to your audience then using broad data trends to confirm or negate the findings.
Further to point 1, digital silos should start to be dismantled. ‘Digital’ is not a standalone thing to be developed in isolation. In fact, better results are achieved when digital planning and execution are integrated with ‘traditional’ activities, each working in sync. This applies both to how departments are structured and how programmes are implemented.
- You don’t have to be right the first time
The words ‘agile’ and ‘iterative’ are bandied around far too much these days, but what they essentially mean is that it’s ok to test and fail in the real world. You don’t have to attain perfection at the first go, you don’t have to be afraid of negative feedback (you do have to manage it though). As long as the process is transparent and responsive, you can learn a huge amount by simply testing and observing behaviour. Use the results to adjust your offering quickly and in small steps, eliminating the need for considerable upfront investment and a few sleepless nights.
What are your thoughts on the key digital issues that will affect business this year?
Every year, long lists are made touting the next big things in marketing for the 12 months to come.
In 2016, only one item need be on that list: customer experience (CX).
Sure, we can talk about adaptive content or virtual reality or disruptively programmatic collaborative innovation, but the fact remains: CX will rule 2016.
A recent Gartner survey found that, this year, 89% of companies plan to compete on the basis of customer experience. It’s an encouraging but suspiciously high number. While many a marketer can stamp ‘seamless journeys’ and ‘compelling experiences’ off their Buzzword Bingo sheet, few can honestly back it up.
Case in point: 43% of customers in a 2015 Australian study said they were dissatisfied with the experience offered by the country’s 34 largest companies. Of those, only 17% would stay loyal to the brand as a result. Clearly, there is work to be done.
Customer expectations are higher than ever. At every interaction, at each individual ‘micro moment’, customers want the ability to personalise and optimise the experience, based on their needs. Fair enough too, for the experience is the one tangible demonstration of how far a brand will go to please that customer.
“But hang on!”, you cry. “This isn’t new! We’ve been focussed on the customer experience for years!”
So how’s it looking? Seamless, end-to-end, user-first, intuitive, responsive, measurable, data driven yet human, delivering to a clear strategy, proven ROI?
Marketers have been focussed on components of the customer experience – the in-store, the website, the social media. The false ‘traditional vs digital’ divide has been a culprit here. Different elements of the experience are developed in isolation, with marketers mostly having to choose which side of the divide they sit on.
This makes joining the dots very difficult, a trend reflected in the either/or customer experiences on offer. You can probably think of half a dozen companies who offer either a terrific digital customer experience that doesn’t translate to the real world, or memorable TV campaigns with a poor in-store experience, or great in-store service with a terrible digital offering.
Brands have also been guilty of trying to force the experience on the customer, rather than providing the means for the customer to define it themselves.
Avinash Kaushik, Google’s Chief Digital Evangelist, touched on this when he said that marketers should focus less on conversion, and more on user intent across the entire experience.
In other words, stop trying to force them down a funnel, and instead, understand what they need at each stage to make their own decisions, and provide them with the best tools to do that.
Customer experience doesn’t work in silos and it’s not about tactical hit and runs. It’s about fundamentals and root causes; allowing a customer to do what they want, when they want and how they want.
For all of us, that’s both good and bad news.
It’s bad news because great customer experience is hard.
Every touchpoint forms part of the experience. From an organisational perspective, building the necessary infrastructure means collaboration between marketing, comms, HR, IT, senior management and possibly more. Who owns what? Who delivers what? Governance is crucial.
Strategically, it requires making hard choices about effort and resources. Tactically, it requires responsive management and creativity. Technically, it requires speed and integration. Marketers with a solid understanding of all worlds will be in high demand.
The good news? The benefits of getting it right are huge. 55% of customers will pay more for a guaranteed good experience. And the customer experience is filled with creative potential, a chance for your brand to build something truly unique and personal.
2016 is the year your competitive advantage will begin to rely, more than ever, on the strength of the customer experience. Make sure it’s top of the list.
Guns and women. That’s the recipe for success in social media. At least in the world of Dan Bilzerian.
Dan Bilzerian (NSFW). The ‘King of Instagram’. 12.7 million followers. Poker player, beard exponent and all round playboy.
Bilzerian is controversial. His feed is full of conspicuous displays of consumption, bikini models, guns and a cat called Smushball.
Some love him, some hate him. And I’m not going to get into the morals of his content here. Regardless of your opinion, he’s managed to parlay his approach into a social media empire, cameos in Hollywood films and a virtual lifestyle the envy of 20-something males the world over.
So what can brands possibly learn about social content from this guy? Here’s the top 10:
- He understands what his audience wants and he gives it to them. He’s living the dream (well, someone’s dream) and taking his audience along for the ride.
- He’s prolific, posting often. Fans can expect regular updates.
- He plays to the strengths of the channel. Instagram has rules about nudity which he pushes to the limit, plus he uses video, slo-mo and tagging to great effect.
- He invests in the content, often using dedicated camera crews, drones and other means to capture moments in interesting ways.
- He has a distinct tone of voice. Plenty of humour and a definite attitude.
- It’s personal. There’s no filter here. No doubt there’s curation and some careful stage management, but no filter.
- The content is shareable. Again, he knows what his audience wants, and they pass it on in spades.
- He mixes it up. It’s not all guns and bikinis (though mostly). He posts about supporting veterans, his cat – there’s just enough humanity in there to take the edge off the debauchery. Otherwise it would get old pretty quickly.
- He syndicates. The people tagged in his posts begin to develop communities of their own off the back of its popularity. This begins to create an infinite loop, with him at the centre.
- It all works to build the brand. Everything is done to cultivate a mystique about this ridiculous lifestyle. Nothing goes up that detracts from this.
Sure, he’s an odd case study for social media, and I’m definitely not saying your brand should go out and copy his content. But it’s important to note that the approach, the principles, are universal, and fundamental to creating successful social media content, no matter what your business.
Dan Bilzerian is simply proof that putting them into practice works.
The marketing funnel is dead. Again.
Or at least, it should be.
That’s the takeout from a recent keynote speech by Avinash Kaushik, Google’s chief digital evangelist.
Why is the marketing funnel dead?
Because a focus on consumer intent needs to trump a focus on pure conversion.
Because instead of trying to manipulate consumers down a prescribed path or funnel, marketers should be using a framework that either solves business problems or focuses on user behaviour.
In other words, it’s time to start looking at digital marketing from the human-centred point of view we’ve seen in UX, digital design and other disciplines.
I don’t actually believe marketers have an either/or choice regarding business problem vs user behaviour. You need to consider both. If your marketing framework focuses purely on a business problem, and doesn’t consider user need, chances are it won’t meet their expectations. If you focus solely on their behaviour, without considering the business problem you’re addressing, how do you account for ROI?
That’s why the key planks of a digital strategy are business goals and audience need. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ between the two is what shapes your approach.
By way of example, Avinash talks about designing a website that allows for all user intents i.e. it doesn’t try to only convert a small number of prospects, but also provides value for those who visit but aren’t ready to make a purchasing decision.
Now, creating a website that caters to all user groups might seem pretty obvious to those who design digital experiences for a living. But the point is that many marketers are so focused on engagement or conversion, they lose sight of the huge group of consumers who may passively experience your marketing and want light-touch value. This applies not just in the narrow confines of a web experience, but more broadly across the digital mix, as Jerry Daykin outlines here.
In my view, Avinash is really talking about the digital experience. I wrote in an earlier post that a great digital experience is driven by customer needs (a digital experience is also a lot more than just a website).
Marketers must deliver a digital experience that both meets consumer needs and addresses business objectives, at whichever contact point the consumer chooses to use, not at the contact point marketers wish they would use.
The sooner digital marketing begins to understand the importance of the experience, and the motivations of users within that experience, the more effective it will be.
The Venn diagram of digital marketing and human experience is rapidly being drawn. It can only mean good things for marketers and audiences alike.
“If you devote significant time and attention to the very first order of business — your strategy — the foundation you build will be strong enough to withstand any weather as you move into design and coding.” – Joe Natoli, Think First
Now call me biased, but I think strategy is pretty important. So hearing this statement from a UX practitioner such as Joe Natoli, definitely struck a chord.
His most pertinent point, for me at least, is the idea that when projects encounter a problem, the tendency for designers is to jump to tactical solutions, rather than ask strategic questions.
It’s a natural response, right? If you’re a designer, you tend to focus on the issues most relevant to your world, rather than necessarily going back to strategic fundamentals, a process you may not have been involved with in the first place.
The result is an ongoing focus on what you’re doing, as opposed to why you’re doing it.
I’d say there are two primary reasons why this happens:
- Many strategies are too vague for designers to easily work with
- Designers are not practiced in working with a strategy beside them throughout the process
Let’s look at this in more detail:
1. ‘Fluffy’ strategy
The highway of strategy is littered with the wrecks of phonebook-sized decks of fluff that offered little or no direction as to what actually happens next. Sure, they were filled with fancy exclamations around ‘compelling experiences’ or ‘driving innovation’, but that wasn’t much use to the guy who had to sit down and solve the problem. A vague strategy will typically fail to identify exactly what you need to do and the reasons you need to do it. And if you don’t understand the reason you’re doing something, you end up trying to solve the wrong problems (credit: Joe Natoli).
So, strategists – ensure you’ve turned insights into a clear proposition and real actions, complemented with measurable goals. Give your design team something they can actually use.
Designers – insist your strategist delivers the above. And force your way in at the beginning of the strategic process, rather than playing catchup later on.
2. Strategy who?
As a strategist, there has been the odd occasion where I was involved up-front in a digital project, delivered the plan and was then out of the loop until the experience went live. The result was usually a disconnect between the final experience and the vision of the strategic plan, with it not quite delivering in the way the strategy said it should.
Now, I’m not pointing fingers at the design team here (when in doubt, blame the project manager!), but it was clear that working with the strategy was not habitual. And back to our earlier point, if you only get fluffy strategy, why would it be? But if you have good strategy, there’s no excuse.
The reason working with the strategy is so important is that a strategy is not a static, one-off piece of work. It’s a living idea – an hypothesis for testing – that should inform every aspect of the design process. Every time you test an experience with users, you are effectively testing the strategy. So how do you know what you’re really testing, unless you’re working with it? And back to this post’s central thesis, that problem you’ve just encountered may not be tactical.
Goals are tied to audiences tied to needs tied to experience – this stuff can’t, and shouldn’t, be separated.
There is (whisper it) also a client element here (disclaimer: this does not apply to Element clients. You are all wonderful.)
Let’s face it, watching a digital experience grow is more exciting than watching the strategy develop. And with the increasing homogenisation of web design, there can be a tendency to assume a strategy is barely necessary. Surely a version of whatever everyone else is doing will do the trick?
But business problems are unique, as is every strategy, so there’s a real danger in mimicking the approach taken by others (that’s another blog post).
It’s important for strategists and designers to be united in saying, “there’s a process here, with a very good rationale for it, and you’ll get the best results if you trust us on this.”
[Clients – you should hold us to account. Ensure what you’re getting is matching the goals and approach that were set.]
This won’t happen without strategists and designers being more proactive and more interested in each other’s disciplines, understanding how one informs the other and developing true partnerships.
If this is how we work, then the resolution of problems will naturally become a collaborative effort between strategy and design. And that will have better results for everyone.
So, in a nutshell:
- Strategists: enough of the fluff!
- Designers: work with the strategy!
- Clients: trust the process!
Picture this: a bland meeting room on Level 8 of your building. Two hours blocked out of your calendar. It’s been called by some guy in Marketing, to get feedback on a new strategy. You arrive, chew on one of the stale biscuits provided by reception. A team from IT faff around getting Airplay connected to a laptop. The presentation begins – 48 Powerpoint slides and 134 bullet points. Every half dozen slides or so, you’re asked ‘what do you think?’. Responses are hard to come by. Finally, the meeting finishes, with little to show for it.
Or: the same meeting room, the same two hours, the same biscuits (sorry, some things never change). Spread across the meeting room table, an array of coloured Post-Its, markers and stickers. No Powerpoint, no laptop, no Airplay. A flipchart in the corner holds a simple 3-step flowchart, outlining the session.
There’s a brief introduction, where you’re encouraged to doodle while the meeting progresses. The new strategy is presented in a storyboard format. With each image, ideas are invited, written on Post-Its, stuck alongside. As the images progress, the collection grows. Ideas flow, conversations spark, debates are had. Towards the end, ideas are collected into groups on the board, links drawn between them, until a framework becomes obvious. Two hours fly by, the session finishes, a wealth of feedback clearly driving the strategy in a new direction.
The latter is an example of the power of visual thinking. It’s not a new concept, but another crossover from the design world making its mark in digital strategy practice.
We see evidence of its effect everywhere, in the prevalence of infographics, word clouds and visuals as popular digital content. But surprisingly, it’s not a regular occurrence in strategic work.
Element’s digital strategy projects nearly always begin with a collaborative, visual workshop, drawing on techniques from UX, graphic arts, data visualisation and elsewhere. The technique has an official name – reflection-and-response – but we simply call it ‘jamming’, or exploring new ideas until the good ones pop out.
There are numerous benefits: using a visual language engages the right side of the brain, enabling people to think more creatively and come up with better solutions. It’s easier to discuss something you see, versus something you hear. Physically manifesting a process creates ownership within the group, and it’s easier to jump between levels of complexity.
In our experience, it’s by far the most effective way to engage stakeholders, make a process clear or explore ideas and possibilities.
Here are five tips for implementing a visual thinking workshop for digital strategy:
- Be Prepared & Flexible
You need stuff to be visual with – Post-Its, markers, flipcharts etc – and you never know which medium might lend itself best. I’ve had odd looks when clients arrive to an art class scattered over the table, but I’ve never had a client say they would have preferred another Powerpoint.
- It’s Not About You
You’re the facilitator, not the headliner. At the beginning, you’ll need to get the room going, but after that, step back and make the conversation the hero. Guide, prompt, encourage and challenge as necessary, but don’t get in the way.
- Be Gentle…and Tough
Not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with a group, especially if their boss is in the room. On the flipside, some people are too comfortable. A successful workshop relies on not allowing one voice to dominate, while gently coaxing the wallflowers onto the dancefloor.
- Have an Agenda
Simple but effective. Write up on a whiteboard or flipchart what will be covered in the workshop. It sets expectations as people arrive and ensures the session has focus and flow.
- Photograph everything
Don’t lose those precious ideas – at the end, photograph everything that’s been recorded, put it on a USB, lock that USB in a safe and bury the safe in Siberia. Or upload to Dropbox – just don’t lose them!
Do you want to lose customers? Give them a poor digital experience.
According to a recent Australian study, 43% of consumers were unsatisfied with the digital experience offered by the country’s largest organisations. Of those, only 17% would remain loyal to the brand.
On the flipside, 73% of consumers who enjoyed a strong digital experience would remain loyal to the brand.
These statistics are compelling. And if there’s ever been a more urgent reason to invest in the digital experience, I’d like to see it.
What is a ‘digital experience’?
A digital experience (DX) is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company across its digital properties. This includes web, social, mobile, ecommerce, eDMs, marketing, digital in-store…the list goes on.
In our age of ‘always-on’ connectivity, customer expectations are changing rapidly, becoming ever more demanding. And as the statistics show, there’s very little forgiveness for brands who don’t measure up. I’d like to say that new technologies have made the experience easier to create, but the proliferation of mobile, social media, Internet of Things (IoT) etc have made life increasingly difficult.
Digital interactions will continue to become more complex and interactive. Enterprises now manage an average of 268 customer-facing websites, and that’s before getting into any other channels, content etc. In other words, the digital experience can appear to be a complicated beast. But it doesn’t have to be…
How to create a digital experience strategy
Some will argue that you can’t create a digital experience, you can only influence it. In a literal sense, this may be true, though it strays into semantics. You can essentially ‘create’ the experience in your owned channels, such as your website, though with ‘rented’ social channels or elsewhere, you’re bound by what they give you.
Regardless, a great digital experience is driven by customer needs, and should have the goal of at least meeting, and ideally, exceeding, them.
Keep these key principles in mind to create a DX strategy that won’t lose you customers:
- Put the customer front and centre. Digital experiences are ultimately about people, not IT, technology or anything else.
- Be personal. Customers want experiences that are relevant and tailored to them.
- Less is more. A simplified digital experience tends to equal an improved digital experience. This applies both to the customer and ability to manage it internally.
- Start at the end and work backwards. Understand what the final result should be and create the pathway from there.
- Be mobile-friendly. We’re talking responsive web design, adaptive content etc. It depends on your demographic, but a majority of customers will likely start here.
- Draw the ecosystem. I’m a big fan of visual thinking. Map out the desired experience – it will become far easier to understand.
- Context is key. Your channels and content need to be relevant and accessible to the consumer, anytime, anywhere.
I won’t lie, a good DX strategy requires work and investment, but to ensure the loyalty of at least 73% of your customers, that has to be a price worth paying.
To talk about how we can help with a digital experience strategy for your business, contact us today.
A common mistake made by businesses is leaping into social media without a clear plan. Creating a strategy doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s simply about asking the right questions at the right times.
Our six step process – Define, Listen, Plan, Create, Engage, Measure – breaks down those questions into specific stages. This makes planning far more manageable. It also ensures you have the necessary answers before moving on to the next stage.
When we create a social media strategy, it’s typically based on this process. However, the plan and final result is far more comprehensive. We hope it’s a useful addition to your social media resources. If you have any questions, please leave a comment!