Blog : digital marketing

Digital marketing: forget conversion, focus on need

Digital marketing: forget conversion, focus on need

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.

Image credit: The Marketoonist
Image credit: The Marketoonist

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.

Digital and the Power of Visual Thinking

Digital and the Power of Visual Thinking

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.

What’s different?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
Social media strategy in six steps

Social media strategy in six steps

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!

Six steps to a social media strategy
Six steps to a social media strategy
Website strategy: the forgotten factor

Website strategy: the forgotten factor

You know the drill. A website brief arrives and a familiar process swings in to action: identify business goals, identify audience goals, identify challenges and off we go.

It’s a valid approach. But does it ever feel like something is missing?

The initial discovery phase of a project is fundamental to its coherency. And that phase isn’t complete without considering not only the challenges, but also the opportunities that exist.

The most basic idea of strategy is strength applied against weakness. Substitute ‘opportunity’ for ‘strength’ and ‘challenge’ for ‘weakness’ – you get the idea. Yet in my experience, mapping opportunities is rarely applied to website strategy.

This may be because channel strategy tends to narrows our focus, even when the larger ecosystem is considered. We look at needs, we look at content, we look at details; but we overlook the wider opportunities that exist to realise those more effectively.

Opportunities can be internal – increased investment in content, a new hire with relevant skills or a sudden freeing up of resource; or they can be external – a weakness in a competitor’s approach or serendipitous timing related to the market or audience. Take advantage of these to heighten the project’s ambition, define a particular focus, iterate more quickly or plan for the future.

Opportunities broaden the context. This is important – while user needs are vital, a website is ultimately an interface for achieving business goals. So when preparing a website strategy, it makes sense to evaluate the advantages we have as a business, not just the obstacles we face.

Matching opportunities to challenges could provide the insight that takes your web strategy to the next level; and you may be surprised to find how many answers were hiding in plain sight.

Welcome to Element!

Welcome to Element!

Element is go!

We’re stoked to announce the launch of Element Digital.

Our goal is to provide a new kind of digital consultancy, one that helps you adapt quickly to the changing world of digital.

Our HQ is in Wellington, but we work throughout New Zealand, and further afield.

It’s an exciting time to be in business. Digital offers a wealth of possibilities, and we would love to be your partner in realising them.

Contact us today and let’s talk more about how we can help.

 

Digital Strategy

Digital Strategy

Digital strategy.

It’s a word we hear a lot these days. But what does it actually mean? What does a digital strategy include? Is it just Facebook? Is it a website?

This page is designed to give you an overview of our approach to digital strategy, and to answer these fundamental questions. Here you’ll find plenty of useful information, tips, advice and possibly the odd contentious opinion.

Digital Strategy

A digital strategy is an holistic view of how a business uses digital to achieve its goals. This can include both external factors (i.e. social media) and internal factors (i.e. governance). It can include websites, apps, mobile, social media, CRM, email, data, analytics and more.

It’s common these days for ‘digital strategy’ to be shorthand for a digital marketing strategy.  However, a digital marketing strategy is just that – a plan for using digital channels to market products or services to an audience. It is a subset of digital strategy.

Equally, digital transformation is another subset of digital strategy, with the goal of taking an organisation from using an ‘analogue’ or traditional approach, to one where digital is at the heart of its culture, processes and ways of working.

In our view, there are two fundamental requirements for an effective digital strategy:

  1. Clear and measurable business goals that digital can help achieve
  2. An understanding of the needs and behaviours of your audience

Without clear goals, you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve or how to measure if you’ve been successful.

Without an understanding of your audience, you won’t know what kind of digital experience to create, what content to deliver or what buttons to push to generate a response.

A good digital strategy finds the ‘sweet spot’ between what the business wants to achieve and what the audience needs or expects from the business, and then creates a plan of action to deliver it.

A word on strategy and goals…

I need to make one really important point. A goal is not a strategy. Saying “we will grow by 50%” is not a strategy. “To embrace innovation” is not a strategy. A strategy tells you how you will achieve a goal. It lays out a definite plan of action, the success of which can be clearly measured.

Digital and audiences

One other really important point…whether you have a B2B or B2C focus, digital is inherently an audience-centric medium. This means  that your digital strategy, and your digital experience, must be considered from your audience’s point of view. Rather than asking, “what do I want to do?”, you need to ask, “what do they want or need that I can help with?”. It’s about using digital to add value. That’s not to say you can’t sell your products or services. It just needs to be done in such a way that’s primarily focused on meeting an audience need, as opposed to a business need.

This is often one of the most difficult changes for a business to understand. Many organisations are still trapped in a product-led sales cycle, and their digital activity consists of campaigns that shout about their products or services. Unsurprisingly, many of these businesses struggle with digital.

The companies who are leaders at digital are those who are constantly trying to meet your needs and make the experience more seamless. Think of Amazon – personalised recommendations, user reviews to help you form an opinion, 1-click checkout to make buying easy. Sure, all of these things are designed so that you buy more from them. But as a customer, what you want is to find good products quickly and to buy them easily. Amazon allows you to do those things.

This applies to internal audiences too. If you want your staff to be more productive, there are numerous digital tools available to help with this. However, it’s vital those tools are chosen or developed with the user, and their job, in mind. Too often, within companies, this approach is led by IT, who tend to be focused on cost, capability and functionality more than the user experience. This can harm productivity and morale, and actually be detrimental to the business.

If there’s one point to take away from this whole sermon, it’s this: always take an audience-first approach to digital.

Back to digital strategy…

At Element, we often begin the digital strategy process with a workshop. We do this for two reasons:

  1. using visual thinking to talk through business issues is a great way to generate ideas and insights
  2. it gets the key stakeholders around a table, resulting in decisions being made faster

Whether you’re looking to create a small, targeted content strategy or a broad digital transformation strategy, workshopping is the most effective means of unpacking all the key elements.

We’ve used this approach with a lot of fantastic companies, including these:

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One of the most important things to unpack are the challenges facing your business. Strategy is essentially an exercise in problem solving – therefore, being honest about the challenges you face is critical to determining which are the most important problems for a strategy to solve.

This is universal, no matter which element of digital you’re dealing with. However, when it comes time to actually creating the plan for solving those challenges, we use different frameworks for different strategies. For example, our approach to social media strategy looks a lot like this:

6 steps to social infographic

Equally, we adopt different frameworks for web strategy, service design and so on.

The other point of difference about the way we do digital strategy at Element, is that we take, where possible, an agile approach. This means defining a short-term measurable vision, and breaking up into chunks the work required to achieve it. By short-term we usually mean 12-18mths; digital changes so quickly, anything beyond that is likely to fall rapidly out of date.

This approach helps our clients be flexible in the way they allocate resources and investment. They don’t have to commit huge budgets to lengthy long-term programmes. Instead, they can iterate and refine as they go, adjusting to changing circumstances as necessary.

What do I need to create a successful digital strategy?

Before embarking on a digital strategy, there are a handful of things you should have clear:

The first is to understand that digital doesn’t work in a silo. It is not a standalone activity separate from everything else. The best digital marketing strategies are integrated with broader marketing and brand strategies; the best transformation strategies integrated with the wider business strategy etc etc. Digital should always be working to achieve a larger goal.

Secondly, you need to be clear on who you are and what you stand for. What’s your value proposition? What makes you special? You must also be prepared to honestly confront the challenges you face as a business, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

Thirdly, be prepared to invest in both time and resource. Digital often places extensive demands on both. However, this is scalable and, when using an agile approach, iterative and very manageable.

Lastly, and most importantly, you need leadership. Poor leadership and governance is the #1 reason digital strategies fail. If there isn’t buy-in from the top, the results will not come.

In closing…

A digital strategy is a living document. It is, essentially, a hypothesis to be tested. The old military saying goes that “no strategy survives contact with the enemy”. Strategies are not immutable, they should not be set in stone. They should have the ability to change with the circumstances.

It’s not easy to create a strategy that can flex and adapt and still retain a clear focus. At Element, we’re proud to be specialists in delivering this service.

Good digital strategy identifies a clear problem to solve, a clear plan of action for solving it and a clear framework for measuring if you’ve been successful.

It’s both that simple, and that difficult.

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