Strategy and planning is our core business. But it is rarely an easy ride. Something I have pondered about in the past is Why is developing digital strategy is so damn difficult? Having just finished a significant piece of strategy development work I thought it might be worthwhile sharing some of the things I have learnt along the way about strategy and planning.
You might recognise some of these? You probably have something to add. You might disagree with everything I am saying! Whichever applies I would love to hear from you.
One – take a big breath
There is no easy way to get to grips with an entirely new problem, business or sector. It requires full and complete immersion. In fact some planners call it that. So, when the client says ‘yes’, take a big breath. You are going in. Deep.
Two – apply a planning model
Planning models and frameworks are an essential part of your toolkit. There are many. Not the sort of thing you find in the management consultancy section in airport bookshops … a proper marketing planning framework. But remember, each client and each problem is different. The real skill is applying the right model in the right way.
Three – find a way to make it doable
With all those ifs, buts and maybes flying around your head sometimes it’s difficult to find a way forward. What you need, during those occasionally dark times, is a solution that feels ‘doable’. It might not be the right one but it will give you enough direction and something to critique that it will help you on your way to finding the right solution.
Four – involve others
Two, three, four … more heads are better than one. Those people that work in and to the business will understand the business better than you. Don’t forget it. Involve them in the process. Not only will the final outcome be a better one but it will be one that people are bought into. That’s really important.
Five – direction is more important than perfection
Moving forward with something that is 75% right is better than deliberating for too long and coming up with something that is 90% right. Create a strategy and delivery approach that supports ongoing optimsation and improvement. Test and Learn. Fail better fail faster. Doesn’t matter what call it.
Six – deal with the unknown
We expect to have all the knowledge and insight we need at our fingertips to help us make the right strategic decisions. Wake up! In the real world (yes, even the data driven one we all talk about) it is likely you will have to deal with some significant gaps. Fill those gaps where you can and address the ones you can’t ‘moving forward’.
Seven – it’s never finished
So, don’t even try. Create clear expectations and a defined set of deliverables but be honest with yourself and your client. Any strategy will develop over time. There’s nothing wrong with having a list of issues that represent a work in progress. Don’t write big documents that sit on the shelf and nobody reads.
Eight – think delivery
Make it simple enough to deliver. Then make it simpler again. Work with the resources you have and create an appropriate set of priorities. Phases and staged delivery is good. A successful strategy should help the business put the right things at the top of the to-do list.
Nine – change is everything
Strategy provides the basis for change. Change can be uncomfortable. Developing strategy very quickly becomes change management. Take account of that. The successfully implementation of your strategy depends on it.
Ten – it’s all encompassing
One blog each month. That’s all. So, what happened to April?
Digital Cream is a roundtable event organised by Econsultancy where over 200 senior client-side marketers have the opportunity to share best practice and discuss what is and isn’t working for them. I describe it as an opportunity to do exactly what you would rather be doing at a lot of the conferences and events you go to. After all, its good to talk.
I was moderating a session around Joining up On and Offline Channels and Data. Although I can’t share any of the detail, what is said on Digital Cream stays on Digital Cream, I thought it worthwhile sharing some of my take outs arising from my research and discussions around the subject.
Where delivering multichannel customer experience is concerned there are still a lot of organisations moving from the stage that is considered to one that is capable. That means there are still a lot of brands and businesses working with systems and processes that are customer focused but not necessarily harnessing cross channel capabilities.
It is pretty clear that the two biggest challenges brands and businesses face are structuring their internal and external teams and joining up the numbers, whether that be driving insight or understanding the role and value of each channel.
On the subject of teams and talent I have felt for a long time that there’s a short supply (and hence a big opportunity) for those people that are ‘specialists at being generalist’ and can work effectively across channels and disciplines. These guys and girls take a critical role in driving joined up planning, delivery and measurement. But if you are really are into sharing the burden of joining things up then you need to be developing multidisciplinary silo bashing teams – across your interim and external or agency teams.
Data is of course becoming pretty cool and there’s a lot of talk around datafication, it’s ability to support big leaps forward in our understanding of the customer journey and the potential to help deliver fantastically integrated marketing programmes. It feels like there is a real thirst from brands, businesses and marketers to make that happen. One thing I would say though, especially where attribution is concerned, is set realistic expectations and be careful not to hit the law of diminishing returns around Return on Analsyis Resource (ROAR). Maybe next year will be the year of data driven marketing. Now that would be cool!
I delivered a keynote at a conference just before Christmas. The conference was all about destination branding and marketing. Tom Buncle presented before me and discussed the case of Colombia. So, what comes to mind when you think about Colombia? Interestingly, in recent times, they have done great things with their tourism economy and I chuckled when we were told about the brand campaign they had been running.
Colombia. The only thing you need worry about is not wanting to leave.
Especially because I am going there on Saturday to spend two weeks paragliding between Medellin and a place called Cali which is about 430km further south. Yes, Pablo Escobar is all I know of Medellin too!
So, I am going to be somewhat ‘off grid’. From what I understand where we are going really is an area of outstandingly bad mobile reception. Please bear with me. Of course, having the opportunity to pursue my passion and take a break means I will return to work re-energised and with a bunch of fresh ideas. That’s good for me as well as the clients I work with.
I will try and post on twitter and Instagram when connectivity allows. If you are interested, you can also follow my progress on a map via SPOT Satellite Messaging and Tracking. If you see a SOS message you’ll know, at least in my case, Colombia’s brand campaign wasn’t true!
My god, time flies doesn’t it! Once again it’s that time when we do some chin scratching about what has gone before and take a look at the year ahead. I like this time of year. The days are getting longer. Spring is not too far away. Above all, you get the chance to focus again. So, what stuff am I watching in the non-stop, always on, occasionally exhausting world of digital marketing?
Responsive web design
Responsive, adaptive … whatever. The point and exciting thing is that we shouldn’t need or want to distinguish between desktop, tablet and mobile anymore. Our users don’t. Changes in our audience’s consumption habits and expectations is driving a fundamental shift in the way we develop websites. Providing a seamless experience across multiple devices should be on this year’s must-do list.
Using paid media to scale owned and earned
Dare I say it, having now figured out how to drive business through owned and earned media, we need to figure out how we can be smart in our use of paid media to help scale those efforts and the stories we are trying to tell. But we are not there yet. Despite the buzz around native advertising formats and the delivery of high quality content in stream it still feels like a fairly blunt instrument. Maybe it’s not the toolset but the way it is used. Regardless of what you think it’s time to be less precious about paid media and work out how we can make it work for brands and our customers.
Shaping up to deliver in the converged media space
We’ve been talking about paid, owned and earned media for a while now. Like a lot of models we digital folk create it provides a useful framework for understanding the world we work in and helps us deliver effective and integrated marketing programmes. Like most models it is there to be challenged. This year has been dubbed the year when everything converged and, whether or not you call it converged media, the dynamics of different types of media are coming together. All this raises the bar even further in terms of delivering integrated marketing and a joined up customer experience. It’s going to push our traditional marketing structures to breaking point and demand that we get a lot better at working across organizational boundaries. It’s going to push the existing skills shortage further and create even more demand for those people that can be true specialists at being generalist.
Measurement and evaluation
Let’s not underplay the opportunity. Last year saw a renewed interest in attribution analysis and models that derive the true value each channel creates. Then came ‘big data’, the mashing up of multiple datasets to create mega datasets that have the potential to change the future of business, technology and the internet. Add to that the development of always on measurement and the rise of real time listening and marketing platforms – an exciting and insightful year of number crunching lies ahead!
The business of selling places. A particular interest of mine and the subject of my future gazing this time last year. If content, mobile, integration and finally putting that campaigns led mentality to one side represented the focus of our efforts last year I think we have largely risen to that challenge. But if we don’t change the Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) from the inside out they will become obsolete. Defining a clear role that adds vale and sits alongside the commercial and social, especially in more mature markets, defines the biggest challenge. I still believe that becoming a fit for purpose content platform; one that supports the destination brand and facilitates the distribution of destination content across those networks that are important to help achieve specific marketing objectives, is a big part of the answer.
I have been talking a lot recently about the value of taking a content led approach and the role that plays in delivering successful digital marketing programmes. Not exclusively but especially around destination marketing and putting content at the center of what you do.
Those of you who know me will already know that I am endlessly fascinated by how people and organisations work. Sometimes extremely successfully but unfortunately often hideously unsuccessfully! Achieving success in digital is often about the sum total of many small parts. The way clients and agencies work together is changing. Getting the right people on the job and creating the right environment for those people to thrive is more important than ever.
In pursuit of achieving that I have become increasingly interested in models around organisational maturity with respect to content marketing. They come in many flavours. Some feel more applicable to larger corporate business. For example, the one outlined as part of Content – The New Marketing Equation developed by the consultancy Altimeter. Others feel more practical and actionable in smaller organisations or individual business units. The one covered in the white paper Content Changes Everything by Ariad is a good example. Worth downloading.
I’ve interpreted this one around the kind of business problems I am facing within the specific organisations I am working. There are five stages to achieving content maturity and they go something like this:
One. You realise you have a problem
You have invested in technology and channels but your focus is still very much on the products and services you provide. You are still in sales mode rather than figuring out how you might be genuinely useful to your customers. Your social feeds might be quite sparse and have little engagement across them.
So, what content do you need to produce?
Two. You start testing and learning
You try fixing some of the business problems you face with content – often kicking off in the marketing or customer service area. The results are inconsistent and you start looking across different departments to try and improve them. You experience that penny dropping moment when you realise that the way you are organised is fundamentally misaligned to the way your customers see things.
So, how do you align yourself to the customer journey?
Three. You start mapping content to the customer journey
You start understanding what the content requirements are across the customer journey. The process of doing that keeps you focused on content and the customer rather than technology and platforms. You start seeing the value in customer centricity and working across channel and product silos.
So, how do you put content at the heart of strategy?
Four. You start managing content properly
You are organising yourselves around the need to plan, develop and manage content across multiple channels. You hire new skills and define new roles. You hook up your measurement and evaluation so that you can start optimising what you do in real time. This thing is really starting to fly.
So, how do you really resource this properly?
Five. The bosses start to “get it”
You have developed a business case based on ROI and gained support for it at the highest level. Not only do the numbers stack up but senior management understand how exactly a content led approach works. Content becomes critical to articulating the brand and you might even be developing entirely new business models around content.
So, I guess you have made it!
Another nice way of looking at it is how things are changing as you move from one mode operandi to another. The really interesting thing for me is how you start to move towards ‘always on’ marketing programmes rather than running time focused campaigns and you start to budget around the themes you are supporting instead of the channels across which you tell your brand story.
Earlier this year I sat on an expert panel looking at travel brands and how they can maintain their brand values in a marketplace where consumers are increasingly swayed by price. You can read the full write up in Travolution Magazine.
Since the glory days of the High Street Travel Agent the way we research, plan and book travel has changed beyond all recognition. That started with huge advances in technology that drove economies of scale where a travel brand could serve lots of people at the same time. In many respects that created an environment where customer service may well have taken a back seat and price comparison became king. Interestingly though, the rise of the social web has given customers a voice and a vehicle for venting their frustrations. The balance of power has changed. The customer now plays a critical role in shaping the dialogue with travel brands and ultimately their reputation.
What is clear, however, is that the strength of your brand is ultimately linked to the strength of the experience you provide and how closely that fulfills the brand promise you create. You might win a single booking on the strength of price but great service will win you multiple bookings and all important customer loyalty. Absolutely. Unsurprisingly, Ryan Air was held up as a case in point but that doesn’t mean there is a clearly identifiable segment of the market that will fly easyJet unless there is no other alternative. Clearly it’s a balance and it is not a case of one size fits all.
Developing sub brands and offering customers the opportunity to trade up to the ‘finest’ range is one way of dealing with that. Interestingly, the role of content creation came up. Creating content that facilitates getting the right ideas in front of the customer and helping them choose the right holiday is another way to add value. Content that is, most importantly, useful and engaging but also findable and sharable becomes much more important in a post Panda and Penguin world. That requires commitment and investment.
We talked about user-generated content, its role alongside brand created content and how important understanding your customers is if you are going to engage with them successfully. One of the most valuable things you can do is engage with your customers at a personal level and get to grips with what your customers feel and think about your brand. I have always been amazed at how few brands actually do that when the opportunity is clear. Increasingly the relationship between a brand and its customers is becoming one of partnership. Monarch asking their passengers to try out some new seats if they have some spare time after checking in is a great example. Interesting too that most of the bigger brands present felt that TV and brand advertising has its place and the clear opportunity presented by paid media is to amplify and scale your earned and owned media efforts.
So, it is likely that the ever present need to deliver a price promise is not going to go away but it would appear that travel brands understand the need to deliver the right brand promise too. There was much debate around exactly how to do that but the themes rehearsed here do appear to be part of the solution. Deliver on experience. Understand and engage with your customers. Use owned, earned and paid media in an integrated way.