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!
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.
The last couple of months have been both busy and insightful.
Two of the projects I have been working on sit firmly in the evaluation and measurement space. One around developing a measurement framework to support digital marketing and one around a series of workshops focusing on overall marketing effectiveness – across owned, earned and bought media.
Both for big organisations and both facing fairly similar challenges.
I’d like to rehearse three immediate take-outs from working in this area.
Develop a framework around brand, direct and ROI
One that defines the outcomes and overall impact of specific marketing programmes within the context of the limitations that exist around specific types of activity and their evaluation.
Where brand communications are concerned they affect things like overall awareness of the brand, perceptions of the brand and the extent to which the brand is ‘front of mind’ across the target audience. It is however much more difficult to develop a robust model around ROI for above the line activity. Broadcast channels work to create awareness and change perceptions rather than necessarily generate direct sales. They also create an associated ‘halo’ effect that supports other channels.
Where direct and digital marketing activity is concerned it is possible to create a measurement model that derives ROI for each specific area of activity. One based on a clear definition of business objectives, specific goals, key metrics and appropriate targets. Attribution to specific channels is of course challenging and something that brands continue to wrestle with.
Audit your current evaluation and measurement activities
Most organisations are already undertaking a significant amount of evaluation and measurement across the marketing programmes they are running. However, what often happens is that the insight and knowledge created through this work is not shared across the business and joined up in a way that can help solve the problems the business is facing.
An audit of current evaluation and measurement programmes within the context of the framework discussed above provide a really good starting point for identifying where the gaps in evaluation and measurement lie.
Becoming a data driven business is an opportunity and a challenge
The opportunity is clear – improved strategic and operational decision-making which is based on the facts, customer insight and a clear understanding around what is working and what is not. Ultimately that equates to becoming more customer-centric and responsive to your customers needs and wants. Brilliant.
Of course that might not always line up with the politics, stakeholder opinions or even what HIPPO (the highest paid person’s opinion) is saying. The chances are it will also highlight some uncomfortable realities that, in the face of the facts, need to be confronted and cannot be ignored. This can be challenging.
Smart businesses and organisations build on the tension this creates in a positive way. Where numbers and opinions collide it can certainly go a long way to driving a useful and productive conversation across business leaders, senior management and the teams they work with.
Sometimes I feel I’m on a personal quest to make the complex simple. I hate dealing with the over complicated and I absolutely believe that complex problems can only really be solved if you can break them down into their component parts. To that end I have, over time, developed a number of guiding principles that help me (and hopefully the teams I work with) get to grips with Digital and do it better.
Here are three of them.
Digital marketing is really only about two things. Content and distribution. That’s it. We as digital marketers are in the pursuit of the Holy Grail and it goes something like this.
Getting the right content In front of the right customer
At the right time On the right device At the right point in their decision making process To drive the right action
It puts content and the customer at the heart of what we do and helps prevent us taking a channel or technology led approach. That’s good. Really good.
So, along comes digital, followed by the truly empowered consumer and now a super connected world. It turned everything upside down and our marketing departments and organisations were left in disarray. We’ve come up with a range of different solutions to deal with that problem. Businesses send their staff on training courses and we hire consultants to help us develop the right to-do lists. But in their own right neither of them drive real change. In my mind the formulae for real transformation looks like this;
consultancy + skills development + facilitation = change
That’s the way most of our projects work. The really successful ones anyway.
Success in digital is all about people. Never forget it. Things go wrong when you loose sight of the fact that real people are involved. That includes your customers for sure but it also includes your staff and your agency teams. In fact anyone and everyone who is working into the business or project. If you are leading those people your job is really only about three things.
Developing and communicating a clear vision Getting the right people in the right jobs Creating the right environment for those people to thrive
There you go. Three guiding principles for doing Digital better.
Clearly there are plenty more. What are you guiding principles?
Well over a year ago I was looking at digital trends and it struck me how many of the very same trends I had been musing about the year previously still applied one year later. Whilst fundamental and revolutionary change kept cropping up in our conversations so did the application of simple, well-understood and unifying themes. It really felt like digital was growing up.
That represents an interesting time for an industry that, whilst wholeheartedly supporting a ‘test and learn’ approach, also evangelises each individual step forward only to then find fault in it and then shoot it down in flames. Well you know what I mean. No wonder our CFOs and Finance Directors are skeptical!
At the same time we are starting to develop models around maturity that describe what is happening in our organisations and marketing departments from a development and process point of view. Here is one by MarketingSherpa around Strategic Social Media Marketing (Note to self – sponsored by facebook!). It provides a useful roadmap that charts the progression from trialing a new tool, technology or channel through the development of specific guidelines to a more strategic phase where appropriate governance and management processes are put in place. It points out the critical role that the development of a fit for purpose measurement framework plays. One that supports the calculation of channel-specific ROI in the kind of terms that the CFO or Financial Director understands.
That is exactly where a lot of the organisations and businesses I am working with are. They absolutely understand that the customer journey is becoming increasingly complex and they are already implementing measurement models that move beyond just visibility and conversion. They are developing a set of appropriate metrics based on customer engagement in the pursuit of a better understanding around what is actually happening across that sometimes grey area between brand awareness and a sale.
What is clear however, is that this story is far from complete. In almost every case the link between what are essentially digital outputs and those business outcomes which really matter is far less clear than it could be. Let’s be honest. Whilst the CMO or Marketing Director is starting to become comfortable with investing more heavily in customer engagement programmes I’m still not convinced the guys holding the purse strings are. We need to build stronger business cases around what we are trying to achieve – based on the facts backed up with a supporting narrative.
For those organisations that are engaged in attribution they are still in the early stages but increasingly organisations are adopting attribution based on the accountability that it offers.
Challenging the status quo is always going to be difficult. Building approaches and developing the tools that mean you can focus on the facts help drive change and deal with politics.
Some of the changes in channel investment exemplified were reassuringly surprising and challenged some of my own preconceived ideas. The surprising impact of digital display on search ROI and brand lift is a good example.
Where the two specific measurement projects I am working on now are concerned the case for understanding attribution is clear. What is less clear is the practical implementation of it. That’s the area I am researching now.
Thoughts and feedback most definitely welcome!
Maybe attribution will finally put that phrase to rest that still rings true today; I know half of my marketing budget is wasted but I just don’t know which half. Or maybe it is just another marketing holy grail that is a little too far from our reach?
I am going to risk over simplifying things. It’s the antidote to over complicating things and, lets admit it, sometimes digital marketing types have a habit of doing that. Digital marketing is really only about two things. Content and distribution. That’s it.
We are all in pursuit of the holy grail which goes something like this. We have to get the right piece of content in front of the right customer on the right device at the right time in their decision making process to drive the right action. All within the context of a set of specific marketing targets that are tied closely to a defined set of business objectives.
Enter Place and Destination Marketing. It’s an interesting beast. You don’t own the product. In many cases you don’t sell the product. There is no try before you buy and you are selling an approximation of a holiday or trip the visitor might have. Sounds tough doesn’t it.
Expectation and reality can only be addressed through content. For destination marketers content is all they ever had and likely all they ever will have. Place and Destination Marketing really is a content led business.
Luckily destinations generally have a huge network of content creators, curators and consumers around them. That represents a hugely valuable content ecosystem. At the nation level that network extends across a whole country and incudes anyone and everyone who lives there, works there, visits or has an interest in that country. The content challenge therefore must be how you harness that potential and support the effective distribution of great destination content.
Offering that network something to line up against is certainly part of the solution. The destination’s brand defines a point of view around what that destination stands for and a basis for engaging with customers as well as creating the right kind of content. The story that the destination is trying to tell adds further clarity around the type of content to create and when to create it. Finally, and crucially, defining and offering up an appropriate taxonomy around your what your destination has to offer and it’s particular strengths provides a basis for organising your destination’s content. That provides a common language for creating, sharing, relating and distributing content.
Visit Wales have made some good progress in this area and they are working hard around getting the industry, marketing partners and other stakeholders to contribute to the Wales content ecosystem through the better tagging and sharing of great Wales content. They have produced three explainer videos covering the concept, tagging and sharing as well as how you apply the approach to sharing Wales images on flickr. They’re worth a watch. Here’s the first one.