12 years ago, a 17 year old teenager got a summer assignment from his father to create a platform where products can be sold online. The father was an entrepreneur who learned online can have a strong sales potential and wanted to experiment with it, giving his son the task looked the best option to go for. After 3 months of struggling, the platform was ready, online. It took another 30 days, but the first order was placed on the platform.
In a nutshell, that's how my story started.
As a youngster, it was a pivotal moment, an inspiring feeling that all the effort I put into creating that ecommerce platform had business value. It was somehow unbelievable and very motivational at the same time. After the first sale, I started asking the question, why did the customer make the purchase and why other visitors didn’t. This question defined my career in digital, and it’s a question that I still ask whenever I have to create digital strategies that drive meaningful experiences.
Today, I would like to share the 5 pillars of creating digital experiences that will help you drive tangible business results. Some of these have a classical background, but each of them has a little tweak that you usually don’t find in regular textbooks.
I. Fast and scalable market research
When CMOs or executives hear the word research, they think of a long money consuming project, that will result in a huge dataset, with some relevant and some irrelevant information. The feeling is normal, as research used to be long, (and in some cases it still is) but when you plan your digital transformation now you have the possibility to fasten the research process. Depending on what intel you need for your strategy you have 3 options:
1. For market landscape: google the industry or sub industry you are in and find out if there are already existing researches. Bare in mind, fresh data is critical, you will find a lot of old research for free, but when it comes to digital, up to date information is a must. Make sure you are purchasing from reliable sources (eg. Gartner, Forrester) as there are many scam sites. Pro Tweak: if you are having a pilot project with a smaller research budget, this is the way you can get some free fresh insight:
A. Google if there already exists a branded research on the industry.
Eg: gartner dxp report
In some cases, brands with similar interests have published on the topic, even if you won’t get the whole data, some useful information could be available.
B. If you googled as explained and you only found results where you need to buy the full report you can try to google:
according to gartner dxp (replace dxp to the industry you are interested in, replace Gartner with other premium research institutes)
2. For audience persona: find out if somebody else has already done a persona research in your field, usually this is not the case but doing a quick check both online and in your network can be beneficial. If you were out of luck, then it’s time to take action. Create a proto persona or fictional persona of your audience, but instead of trying to get in all the details, focus on what is your persona consuming and where? Does he read the Forbes magazine’s posts on LinkedIn or is he part of a younger generation that gets his update through Snapchat. Once you have listed your assumptions, think of what your business can offer for free. An incentive that is strong enough to motivate your persona to take action. In addition to this make sure that you prepare a list of questions that validate your assumptions about your persona.
Good, you know the channel, you have your free gift, and you know what information you would like to learn from your audience. Now you have 2 options:
A. In case you know how to professionally setup, track and manage the channel: create an ad where you promote your gift with a link to an online survey that has all your questions. Test and optimize spending till you have enough responses that you can analyze and draw representative conclusions.
B. In case you don’t have the necessary background: get professional assistance to make sure that every cent you spend is driving results in an efficient way, as channels can eat your research budget really fast without delivering the expected results. Pro tweak: even if you have the right financial background building a larger data set can cost you a lot. However, you shouldn’t be the only on covering the spendings. Team up with your competition, yes you heard me right. Although you are competing for the same audience, probably you need different intel from the market. Eg. running a research in multiple countries together with one or more competitors can optimize you costs. Make sure you clarify the rights for the data, so each party know what he owns at the end of the research.
3. For customer pain points: you need to create a customer experience journey map (CXM). As complicated it might sound, the process itself doesn’t involve rocket science. There are many online guides how to create a CXM, but there is a challenge no one will tell you. Your beloved customers not always tell the truth. Not because they don’t like you, quite the opposite, sometimes they bury some smaller pain points just out of respect. You won’t be able to find out these (of course there will be some clients that would happily complain about every little imperfection in your service/product). Why?
Because this is how we humans work.
If you have a good relationship with your neighbour, but once a year he holds a super loud party, you won’t go complaining, as you are aware sometimes you also make things that can annoy him. Does this mean you shouldn’t map these small pain points? No, it doesn’t.
Imagine, if your car insurance would have a free towing / year in case you encounter a technical incident on the road. Normally you don’t face such issues, but the moment when it happens, a fringe benefit like this can help you out and probably create a word of mouth marketing for the insurance company. It’s clear identifying all the possible pain points can make a difference. So, how should you map these? The pro tweak here won’t save you money, but it will generate valuable insights. Hire a CXM team and tell them to visit a set of key customers. Create 3 segments:
- customers who have a positive feedback about you
- customers who have a neutral feeling when thinking of you
- and customers who are likely to be negative (but still work with you).
These segments will help you balance your data and make your conclusions less bias.
II. Business driven digital strategy
In my previous article I covered how you can approach digital transformations. Following up on that, it’s important that your business KPIs drive your digital strategy. Unless, you are opening new revenue streams through digital. However, even in this case, you should run pilot transformations first. Creating a proper strategy takes experience, creativity and future thinking, so an article won’t help you learning it, but understanding the background of it can help you on the road of transition.
Think on the long term, but in the first phase not longer than 12 months
The digital World is fast, really fast. Thus many marketers and executives believe that such transformations will produce immediate results. They are wrong. Powerful digitalization requires a lot of hard work and attention to detail. You should have at least a 3 year vision about where you are heading, but your to-do-list in your first operative strategy shouldn’t be longer than 12 months. Technologies and channels rise and fall as we speak and you want to be agile enough to adopt new elements whenever it is necessary. While small business can achieve faster results, if you are head of marketing at a larger corporation be prepared to see the first results within the first year.
Pro tweak: Pilot, pilot, pilot
Some of you already started transitioning to digital and it might happen that even after a year things are not looking promising.
“Houston, we have a problem”
Does that mean that you should stop, or that digital doesn’t work for you? No, it doesn’t. It means you went in the wrong direction, it might be that you are 100 miles away from the path you should be on, or just 5 steps away. Who knows? Well at the moment of speaking nobody knows, but here’s a tactical move that can help you find the way to the golden goose:
Take your 12 months strategy and break it down to 4 milestones. For each milestone define the goals and KPIs (this should be in line and support your overall first year goals). Now take the first milestone, and look at the operational strategy on how you planned to reach that point. What other ways could you try to achieve the same results? Test a different channel, a different targeting. You will realize, there are at least 3 ways you can go forward. So, instead of spending your planned budget on one thing, split it in 3 or more smaller activities and see which will drive the best results. Analyse the results at the end of your first milestone, eliminate the weakest strategies, fine tune the strongest and adapt your strategy for the second milestone accordingly. This is how piloting works. Repeat this cycle until the 4 milestone. At this point you should have an overview of more than 7 micro strategies and have a good sense on how far you are from your initial vision. Do a strategic revision on what happened and plan the next year.
III. Be human, be brave (digital voice)
Business environments are considered by many to be emotionless, strict and super formal. While the back-office many times works like that, your communication to your audience should embrace emotions. This is not new in B2C markets, however within B2B it is still something that companies avoid. With the upswing of digital, the noise in marketing is also growing heavily. People started to build marketing immunity, it’s getting a lot harder to grab someone’s attention. Your voice in digital will fade away unless you differentiate yourself. Even though we talk about digitalization, the era of H2H (Human-To-Human) marketing is rising. It may sound like a paradox, but it isn’t. Digitalization is the methodology, but your brand voice, your messages and communication should be emotional, hyper personalized (I will elaborate on this later on), connecting people from your brand with people from your audience.
Using the right emotions can show your human values that will start building a bond to who you are and what you are standing for. This is true for B2B communication across multiple industries. Borealis L.A.T, a leading crop nutrition supplier in Europe built on the emotion of sustainability, heritage and supporting future generations. Their campaign outperformed industry benchmarks.
IV. Digital technology
Depending on whom you are talking to, people will try to push their miracle products to you. The bad news, there is not one product vendor that can cover all your needs. The good news, you don’t need to cover all your needs, at least not in the beginning.
Rather than finding the perfect tools, you should draw your diagram of your digital ecosystem first. It’s likely that you are already using some tools eg. Social Media. Try to think how these tools are connected, instead of looking at them as single verticums, connect the dots.
Think of what else might still be missing in terms of audience information. Is it their job experience, is it their product interest? Try to fill in the gaps. Once you have a diagram similar to the one below, you are ready to start exploring the digital tools that can help you build your ecosystem.
Choosing the right tools
The purpose of your digital ecosystem is to create digital experiences that add or complete revenue streams. If you do a little research, you will encounter the terminology digital experience platforms. I will discuss more on this in the upcoming articles, but now, the takeaway is that you don’t choose a single vendor. Try to get a neutral perspective from experts who don’t get commission on selling different solutions that might not fit your needs.
Pro tweak: this can be tricky as many consultant companies already have premade agreements, but with a simple question you can find out what are the background intentions of your partners:
Can you assist in implementing Product B (another vendor), rather than product A (the vendor they recommended first)? If they back down, or heavily suggest that this is a bad idea without giving a logical explanation, you probably should consider working with another advisor.
V. It's easier said than done
Last, but not least, execution is key. You can have the best strategy supported by the best tools, if the implementation phase goes wrong, you just wasted money and time and you are back to square one. So how do you avoid a meaningless loop?
- Operative Strategy: your project’s to do list clearly defined on monthly and weekly basis with key milestones and deliverables.
- Defining Responsibilities: it's of critical importance to know who is responsible for what right at the start of your project. This way you will be able to skip “the pointing fingers phase” where people delegate the one thing that they shouldn’t, being responsible. Remember, shared responsibility = no responsibility.
- Consistency and follow-ups: have a monthly overview with strategic stakeholders (60-90min), weekly conference calls with project managers (15-30min) and on their end project managers should have a daily stand up call to keep things up to date (5-10min).
So here you go, these are the 5 pillars that can support your journey in digital. This article is the 2nd of a series of 7 (you can check the first one here), where I am guiding you through the black box, myths, tips and tricks and tried out practices of digital transformations that drive growth for enterprise level companies, industry forgers and firms that want to extend and establish their primary activities to digital. If you would like to get updates and insights on this topic subscribe to our blog.