Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Evolution of Digital Strategy

The business of marketing has become an ever-expanding sprawl of options and complexity. There are multiple partners with niche expertise rather than truly broad- based integrated offerings.  Moreover, the traditional Advertising and Public Relations agency model’s are dead and competitors from unexpected quarters are moving in, forcing us all to work harder: whatever it takes to stay relevant – and valuable – to our clients.

To succeed today clients need broad-based, integrated offerings – not one individual agency’s niche area of expertise.  Therefore the role of the Brand Strategist has never been more valuable.  Today’s Brand Strategist must be a polymath. Their expertise must span a significant number of different subject areas and draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.  Today’s Brand Strategist must also have a solid understanding of all media past and present: specialists and authorities in any number of disciplines.

We would further argue that if everything is digital, then nothing is.  And now that our "old media" as well as our modern channels are digital, the very term has perhaps outlived its usefulness. "Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence," as technology guru Nicholas Negroponte put it. So, by definition, today’s Digital Brand Strategist is simply a Brand Strategist.

The task may appear Herculean, but the goal has not changed.  Today’s Brand Strategist must understand the complex world we have come from, the world we are in, and also be forward-thinking to anticipate future trends and create a path that ensures the success of a product or service. 

Being an on-trend, relevant, inspiring, purposeful, innovative and community-centric brand are the things that will make people pause, listen and pay attention.  Customers want to identify with a brand they can grow with, that earns their trust and makes them feel valued.   People want to evolve with a brand whose products and services help give their business or life meaning and significance.  End to end, a brand must become a consumer’s best friend.

After well over a decade of constructing digital strategies on behalf of clients, one thing has become abundantly clear: most are often confused about what digital strategy is and how to develop one.  When defining and developing any strategy, it’s imperative that clients understand that strategy follows structure, people and an idea.  Second, clients must understand that profit and return-on-investment (ROI) are outcomes, not the strategy itself.

There are numerous approaches to conducting digital strategy, but at their core, all go through similar steps:
  • Identifying the opportunities and challenges,
  • Developing a vision around how the online assets will fulfill those business and external stakeholder needs, goals, and  
  • Prioritizing a set of initiatives/tactics that can deliver on this vision.
It goes without saying that within each of those stages, a number of techniques and analyses may be employed. 

First, you have to define what you’re hoping to achieve for the brand, product, or service. Start by analyzing the following five factors:
  • Presence: Measure of the brand’s digital footprint,
  • Influence: Branded message adoption,
  • Perception: Emotional reaction to the brand,
  • Engagement: People organically participating in conversations,
  • Resonance: Reaction to the overall conversation about the brand.
You need to define your business’ overall mission/objective first – your digital marketing mission must fit into your grand plan.  Therefore it’s imperative that you ask the right questions and that you understand the brand objectives that most closely align with those key business opportunities and challenges.  You also need a very clear understanding of your brand truth. You should also answer this question: what is the overriding objective you want your digital marketing efforts to achieve? 

Once you’ve benchmarked the brand’s current equity and position, you must segment your target customers. Customer segmentation allows marketers to connect all customer touch points and identify what motivates a brand’s core consumers in a multi-channel environment.  

Once you have a clear understanding of the target, their path to purchase, goals, opportunities and challenges, it’s time to formulate your message and positioning. Positioning is a marketing strategy that aims to make a brand occupy a distinct position (relative to competing brands,) in the mind of the customer. 

The idea is to identify and attempt to “own” a marketing niche for a brand, product, or service using various strategies including pricing, promotions, distribution, packaging, and competition.  Ultimately, as we have previously explained, this power resides in the marketers' ability to cloak their product in the universal dreams, fantasies, and values of the masses.  We are therefore creating and selling modern myths that leverage the collective pool of cultural, psychological and mythical elements to create a "brand mythology."

Now look at your brand's story/positioning and ask yourself:
  • What is the story/positioning telling my target customer?
  • Why does my target customer care about this story/positioning?
  • What sort of emotions does my story/positioning evoke?
  • How does my story/positioning connect to the emotional needs of my target customer?
  • How will that story/positioning incite action on behalf of my brand, product, and service?
  • What is the source of competitive advantage for your digital business model?
  • How can you manage business complexity in the global digital economy?
  • How do you create digitized platforms that enable new and evolving digital opportunities?
  • How can you simplify your customer experiences without creating burdensome organizational complexity?
  • How can you create new information offerings that generate bottom-line value?
The resulting narrative enables the use of social channels, for example, as a means to convey a product, service, or brand’s benefits.  Brand stories are what drive interactions with customers.  If you need further assistance in refining your brand's positioning and subsequent messaging, we would suggest reading through the wealth of information provided by Beloved Brands.

You now should ideally have an intimate understanding of your brand’s current positioning, goals, objectives competitors and challenges. From here you should be able to ascertain where a winning brand message and position can be found in the future. 

You also now should have a clear understanding of your target consumers demographics, psychographics, and technographic profile keeping in mind that you may have multiple target segments within any target group.  Note:  At any number of agencies we have worked at (or with) in the past, many have also employed the use of detailed Buyer Personas, which can be a helpful exercise – as the better understanding you have of your target(s), the easier it is to engage them.

As your target consumer base varies, the technologies and social networks you utilize to reach them will naturally vary, too.  Imagine you’re a retailer and based on your research and planning you’ve discovered that YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and a variety of social retail oriented platforms such as Pinterest or Fancy are best suited to help reach your brand’s target audience.

Let’s say that you’ve also discovered that more than one-third (33%+) of the activity surrounding your brand is based on your target consumer’s mobile behavior. You’d naturally want to define the experience that consumers will have with your brand’s products by channel, across multiple platforms, based on their behavior patterns. This exercise is also known as User Experience (UX) Mapping but the most important things you must ask yourself prior to creating any map are:
  • How do customers search and find information about my product, service, or brand?
  • What social platforms do they favour (Technographic Segmentation)?
  • What’s the purpose of the specific social platforms and technologies we’ve chosen to utilize?
  • How do these mediums play into our mobile strategy?
  • What is going to differentiate me from my competition?
As the world has shifted to digital and social media specifically, consumers look to fellow consumers to inform any purchasing decision.  Influencers are therefore a critical part of the digital market success as we move towards the new marketing models that make up social commerce and consumer experience.

Another helpful exercise at this stage is to create a Marketing Calendar that shows your brand’s marketing efforts across the channels you are leveraging in your marketing programs. Use it for benchmarks related to your digital strategy.  What are important dates for your brand's success?  This could be based, for example, around a Holiday, trade show, product release or any other points in the year that align best with sales. A social media content calendar can also be developed to support your Marketing Calendar.  Always keep in mind that when it comes to engaging prospects or customers that quality is far, far more relevant than quantity.

Creating benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) by channel and platforms is also extremely important during this phase.  This is imperative in order to estimate your brand’s expected return per channel — and whether this return is measured based on awareness, engagement, online sales, or any number of other components.  From an agency standpoint this stage is also imperative to setting realistic expectations with clients.

The ultimate goal of engagement is to create a feedback loop that allows you to meet the goals you set forth in the strategy development phase. In order to be successful, you must continually evaluate and alter your digital strategy based on the information that you gain from your campaigns and digital initiatives. As marketers, it’s important that we measure everything.

Throughout every campaign, you must also utilize social listening tools to get insights into campaign performance, variances in brand health, and language cues that are indicative of purchase intent and overall brand performance.

Extending consistent on-brand, on-message content and collateral across all selected channels is imperative and the cornerstone of brand building.  Approach your constituents with the goal to engage their personal lives and experiences. Be authentic, honest and try not to increase friction or decrease participation. Execution is what brings the strategic plan to fruition. Sounds simple, right?

With a clear understanding of the elements above you’re in a strong position to frame and articulate a winning digital strategy for your brand.  Keep in mind we’re discussing digital strategy versus tactics. The terms tactic and strategy are often confused: tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity, and decision-making that lead to tactical execution.

This framework/overview is based on our experience (and is a work in progress) however, what would you adjust based on your experience?  What do you think about it? Is there something irrelevant? Is something missing?  Looking at the sector you are working in, would you approach this differently?

Written by Andrew B. Giles. Andrew is the head of digital innovation and strategy at Goodbuzz Inc. You can follow him @Goodbuzz and on Facebook.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Goodbuzz is a digital agency based in Toronto, Canada. We help brands create and capture value from emerging trends in technology, society and the workplace. We prototype the future - and believe the best way to predict it - is to create it.  Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you have any questions contact us directly.