Are You Throwing Strategy out with the Digital Bathwater?
It’s ironic how as things change, some things remain the same. I was reminded of this valuable, yet simple lesson recently while reading one of Jeremiah Owyang’s (@jowyang) insightful posts on his blog – Web Strategy.
The lesson is one you’ve probably heard a thousand times before (god knows I have). In fact, 10 years ago, one of my first mentors (Bill Bishop) engrained this principle in me, which he elegantly referred to as The Relationship-First Formula and even wrote a book about it. His philosophy was simple – design your business and/or strategies around a specific customer and their needs, not the latest marketing medium or tool. Simple, but not always easy to implement.
To Twitter or Not To Twitter? – that IS NOT the question
If you or your clients have asked this question or anything similar to it then you’re asking the wrong questions. The problem…drum roll please…is that we as marketers, entrepreneurs, and product developers (including myself) can be too focused on the “latest shiny digital product, tool, and tactic” – from crowdsourcing, to the iPad, to the launch of Google Buzz, to the latest upgrades in Hootsuite. While there’s a need for this type of focus, it should be at the end of your strategy or planning process, not the beginning.
The thing we need to keep reminding ourselves with is – business has not changed, just the mediums in which consumers now use. Don’t throw out the baby (strategy) with the bathwater just because new media channels have emerged. Instead of focusing on a specific product or technology first, develop a strategy based on a specific audience, their behaviours, and needs – rather than a “Facebook” or “iPhone” strategy created in a vacuum on its own. Focus on building a place for customers who want to come interact with each other, and your brand (if that’s the goal).
I like Owyang’s analogy of approaching your web strategy as you would to build a house. In other words, focus on who you’re inviting to come over to your property (website) and what they want (needs). Next, think about the different rooms in your house, and how they all serve a different purpose, from the decor (branding), front door (advertising), living room (community).
These tools are used in different ways, some are great for attracting visitors (traffic generation) others encourage them to stay and to something (interactive media and content), while others are great for encouraging them to interact with you (social networks). In any case, the value of each of these on their own is weak, and the real value is all of them together in context.
Methodology For Integrated Strategy Development
There are PLENTY of ways to develop your strategy. However, one that I’ve used recently, is a little acronym called POST (invented by Forrester), which focuses on people, objectives, strategy, then tools (and only in that order).
People: Don’t start a strategy until you know the needs, social behaviours, and capabilities of your target audience.
Start by asking the following questions, “Where are my customers online? Who do they trust? Who do they influence? What are they doing and why?” (i.e. watching, sharing, commenting, producing, evangelizing)
Objectives: Are you planning to build an application, program, product or campaign to collaborate with your best customers in order innovate and evangelize others? Listen to your customers or to talk with them? Whatever, your plan is, make it actionable. Based on your research, if your customers are commenters, allow them to comment. If they rely on friends, encourage sharing. If they are trusted by others, highlight them as advocates in front of their community.
Strategy: Decide on what you want to accomplish. Do you want to get people talking about your products? Do you want a permanent focus group for testing product ideas and generating new ones? How will things be different afterwards? Imagine the endpoint and you’ll know where to begin.
Technology. An online video? Social media campaign? Widget or two? Once you know your people, objectives, and strategy, your marketing efforts and technology choices will naturally unfold. This may sound simple to the sophisticated reading this blog, but it works. Try it. Think your strategy through.
Putting it all Together – A Fictional Example
The following is a fictional example of how understanding your customer’s social behaviours can lead to better results using the above methodology. Since the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are going on, I’ll use a fictional snowboarding company in the example.
Situation: After White’s repeat gold medal performance, a snowboarding company would like to leverage this “buzz” by reaching snowboarders who ride halfpipe and introduce them to their new snowboard they just launched called “Amptitude” (fictional).
1. Where are the snowboarders online today?
- Using monitoring tools and surveys (prior to the games) to find hot spots in conversation and specific URL locations the data found that 75% of the targeted snowboarders visited Facebook daily (fictional).
- Find out what they are talking about. Brand monitoring found out that the most talked about topic when discussing snowboards was price, quality, and ability to improve a riders ability to perform tricks.
2. What are their online social behaviours?
- Survey results showed they are mainly watching and sharing, very few producers. But those who are producing are very active making recommendations, blogging, uploading pictures and videos of them and their friends riding half pipe (perhaps even @shaun_white).
Findings & Actions
The company was able to identify who the influencers (producers) were, how to reach them, and introduce them to their new board by providing them with interactive content and social widgets that would help them reproduce and spread the word to the rest of the “passive” snowboarders who watched/shared to friend in order to reach a greater segment of customers. This example, of course, is an oversimplification of how to begin brainstorming strategy, but I think you get the idea.
What About Strategic Partners?
This philosophy should also apply to your strategic partners who specialize in emerging digital marketing technologies and platforms. Look for partners who focus on customer behaviors and client goals. As the technology landscape changes at an even faster pace than ever before, brands must have criteria in selecting the right partners. Again, my compliments to Owyang who came up with this review scorecard to see how your strategic partners stack up. You can also use this as key criteria in finding new partners who specialize on emerging technologies.
Are You Approaching Your Digital Strategy Backwards?
Again, if you started by asking the question “should we Twitter?” or “Should we be on Google Buzz?” the answer is probably yes – you are doing it backwards. In any other business initiative we start by figuring out what we want to accomplish. Interactive technologies work the same way – they accomplish things. It’s time to stop going digital because it’s cool or because everyone is talking about it. It’s time to start doing it because it’s effective and measurable, but first develop your customer strategy.
Upwards and Onwards!