What is Digital Strategy and Why Agencies Need It?
A couple of Fridays ago, I thought a Digital Strategy Workshop together with Farrah and Ale. It was an all-around awesome experience: participants were smart and wonderfully engaged, my co-teachers were super-inspiring and insightful, and finally, we put together a really fun (and informative) presentation - a section of which I am including here. That's the part I presented, to kick the workshop off.
Speakers' notes are below:
Slide 3: Every conversation about the topic, area, or practice starts with its definition. Well, one of the great strengths of digital planning is that we haven’t settled on a single definition. As it goes, if you ask 10 people what digital planning is, you will get at least 11 different answers. And that’s a good thing, because if Richard Buchanan is to be trusted, we know that we are alive. After all, all the great, revolutionary shifts in culture, science or society didn't have names at first - think postmodernism (hell, i still don't know how to define it), innovation, DNA research, etc. We always have to rely on what's already out there to define a new field, and more often than not, what's out there is not enough.
Slide 4: At the same time, there is clearly a need for digital planning thinking and tools, otherwise there wouldn't be there workshop. From your own experience, you know that you are dealing with things that you didn't have to deal with before. Above all, you are dealing with the need to think about how to create value for both customers and clients. This means you need to think how to create a relationship between them that doesn't benefits clients only. A related question is how to make new forms of relationship between buyers and sellers work for us. To clarify this point, the very idea of who buyers and sellers are is different. Sellers are not only brands anymore as collaborative consumption and redistribution markets can attest. Just think AirBnb, Etsy, Getaround, Neighborgoods, etc. Group buying and flash sales are also an example. Speaking of group sales, we are dealing with interconnected individuals that share, review, comment, and are able to make or brake brand's reputation by introducing unprecedented transparency of information.
Slide 5: Case in point: Community and technology, in combination, reshape marketplaces by changing dynamics between supply and demand, buyers and sellers, consumers and products. They have the capacity to create new markets by focusing on the previously unaddressed segments - all of the above being examples.
Slide 6: Venturing into unaddressed segments has proven to be rewarding. We are not dealing with someone’s side project, but with the emerging industries.
Slide 7: Why is all of this important? All of the new value models change consumers' expectations and shape their habits. They expect from brands the same thing they have been tought to expect from online services and tools - immediacy, convenience, transparency, competitive offering. Above all, they expect to be in charge themselves.
Slide 8: Our job as digital strategists in this context is the following: create a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose. First, I stole this definition from Charles Eames, who was talking about design when he said the above. Design analogy is especially convenient here, because if we are to be successful, we are to shape and format the digital environment. Also, design is not about end product, but it is a systematic process of identifying problems, and then researching, creating, testing, and implementing solutions. This is the second thing that's important - a problem solving approach. We address our clients through this problem-solving prism - every assignment has to be reformulated as a particular problem that the brand is focusing on - either it is the sales problem, the audience problem, or the brand perception problem. Lastly, talking about arranging elements leads us to systems approach, a system that connects people and technology, products and content, brands and services.
Slide 9: The best digital campaigns have been built around the innovative connections between buyers and sellers that are characteristic of the new models of exchange. Pepsi Refresh project connected the brand with the community. New Balance teamed up with the long-distance runner (and a certified weirdo) Anton Krupicka, Uniqlo created Lucky Counter which combines group dynamics with people's desire for discounts, Lufthansa came up with utility, Burberry connected their brand to everyone with a trench, etc etc.
Slide 10: Often, we think that the client brief is about advertising or promotion, while we should be thinking about the brand or about the new ways to reach audience in digital space. What is brand's real problem? How to connect with audience in the digital space in order to solve it?
Slide 11: And now, onto practical stuff. First, start from the consumer. Here, we see a traditional advertising model of brand/product/category and consumer. Traditional (or brand) planners start every assignment from a competitive landscape, from thinking about the brand (what does it stand for? what's at its core?), the product (what are its benefits? what are the barriers to adoption?). Then they often look into surveys and numbers about the audience, and conduct focus groups to confirm their thesis. It's the thesis-support thesis model, as Noah reminded me the other day. And this is not wrong. Where digital strategists start from, in contrast, is a consumer. They are putting it at the center, as a starting point for framing a hypothesis, then they then test against brand, product and category insights. The benefit is seeing something that we have previously missed - instead of getting answers on our questions, we are letting consumers tell us what they want. We are seeing the world through their eyes. And in order to do that, we have to reach a true understanding of their habits, culture, social context and their motivations space.
Slide 12: How do we reach that understanding? Well, we inquire: how do we think about the category? how do they talk about the brand? how do they perceive the product? Observing, monitoring and listening to customers can often reveal a different set of needs that escape the traditional quantitative methods. Here, social listening tools become very useful - they offer insights into the barriers to category and barriers to wider adoption of the brand. They offer insights into the context of consumers' life and role of priducts and a brand within it - they help us define the problem and come up with possible solutions. Through considering how to reach out to these people, it becomes possible to come up with the ideal brand experience that is conveyed across diverse touchpoints. Visualizing and codifying human motivation gives us opportunity to beter understand and direct human behavior. Deep seated or hidden needs and cultural trends can all be identified from dialogue with customers. It uses personas as a vehicle for introducing a user perspective and adds input from a wide selection of user-centered methods.
Slide 13: And how do we go about that? People leave digital traces everywhere: they talk, share, connect comment, track and update everything (or almost everything they do), but the difference is that now we can see all of that. It's all laid out for us to explore.
Slide 14: For example, personas are one useful way of mapping and visualizing our learnings - they are a great communication device to visualize who our audience is, and to clearly communicate it to creatives, experience designers, content strategists, and technologists. They bring everyne on the same page in regards to the audience we are talking to. Moreover, they help us clarify the goals and tasks of our different target groups. Best yet, tey lay out the touchpoints for a sound media strategy, content strategy, paid media buy - because we know where we can find these people.
Slide 15: Now that we get acquainted with out target, we can start making our digital brief. No matter what format our digital brief uses, it has to revolve around the following: a) the idea (this is our response/problem formulation for the client's challenge), b) the tasks (how are we going to go about solving this problem?), c) connections plan (tactics and system access points), and d) success metrics. Digital is not everything, but it somehow gets into almost everything - it's got to be part of our objectives, our brand, our audience. The main and defining characteristics of digital briefs is not what we are going to communicate. Instead, we are thinking what kind of system we are going to build, and how we are going to draw people into it. Another thing to remember is that digital brief is means to an end, rather than an end in itself - which is always the case when you are dealing with the traditional agency process. Planners take too much time to write the brief, then they hand it over to creatives, who are at that point pissed off because they aren't left with enough time to come up with an idea, etc.
Slide 16: Adopt a systems approach, with a brand behavior at its center. Brand story defines the brand experience and helps us decide how to convey it through different touchpoints. This is not an integrated campaign (while it may look like one), and there are two reasons for it. First, I have never seen a successful advertising campaign. Second, at the system's core is a brand behavior, rather than a message. We are not simply pushing out a message through all different touchpoints in the "matching luggage" (thanks Farrah) way - instead, we are carefully considering how each touchpoint conveys a part of the story, and how all of them combined convey consistently and seamlessly brand behavior. Each touchpoint is the starting point for the experience and not the end point for the messaging. Brand behavior informs also how touchpoints should be designed, and which touchpoints we should choose to focus on. It defines the tone of voice, look and feel, and content, and interactions for each.
Slide 17 and 18: Our next task is to visualize the brand experience flow - for example, here we are visualizing customer journey for product trail. It helps us define the importance of each media touchpoint. We are deconstructint the marketing process into discrete touchpoints and interactions. Each touchpoint creates a "brand movement." A typical consumer journey is multi-channel and time-based. The second example is for the challenge of brand affinity. Again, we have brand moments that are experienced according to the context of each touchpoint.
Slide 19: Finally, and we are going to cover this in the separate session of this workshop, our task as digital strategists is to make each point work for us. This means assigning monetary value, expectations and success benchmarks to each touchpoint. This is going to help us dynamically optimize the campaign as we go, and foreground the importance of the most effective touchpoints, all the while minimizing the exposure of the less successful ones. In other words, we are assigning metrics of success to each touchpoint, so we can monitor and optimize them as the campaign unfolds.
Slide 20: And now, it's important to understand that these four things: starting from the consumer, writing a digital brief, visualizing the brand experience flow, and assigning metrics of success to each touchpoint are not theoretical exercises. The reality is messy, but it helps to have a few useful tools and useful guidelines. It’s the experience, the process of trial and error, and figuring things out as you go.