Design rewarding customer experiences

customer centricity focus in digital marketing

Did you know there is a close link between the degree of digital acumen that CMOs display and the financial performance of their business? A survey published by IBM shows that among over 4,000 CMO’s and c-levels surveyed, 43% financially outperformed their counterparts who are considered Digital Pacesetters.

Not all marketers are the same. Predominantly among the enterprise level there are 3 types of senior marketers among CMO’s and Marketing Directors. You have your Traditionalists, Social Strategists and your Digital Pacesetters.  Each one is on a different path to digital nirvana, but which one is on the right financial path?

There is a HUGE gap between c-level aspiration, and action. And differences in those who financially outperformed their counterparts in IBM’s survey is not academic.

The difference is the journey of experience and application in the digital world, among the speed at which you move in the evolving commercial landscape. There is a direct relationship between the speed of leadership, and the speed of your business or organization.

The attributes among these 43% that drove financial performance could be themed around emphasis on the customer experience at all points in the customer online journey. And at the root of this, it’s summed up to having the right Digital Pacesetters among their team of Traditionalist marketers who understand and deliver on…

  1. Using data analytics to get a much deeper understanding of the customer; individually as well as collectively.
  2. Designing rewarding customer experiences.
  3. Capitalizing on new technologies to provide those experiences in a smart way, and efficiently.

Most senior Digital marketers and CMO’s will agree, there has never been a time like before where a microscopic lens is needed on customer experiences. The market landscape has changed rapidly over the years for both BtoB and BtoC where the customer lifecycle (article: are customers killing your business?) has changed.

customer centricity focus in digital marketing

To many traditionalist marketers haven’t caught up to this epiphany yet, but sink or swim they will get pulled into the reality marketing has shifting from being just a cost-center, to now include it as a revenue-center. The need for outperforming in a marketers financial performance will be based on how will they can get hyper-personal with customers, and create experiences for them along their decision-making or buying journey.

In the digital world, never has businesses been forced into such transparency. Customers will move their business, and as a result of how digital channels can influence business growth….not to mention the transparency social media provides to keep business values and ethics firmly grounded.

The wealth of information and real-time access customers have on a business has divided the share of mind among the market, among the share of wallet in the competitive landscape.

The behaviors and actions customers take across the digital landscape, among available technologies, has also opened a new paradigm of getting to know the customer.

Customers are no longer just an account, or a profile. We can capture and understand their behaviour across multi-channels and touchpoints (article: influence conversions in multi-channel touchpoint), their firmographics and ultimately what makes them tick to influence their decision-making…and the profit of the business.

As a result of this pivot in how customers in both B2B and BtoC landscape conduct business, its created a compelling challenge to better define and understand the customer to deliver consistent positive experiences. And the goal should aim to accomplish this on the hyper-personal level.

The hyper-personal understanding of customers is a major aspiration among CMO’s today, which is probably why we see more and more marriages (or dates) between the CMO and CIO. Marry the marketing needs with the technology and data to drive value.

The reality today is there still exists a major gap or digital divide among both small businesses and enterprises to address the customer experience. Everything from UX-centered product design, data-driven insight, analytical and quantified marketing performance, and even brand.

Addressing these areas is just the beginning to deliver on the CMO’s aspiration of treating customers as individuals, to build stronger relationships with those customer via digital channels and make wiser decisions informed by hard evidence (think marketing sex with data).

The challenge among CMO’s and senior marketers is not necessarily the understanding of all of this, but the experience and know-how to accelerate this path to transformation. I endorse the fact that to accelerate the transformation among the right people, is exploitation of new technologies that focus on customer experiences, a solid understanding and usage of data and analytics, among other tools and teams to deliver automation in marketing across the entire customer journey.

Connecting the dots for marketers to accelerate the path to designing rewarding customer experiences in the digital space is not easy, especially in attempts to quantify it to calculate ROI across digital influence points of engagement). But the right small tribe of people within your business to own this area, and drive the change through test and learn methodologies is a great start.

So where do you start? At the forefront of connecting the dots begins with mapping the customer touch-points, and determining how to consistently connect each dot across channels to deliver the best customer experience.

Presumably many CMO’s and senior marketers have placed too much emphasis on social media to deliver the customer experience. The realization of their investments into social over the years has finally come to light to stop attempting to tame social. Between monitoring brand voice, and a realization that social monetization has dropped in priority (and right so!), the epiphany has shaped marketers priorities to embed social as a channel in the overall customer experience.

It’s important to understand that the big picture of designing rewarding experiences for customers isn’t a social strategy effort.  The value in social is finally being realized as a means for positioning and a customer engagement channel or tools for building awareness and forging connections, among monitoring brand voice. Monetization – while some businesses can, it’s among the lowest against other digital channels as Search and Email.

Creating a transparent supply chain and managing customer relationships through designing rewarding experiences should be the pre-occupation among businesses today. Just think how the customer lifecycle has changed, and how you can create value for your customers at every step on their customer journey. And again – don’t just think “social”!

creating customer experiences within the customer lifecycle

The customer has a voice. And only when you have the appropriate tools to facilitate or listen, and support to take action, can the customers voice be heard. Relinquish control of the brand to listen. Do you do that today?

In order to get to there; look at your digital marketing framework to determine if you have the infrastructure in place to extract those actionable customer insights. Know what data you have available (and don’t have) and integrate this with the intelligence from other sources (ex. hook the website experience into your CRM). It’s the first step in constructing a customer-centric and customer-activated business culture, and it starts by embedding analytics into your day-to-day routine.

Next, pop open the hood to map the customer lifecycle and the customer journey among each stage, and begin testing your designs of customer experience. But before you do, absolutely ensure you make the experiences quantified. An understanding of what works, and didn’t work, is how you’ll formulate the most rewarding experiences for customers, and cementing the relationship with your customer even stronger.

Don’t just think about closing the transaction, focus on the relationship. You do the same today in your personal love lives, so why wouldn’t you do it in business…after all, your customer is not a brand or a number. He or she is you.

Those CMO’s or Digital marketing directors or whoever is at a level of influence in your business to drive digital, will find that the Digital Pacesetter, by contrast to the Traditionalist and Social Strategist, is much farther down the road to digital nirvana and financial outperformance.

But in the end, like your customers, not all businesses are created the same. The power resides with those who have the capability to actively put the resources required to operate as a fully integrated digital enterprise, and regularly uses analytics (advanced analytics) to generate insights from customer data.

The digital landscape is a living and breathing eco-system.  If you’re to be a big fish in this pond and own your eco-system, then you must bring the experience and know-how to survive. Without this, the eco-system will reject you, and accept the next big fish behind you waiting to take your place.

The digital divide of a digital marketing strategy framework

Over the years I have observed and tested the principles that makeup successful digital-focused teams and organizations, and have witnessed a digital divide in the context of strategic business framework to reach a level of digital maturity. I’ve observed 4 pillars that are a foundation to an organizations digital marketing framework, and a criteria against measuring the health of its maturity, and the currency it provides.

Yet I often find a mixology of viewpoints and theory on what defines a digital strategy, and baseline framework in which the strategies can be built on and align to both the big picture, and the short term.

In many cases I find a misleading conception of strategy definition as either their strategic frameworks address only tactical aspects of strategy and more appropriate to campaign planning, or the over-arching approach to execution, or multi-directional go-to-market planning.

I’ve yet to find or experience a strategic approach that fits every organization. However I have built a guiding framework that digital strategy that can be built upon, which can be rooted into almost any organizations hierarchal eco-system. Continue reading “The digital divide of a digital marketing strategy framework”

Roots of a Startup

Roots of a startup

Richard Branson, one of my more admired entrepreneurs, surprisingly never set out to be a businessman and instead followed his guiding-light as a teenager to launch a magazine startup that evolved into the Virgin empire we’re familiar with today.

Its a familiar story hearing of entrepreneurs who begun with similar beginnings. Those with a passionate vision in mind, a solution to a problem, or pursued the path of fulfilment vs. chasing the golden ladder and paycheque that many of use were bred to pursue.

Even my entrepreneurial DNA has led me down the path of the startup addiction, having founded a digital marketing agency, mentoring and coaching bootstrapped startups and fortune 500’s, to taking digital epiphanies from concept to market….with some kept warm on the back-burning similar to where Alibaba.com’s path to success.

Build a business, not a startup

Reflecting on over 15 years of digital business adventures (and ventures), and looking at the successes and ‘learning experiences’ from a variety of clients and brands, I found a few common threads that were all too apparent in the make or break of a new digital business startup. And this is what I’ve become familiar with as the roots of a startup.

With most things in our ecosystem, both in life and business, everything that grows or advances into something bigger and better, requires foundation.

It’s a bit cliche, but still one of those basic ingredients I’ve found most often neglected by startups and entrepreneurs, and repetitious reasons for why many startups fail.

Don’t just take my word, the influential ancient Chinese book the art of war, is a masterpiece on strategy that can be applied to help startups build a strong foundation to win those small and large milestones and battles through their startup journey.

The simplistic takeaway from this is that a foundation for your startup is comprises of the following roots, which will help you provide the support to drive your new startup venture forward. And when vision gets cloudy or roadblocks and failures occur, the foundation is your support to fall on to revisit.

For any startup, its a healthy habit to revisit the foundation on a monthly or quarterly term. Not to re-hash or over analyze, but more of a check-in to ensure your startup strategy and team is still aligned. Think about it…just as in touring the country in a car, you check your GPS or map from time to time to ensure you’re still on in the right direction you mapped out…and if not, ask yourself or your team “why”…and ask it repeatedly if you’re to uncover the root cause that caused your direction or path to become miss-aligned. Again – build a business…one that solves a need or purpose…not a startup.

The Roots

Often I found lacking in many startups is a compressive foundation of entrepreneurship. Many venture down their path with cultivating a new spin on something old (or new), or as in the case of many computer engineers and programmers I’ve met, simply building something for the sake of the challenge or diving-in with tunnel vision…if I build it, it will be cool and they will come.

The startup foundation that appears to separate success from failure; albeit I’ve seen some really great ideas sadly fail from lack of foundation to drive any solid execution, where these foundational roots can be summed up to…

  • Vision and concept

  • Product development and viability

  • Targeted exposure and revenue

  • Adoption and scale

  • Distribution channels, and partnerships

  • Synergy, structure and business design

I’ll get into each one of these foundation roots in separate posts, but for now it gives you a 30,000 foot view of the typical roots that prevail in many successful startups.

Unfortunately many bootstrapped startups dive immediately into building and launching their ideas into market (which isn’t always a bad thing), but tend to neglect the startup roots as an after-thought.

Lets not forget the same roots apply to intraprenuership within the corporate world. Somewhat different approaches and control over each root, but nevertheless they are influential in an organizations growth – ex. think Apple.com’s historical path.

There are no shortcuts to circumventing these roots…and yet why would you. But as the wicked cocktail of time, money and aspiration is drunk, those who venture down the startup path can learn and accelerate much quicker from the experience and validated learnings where many seasoned and successful entrepreneurs or advisors have already tried, failed, succeed and accomplished over the years.

To find advisors to help guide and steer you, just look around your local community for other success stories, network at key events or connect online through community portals that can help introduce you to advisors who want to give back and help…though sometimes at the cost of equity.

Consider the fast-track access to these validated learnings and experience through local or popular incubator programs. Incubator programs are designed to support and nurture the development of a startup through the functional roots described above, and can offer an array of support and services.

I’ve found the biggest perk is the exclusive access to a network of contacts most wouldn’t have an easy time accessing, such as face time with angels and VC’s, and those who have travelled and succeed down the beaten entrepreneurial path and won.

Those digital stars who get it, will invest in themselves for their startup through these incubator type programs. The whole point of joining is to access the services of the different startup ecosystems, and the knowledge to be applied. (Not to mention statistically the success of most startups is far greater from those who join these programs).

Not familiar with a startup ecosystem? A startup ecosystem is simply formed groups of people in their various stages of their business success, and various types of companies, all interacting as a system to help new startups.

Corporate world calls these as elite networks, consortiums, board directors, etc.

But in the startup world, consider these startup ecosystems via incubator programs or accelerator programs as a group where each focus on specific area of the business functions, and/or businesses at various stages in their development stages.

Water the Roots

When I refer to watering the roots, it simply implies taking risk.

The roots of a startup need investment of time and effort to grow. And to achieve this you need to take both small and larger risks.

I’m sure you’ve heard friends or peers pitch the next big idea, but only to fail to even start the journey down its path. Its either a lack of will-power, motivation or drive to take small steps to water the roots of their idea. Talk is cheap.

Watering the startup roots is the necessity to produce the failures, and the learnings from these failures to advance forward, pivot or even stop.

How else will you validate your product or idea, or know you’re targeting the right audience, or if you can monetize your concept, or continually pump time and money into something that will never be.

Watering the roots aims to tweak your startup towards the right direction, grow the business all while intelligently positioning your risk and exposure.

For example, take your startups product or concept. You’re bootstrapping with little to no investment, or maybe you were fortunate to obtain some seed capital for equity.

How you water startup roots of product development and viability will be viewed on how you can mitigate risk of financial investment and time to get your product into a viable product your audience is willing to part ways with their money in return for what you offer.

Do you spend months building the perfect product, thinking it will be a 90% perfect fit with your audience? Did you even talk with your intended audience and get their insights? But how can you if you’re spending 6 months to build your product?

Following this traditional failed startup path tends to lead to either a) folding up your business as you’re broke or cannot invest further time and money until you can get your audience to see the value in parting ways with their hard earned money, or b) you’ll seek further equity to buy you more time to validate the market fit.

In this scenario, watering the product development roots is where I advise the startup to engage in a product feedback loop to build only the basic acceptable product (BAP)….or popularized by the MVP (minimum viable product).

The BAP or MVP will help the startup quickly and efficiently build only the minimum requirements that the intended audience will find value and acceptance.

Then test this with various cross sections of your audience, and take objective views of the feedback and inputs.

This feedback will help become your guiding light on what do address next. Not that all feedback is good feedback, but the testing the BAP will provide you the crucial initial insights to either advance to the next round of development to move towards that market fit, or if a pivot is required.

A startup may realize their initial product idea or vision was blurred. But ongoing testing, learning and optimization will answer any doubts and questions.

And when a pivot is required (turning point), embrace it as many successful house-hold named startups are not where they are today without making a number of different pivots. Think Groupon, Angry Birds or Apple.

These pivots, or turning points, may be the product itself, or the target audience, or the business or monetization model or virtually any one of the roots described above.

A pivot of your product or vision will point you in a new direction towards the success market fit, while reducing time and money spent on something that was never meant to be.

And remember, the outcome of your BAP is to get as close to the “right fit” with your audience, where your market is willing to spend their time, money and evangelize your product or brand.

But for now I hope you find value in the sharing of my experience in the digital space and with startups. Where extreme uncertainty prevails in the startup world, take heart in the roots of a startup to help you launch or elevate your next digital business.

Be sure to share your experiences and tips with others and comment below. I’ll aim to respond and share back with others.