Monthly Archives: July 2015

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Conversation

Conversational Design

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Next Gen Web Design

Engineering a web experience is about establishing and conducting a conversation with your audience. By this standard most business sites are either rude or inconsiderate because they are based on a presentation model. In the physical world a good conversation has a “Hello” – Dialog – “Goodbye” flow and the same should be true digitally. A digital conversation has the same flow although the delivery does have to be slightly different. If your marketing model is based on building relationships then an exploration of the conversation model is critical.

Hello

This Hello phase in the digital world often starts with a query at a search engine and you can think about this as a “Tell me about X” question. Your response to this would typically be “Hello my name is Bob. Let me tell you about X”. This is followed by an acceptance of the offer, which moves the conversation to the dialog phase.

Dialog

The dialog section of the conversation is a point and counterpoint cycle that passes between the parties. In the physical world we have clues that cause us to pause and invite others in. In the digital design you need to engineer for the same process. A good conversation has balance and flow in the dialog and sometimes you need to take a breath and let the other person react to your comments. One common way to do this is to ask a question and get direction to the next issue in the conversation. Conversations by their nature can go in just about any direction.
In good conversations there is a refining process that helps the members of the conversation learn from each other. If you are on the provider side of the conversation your goal is to communicate the value of what you offer to the other party. If you are the purchaser, your goal is to gain the information you need to justify the decisions you need to make. Identifying with your audience is a key element in creating a relationship and that is ultimately what drives the actions of that audience. Get them to like you and you will find that people do business with those they like and they like those that help them understand.

Goodbye

The goodbye phase of the conversation is where you bring the conversation to a conclusion and often there is a “Call to Action” in this point. If you are selling something, then by all means ask for the order at this point. If this conversation is part of a larger relationship with the customer then invite them back.

Summary

Most sites today are modeled on a presentation not a conversation and the goal of the presentation is to move the relationship to a conversation that ultimately gets to the results your business needs. Simply stated we need to get off our soapboxes and talk with our audience. Our prediction is that the next generation of websites will be conversational and they will allow businesses to reach the scale that they struggle with today. This topic is evolutionary not revolutionary and so our advice is to move toward this model in manageable steps.


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Marketing-Strategy-Team

Marketing Teams & Operations

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Business success or failure is tightly related to the strength of its teams and the marketing team is often on the front edge of that sword. To build an effective marketing team you need a variety of experts that work effectively together. An effective digital marketing team will need at least 5 different skillsets to make the magic happen. So here they are:

  • Strategy
  • Content
  • Advertising
  • Conversation
  • Analytics

Each of these teams requires a different skillset and a person that is great in one might be a failure in another. Let’s explore the roles of these teams and the skills they need.

STRATEGY

This team needs to start with a representative from the Executive Management Group and the higher up the better. In a small business, this is typically the CEO or Owner and even if they know nothing about marketing they HAVE to be on the team. A strategy team without a representative from the executive group is very likely to fail. This does not mean that the executive has to become a marketing expert but they have to engage in the process. Many small businesses are owned and run by technical experts that lack the marketing skills. However, they bring to the team an understanding of and unquestioned loyalty to the business. This team can be subdivided into committees to deal with the detailed planning of specifics.
The strategy needs to answer these broad questions:

  • Audiences – Who are we going to communicate with?
  • Messages – What are we going to say?
  • Campaigns – When are we going to be in market?
  • Channels – Where are we going to be?
  • Performance – Why are we doing this?
  • Budget – How much are we going to invest?

I am sure most will instantly see the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How structure used for building a strategy. The challenge here is that these stages have many relationships that can be very difficult to document and think through.

Audiences – Who are we going to communicate with? This is a more complex question than many think. The simple answer is that you want to talk to customers and prospective customers but it is way more involved. The challenges are that communication is sloppy, messages between audiences can work against each other and channels overlap. Audiences evolve through stages of suspect, prospect, customer, client, and evangelist (aka Brand Advocate) and the communication evolves as the relationship does. The key thing is to know who we are talking to so we know how to talk. For each audience, we recommend building a persona that the planning groups can refer to in the later planning processes. It is much easier to remember a persona if you give them a name, image, and profile. At this stage, you need to gather some basic data on these audiences. At a minimum, get the number of people at each stage because one truth that will shortly be in front of you is that there is always more market to reach than there is budget to reach that market. This means that you are going to have to make priority decisions and the potential of each audience is a critical item in the thought process.

One sign that you have an audience problem is when someone says “Everyone is our customer” and even if this were true – and it never is – you still have to develop messaging that moves the person to action and that requires a defined audience.

Messages – What are we going to say? The marketing messages are independent of the audiences but they are assigned to the audiences. Over the years, we have discovered that many planning groups work better if they focus on an audience and then develop messages for that persona. As you move to subsequent audiences, the pace will pick up because you can assign already developed messages to the new group and discuss only what is different about messaging to that group.
In the old days, messages were largely one direction but social media changed that in a big way. Today messages are part of a two way conversation with the market and that means that all customer facing staff have to know these messages and who they are intended for.

Campaigns – When are we going to be in market? Armed with the audiences we want to communicate with and the messages we want to deliver, the next phase is putting them into campaigns and detailing out the specifics of budgets, content, specific performance goals, and other channel specific details. Campaigns ultimately are what bring audiences, messages, and channels together with performance goals.

Channels – Where are we going to be? This is a simple inventory of the channels that the strategy intends to use and every possible channel needs to be explored. There is no reason to be in every channel or every placement within the channel but you do have to consider it. Much of the research here is use by competitors, audience match to your audiences, and effectiveness of the placements. At a minimum, you need to consider search, display, remarketing, and social placements.

Performance – Why are we doing this? Performance is the reason we do all of this and it is what brings us back to the strategy. Within the strategy, we established goals for the various campaigns and in the performance we are checking to see what really happened and make adjustments as needed. Performance is not without its challenges and the first is that measurements in marketing are never perfect nor are they simple linear processes. We would all like to have an action to reaction relationship but the reality is that there are multiple actions to a reaction and the number of these varies greatly. There are many, including myself, that believe that action to reaction can be as high as 20. This means that for any one specific reaction, there could be 20 contributing actions that were taken.

Budget – How much are we going to invest? This is always one of the tough items in any plan. The answer to this is almost always the same. You want to spend as little as possible but as much as necessary.

CONTENT

Content is king and creating it is magic or so many would like you to think. There is no question that the team in this area has to be insanely creative with the ability to create visual and textual content that communicates the messages to the audience. While this has never been my strength, it is certainly one that I appreciate; when it is done right. The challenge sometimes is keeping the creative in-line with the strategy. One item that is very different in digital marketing (as opposed to print) is that the creative can be tested in the market to see if the message resonates with the audience.

ADVERTISING

Advertising is the blocking and tackling of the process. With the channels and budgets decided on, the goal of this team is to take care of the details. Digital advertising is very different than conventional placement in that the key is to run the system properly and keep the audience on target. This task is about running a fairly complex computer system to get maximum output from it. The team here tends to be strong on math and system process mechanics.

CONVERSATION

Conversations have always been part of marketing but social media has made them much more important and have changed the nature of these conversations. No longer is a conversation between the parties involved in the dialog because it now includes the thousands or even millions that will observe the conversation. An exchange with a prospect on Facebook can easily go viral resulting in millions of impressions for an offhand remark. This part of the team normally will fall to the customer service and sales department, which means getting them on board with the audiences and messages is now critical. Social media can be thought of as the dinner networking meeting of today only with an unlimited audience attending.

ANALYTICS

Analytics is an area that has existed in marketing since the first ad was run and someone wanted to know what it did. What has changed is that the depth of the data has increased and with that came some good things and some new challenges.

  • On the positive side we know a lot more about the interactions of people with our content and placements.
  • On the negative side we know a lot more about the interactions of people with our content and placements.

It is very easy today to bury decision makers in data while they starve for actionable information. The real magic in Analytics is reading the tea leaves and transforming data into information. You have to be very careful today with what you think you know and what specific data actually means. The Analytics team is responsible for transforming this data and feed the information back to the strategy team that can make adjustments in the direction of the business. This is typically done on a regular schedule and we recommend no more than one month between these cycles.

SUMMARY

In closing, you need smart people with different perspectives to the challenges that your business will face. In strategy, you need broad thinkers with a handle on the mission and goals of the organization. In content, you need creative people that can transform detailed messaging into easily understood visual and textual elements. In advertising, you need smart math skills with the discipline to execute. In conversations, you need people that understand how to relate to others using new means of communication like social media. In analytics, you need people that took Stats 450 for the easy A and that can communicate with the strategic thinkers, creatives, advertisers, and customer service.


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