A strong brand provides you with an advantage over competition. It creates strong signals and associations within consumers’ minds, nudging the consumer to favor your product over competitors’. Even when all objective features are equal and your product might just be more expensive.

And, very pragmatically,  a strong brand identity helps your employees to make smaller and larger decisions on their own. Whether it is in defining marketing stories, designing ads or in choosing the next relevant product (or feature) extension.

For a smaller company the brand might not be the biggest priority, but at some point discussions about what the company stands for and wants to achieve in the long-run may become unavoidable (designing your website, or pivoting the strategy). And with growing teams companies will struggle with employees’ interpretation of what the brand stands for.

And brands only grow and remain strong if a company is able to ensure consistency across the whole consumer experience. Consistency in the visual representation (logo, colors etc.), the product experience and even the experience of the service (e.g. when making a product complaint). To get this right becomes harder and harder to do the more fresh employees add their ideas in product development, marketing etc.

The 3 Hour Brand Sprint Workshop

Jake Knapp from Google Ventures has designed a simple, short workshop format The Three Hour Brand Sprint that can help younger brands get an initial “Super Simple Brand Guide”.

A team of 2-6 employees, decision maker(s) included, moves through three stages (two simple exercises each): outline the company’s motivation, add detail through values and key audiences and position the brand vs. competition.

How it helps Marketing?

The process will not replace efforts in market research or employing an agency to create a coherent brand design guide, but it sound like a great starting point for younger brands to surface the different interpretations and turn them into a slide deck with concrete ideas. This can then be used as a briefing to move brand development forward.

As with the Design Sprint its charm is in bringing together key stakeholders from within the team rather than outsourcing such a critical and defining exercise.



Digital Marketing Transformation

Large shifts in digital technology are forcing companies and brands to undergo digital transformation.
But what exactly is Digital Transformation? I am taking a look at three distinctive areas in which this transformation may take shape: Consumer Experience, Marketing Operations and Business Models.

Breaking it down

What exactly is defined by Digital Transformation? What does „digital” refer to? Technology solutions? It is certainly more than mobile-optimizing the website, automizing the marketing processes or running design thinking workshops.
We are looking at fundamental changes that happen due to the rapid development of new technology and through shifts in consumer expectations.
But if we keep the definition this broad it is difficult to actually address the overall challenge and plan and execute initiatives.

I believe you can make a distinction based on how close you come to the core of your business. From the way you engage with the external world, mainly your consumer. To how you change the internal organization and processes. To how the company optimizes or changes the way it creates value and does business.

So, let’s “slice the elephant”.

Consumer Experience

Start with the consumer

Consumer Experience represents the interface layer between consumer and brand (client and company for B2B). This is bigger than Digital Marketing. Digital has long moved from a niche activity of leveraging new channels to impacting the whole multi-channel experience. Consumer Experience means looking more closely on the full consumer journey (built on real data) to adapt content and services appropriately.

Digital channels add complexity to marketing communication, requiring a careful analysis of which channels are relevant for the companies communication. This is especially crucial when media budget needs to be shifted. Ongoing changes in formats and algorithms (see, for example, the differences for social video) and immaturity of incumbent channels make it difficult to do business as usual in advertising management.

The different nature of content engagement both through search and social require brands to extend the content=campaign logic. Opportunities to engage with the brand may be more frequent and built on an intent or need for information or entertainment. Social Media Marketing and Content Marketing built the storytelling beyond product communication. They demand their own processes, organization and measuerement to succeed.

The access to data opens up new opportunities to improve marketing. Either through optimizing performance, e.g. on advertising material, almost in real-time, or through adding personalization, e.g. to the website experience.

The challenge is in integrating the content and channels in the best way. With a consumer journey visualizing the touchpoints used by the user it becomes easier for teams to understand and define the roles of each channel (e.g. the website) and how they integrate. Content and services can then be planned so that they deliver the most value when and where the user needs it.

With the consumer experience becoming so integrated in overall marketing it is also a challenge to break Digital from an organizational silo and upskill the whole marketing organization on fundamental digital marketing knowhow, through training and encouraging active experimentation.


Marketing Operations

Automation & Agility

Digital transformation not only changes the way brands communicate to and with consumers, it also influences the way marketers work and interact. Marketing Operations are transformed through the technology itself but also through new ideas and concepts of work, innovation and collaboration.

Marketing technologies have exploded in the recent years. There are hardly any tasks that can not be replaced or at least supported by some form of tech solution.

Scot Brinker’s MarTech Framework 2017 (Article: A proposed model for organizing the chaos of marketing technology)

Tools either automate recurring, tedious tasks (such as automated dashboards to replace manual data gathering reporting) or enable tasks previously impossible (such as running predictive analysis on data). Based on a taxonomy by Scott Brinker, there are services to facilitate handling content (CMS, PIM etc.), customer data (DMP, CRM etc.), Community (Forums, Influencer Platforms etc.), Commerce as well as solutions that run across all activities in marketing (Campaign Management, BI Dashboards, Testing Tools etc.).
Collaboration and communication tools such as Slack or Trello facilitate working together, addressing short-coming of the old shared fileservers, rigid project management tools and even emails.

But Operations are not only changed by technology. On the contrary, tools such as innovation workshops and agile project management may best work without tech support. Pen, Paper and Post-It are the “new old” hardware.

Design principles and ideas are also influencing the marketing world, with methods such as design thinking, design sprints and prototyping. Some core ideas are focusing on consumer needs, stimulating creative problem solving and integrating user feedback early and often, also by creating and publishing prototypes before the finished “perfect” product.

Marketing also turns to software development to improve processes. Developers have found ways to handle a projects’ uncertainties and complexity, the changes in requirements, while still maintaining speed in execution. Agile strategy and project development can be applied to the Marketing organization as well. Scrum and Kanban are a good practice to help align teams around projects and day-to-day operations.


New Business Models

Reinventing product or service

The third area of digital transformation is by far the most challenging as it touches the core of the business, the value proposition and the model of doing business. It involves extending or reinventing the own business model.

New technology provides the opportunity to extend the (physical/analog) product experience, building a stronger relationship with the consumer, optimizing the product experience and adding value that can often be the source for additional revenue. John Deere has been an often cited example. They have added digital services for farmers to help them increase productivity.

Technology has also changed the industry boundaries. Tesla has made a swift and significant entry to the automobile market, largely profiting from the absence of legacy processes and organization (e.g. network of retailers). With the example of Google developing self-driving cars even players from outside the industry turn into a challenge for the old market leaders.
Exploring new value networks they may look to connect with other companies or even old competitors to create new opportunities or defend against threats from the new challengers. And in the process redefine what the core product offering will be in the long run (see Toyota shift from car manufacturer to a platform for mobility services)

And the transformation may even be more profound, almost fundamentally moving away from the previous business model, as in the case of German publisher Axel Springer, where digital services/platforms now contribute more to the revenue than the print publications.

This last playing field of digital transformation poses the greatest challenges. The disruption to the processes and the organization conflicts with the organizational silos, the legacy systems and the strong focus on efficiency. After all the disruption may cannibalize existing streams of revenue and it carries the highest risk and level of uncertainty.


How this helps

Obviously this break-down of Digital Transformation in 3 areas does not provide a recipe for tackling the challenge overall. Also the areas should not be seen too distinct and mutually exclusive, as many initiatives may span across and there are many dependencies (e.g. innovation culture and processes in place as a basis to drive new business models)

But nonetheless it helps in discussing starting points for making a change.

  • Building consumer centricity with initiatives optimizing the consumer experience. This can be steered from the (yet) siloed digital department while the organization is trained on digital marketing fundamentals
  • Piloting new forms of work, collaboration or innovation or introducing new technologies as pilots in individual teams may already follow from tackling the first Consumer Experience/ Digital Marketing challenges. Scaling it across the department requires full top-management support and  coordination by at least a cross-department function such as HR or IT
  • Having established and scaled a technological and organizational foundation, the business model may be addressed, requiring the most evaluation and time to turn around and affecting almost he whole organization

At the very least the distinction can help understand where responsibilities may sit within the organization. Unless a CDO or committee leads the charge across the various units, responsibilities and accountabilities may differ for each area. But especially when it comes to changing operations or business model, some form of ongoing coordination is required through a dedicated person or team.

matthias ihnken digital marketing

Matthias Ihnken
c/o XO-Projects
Planckstraße 13
22765 Hamburg

+49 1523 310 2470

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