As digital transformation continues to remould the industry practices that have defined the strategies of the world’s leading brands, marketers are continuing to find new ways to challenge and disrupt the market for their products. Whether that’s through the integration of new technology, partnering with expert agencies, or taking a fresh look at the heart of their brand’s purpose, the digital space remains vibrant, noisy, and full of potential. Ahead of his presentation at the Figaro Digital Marketing Summit, we caught up with Andy Wood, Strategy Director at Freestyle Interactive, to answer some of the pressing questions marketers face during the transformation process.
In most cases of digital transformation, the challenge is not to totally re-invent brand strategy, but to ‘reboot’ it for the digital age. How can brands achieve this, without losing sight of the customer’s needs?
AW: Digital transformation is less about reinventing brands, and more about using digital and digital tools to bring customers closer to the brand and the product experience. Until reasonably recently, most brands were focusing their efforts on traditional promotion, but advertising in a more sophisticated, more targeted way. Digital transformation is about moving beyond that, focussing the whole organisation on servicing the customer better using digital tools. That means bringing the product experience closer to the fore; using digital for customer service, and the process of exploring and connecting products. ‘Removing friction’ is often a phrase that gets used; so it’s about understanding the end to end customer experience and removing the product’s pain points. It’s not just about marketing and promotion, it’s about digital tools, their application, the website, the content, all these factors support that process.
How can brands grappling with legacy data build a full understanding of their customer journey?
AW: This is a common situation that we find with almost every client, because the last two decades have seen businesses collecting data in anticipation of its future benefits. There is a lot of legacy data across businesses, with different data bases, lots of duplication and data that’s potentially out of date. A lot of our clients have projects designed to spend lots of time sorting out that data, cleansing it, and creating the ‘single view’ of the customer. While that is certainly very important, the most important use of that data is to understand where the pain points are in the customer/brand relationship, and understanding the insight that’s required to resolve or improve the experience around those pain points.
This comes back again to that idea of customer experience mapping, and we can use a combination of qualitative and quantitative ways of gaining that insight. Pulling in representatives of all the different siloes that tend to exist across the business; Customer service, product development, and individuals who have face to face interaction with customers, whether that’s the sales team or retail staff. Those teams don’t necessarily have input into the digital strategy as this tends to be owned by the marketing team. It’s about pulling in a mix of perspectives across the business, to get a view of what the business already knows intrinsically about its customers, bringing in data from existing websites and digital tools, and observing how people interact with the brand. That allows brands to identify where the pain points are, and gives insight into the kinds of tools and methodologies that should be implemented. It’s about drilling down into areas that you can address, that will have real impact and real meaning, for how the customer experiences the business.
How do you go about bringing siloes together?
AW: We run stakeholder workshops that pull together different departments and different levels of seniority, where you give everyone in the room an equal voice and an equal share of time. Different parts of the business bring any empirical insight that they’ve got; data that was flexed, performance of campaigns, customer interactions, product and seasonality. The customer service team, for example, will have data around brand and product experience, and when reviewing those perspectives across all of the different departments, there are often surprising gaps found in the way different departments do and don’t interact with each other, where different points of view on the customer are exposed across different departments. This is followed by an end to end customer mapping session where we think about the customer mindset. What are the key questions and triggers to action? What are the channels and environments that these decisions are being made in? Businesses can then see where the overlaps are, where the points of disagreement are, and arrive at a unanimous view of the customer experience. Then you’ve got something you can take into customer focus groups, and see whether the way that the business feels the customer thinks and feels about their product and services is actually in anyway true.
How can brands get the results they want from the relationships they develop with their agencies?
AW: Really that’s about agencies getting closer to the business. Traditionally agencies would work with marketing departments, and the skill sets were specialist inside the agency. What you have in today’s digital environment is much more of an overlap of skills and knowledge; in-house teams have got that technical expertise, they have the user experience and content specialists. The skill sets overlap between the business and the agency, and you need a more integrated team across the brand and agency personnel. If you’re going to get good creative innovative solutions to anything, especially in digital, you need to let the agency really get immersed in the business, which includes practical understanding of product and service, the business and marketing objectives, and the priorities that the business has for their growth and expansion.
We find more and more that a lot of businesses have brought their technical departments in house, so the agency offers the creative and innovative ideas on how to provide a different experience for the customer using that technology. It’s about concept, and designing the detail of the experiences to improve the way that the brand and the customer come together can interact. The technical delivery of that is often done in partnership between internal and agency tech teams, so you need to be on the same wavelength and have a shared level of understanding about what the business is all about, its capabilities and limitations, and the benefit for the customer.
Brands are spending a lot of time, effort and energy on digital channel selection and execution, with so many new digital marketing platforms entering the game. Do you think the fundamentals of brand strategy and customer-centricity are being neglected as a result of this?
AW: This is a fundamental problem that we have seen since digital became relevant to businesses and brands. I think there’s an obsession with channel, and finding the ‘next big thing’. For us, the answer is always the same: stop thinking about channel first. Concentrate on finding the ‘sweet spot’, where what the customer needs intersects with the knowledge skill and expertise that exists inside your business. That’s where you can explore ways to really add value to the product. Research the customer and their behaviour to understand how they explore, make decisions, purchase and repurchase. Let that guide your content strategy, and the channels you use to deliver that content at different points in that journey to the customer.
The big challenge for a lot of clients is that channel-first thinking is reflected in the internal structures that they have inside their business. There can be a PPC manager, and a paid advertising manager, a website team, a social media team, and so on. If you step back from that and look at the experience map, there’s a huge amount of overlap and quite a complex set of channels that are used at different points across that purchase decision making process. So thinking and working in siloes is a really inefficient and ineffective way of connecting with and building a relationship with the customer.
With any new client engagement, whether we are being asked to pitch for a website redesign, or a top line challenge to grow market share, we always start in the same place; immersion into the client’s business and the customer. The stakeholder workshop gets across that view of what all the different parts of the business intrinsically know about the customer – building that customer experience and customer journey map. Sometimes that’s quite tactical, sometimes it’s a bigger strategic piece and it’s more complex, but that then forms the road map we use to build solutions. Whether it’s improving a web site experience or a more holistic digital strategy, we’re always referring back to the customer experience map showing what the customer needs and where they have challenges and problems.