The Experience Mindset: Digital Brand Challenges Beyond Channels

The Experience Mindset: Digital Brand Challenges Beyond Channels

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Correctly framing short-term digital challenges improves long-term gains.

Best-in-class brands have embraced cross-channel marketing. Now the marketing strategy begins with the audience in mind, and no assumptions as to which channels will fit the bill. Data flows seamlessly between different touch points, platforms, and ultimately, organizational departments. But many brand managers still focus too narrowly on channel-specific decisions when trying to tackle digital brand challenges.

At MADJOR we frame digital challenges in terms of digital brand experiences. The reason for this is that it opens up our clients’ “peripheral vision”, helping them to map out how an isolated improvement impacts and enhances other areas of the customer journey. In this article, we argue that correctly framing your short-term digital challenges improves your long-term strategic gains, and the value generated from engagements with both consulting and technical vendors.

Experience at the Heart

Many of you are familiar with the platitude that brands no longer “market”. Nor do they “communicate”. They build experiences – beginning perhaps within a WeChat mini program, an offline activation, or a well-placed piece of native marketing, and ending with… what? The gold-standard for an experience is that it doesn’t end; it becomes a relationship to nurture. Furthermore, it’s not just an experience – it is your experience, dear customer. Look there, it even has your name on it.

Initially this “never-ending relationship” was nothing more than a romanticized way of looking at a brand’s social media following: customers who were happy to stick around for product updates and not-so-promotional video content. During the mid-late 2000’s, social got a lot of love. Then brands realized social alone doesn’t shift product, so data got cast into the lime light, along with attribution modelling, data management platforms, and more recently cross-channel marketing automation platforms. As of 2017, there are 5,381 marketing tech solutions (from 4,891 unique companies) helping businesses to offer responsive, unique digital experiences (source). 

The key point for us at MADJOR is that you should never focus on a single pain point in isolation of the other elements of the system. This becomes all the more important once you actually start looking at and qualifying martech vendors. If there is anything that will preserve your sanity while reviewing the feature lists of these 5000+ solutions, it is the north star of your digital brand experience, and the individual actions you wish to take with your customers at each step of the journey.

Turning a Content Challenge into a Digital Brand Experience Opportunity

A global FMCG brand with aggressive China growth ambitions recently approached MADJOR seeking to “tackle digital”. When framing the digital challenge, it was clear that tactical actions, such as how to craft an effective local content strategy, were being mixed in with complex strategic questions such as how to build out an ecommerce presence and how to establish a global approach to unify regional team actions. Even the more narrowly focused needs (better content + effective sales channel) necessitated decisions that concerned the core of the business logic.

Here we show an anonymized digital brand experience – many clients approach us with a specific pain point in mind. We believe in keeping the whole experience in mind at all times, even for short-term tactical actions.

Digital brand experience design is a process that we use to help take a client’s specific pain points, and plot them against the whole customer journey, from the point of being inspired to investigating a brand, right through to becoming a loyal customer. Let’s take the content challenge mentioned above as an example: content is a means to an end, that end usually being sales and audience/customer database development. An advertising agency quickly analyzes the social landscape, your pre-existing brand collaterals, and work up an angle for your marketing team. But if your website copy is outdated and only partially translated, or your product descriptions are technical and lack brand personality, then improving the social content alone is but a half measure.

The same anonymized digital brand experience highlights where digital actions will impact other parts of the system. This is what we mean by opening your “peripheral vision”.

By bringing an experience-based view to the table, we highlight in advance how a revised content strategy impacts the rest of the business.

Narrow, Challenge-oriented Focus:

Broad Experience-oriented Focus:

An experience-based mindset helps you to open your peripheral vision to the entirety of the opportunity at hand. Engagements with an advertising or consulting partner should be based on an RFP that is crafted with the whole experience in mind, or else you end up paying a premium for a quick fix; in this case, basic social content planning and fulfillment for a given set of platforms.

Breaking Down Bigger Challenges

When it comes to the big picture – say crafting a global approach to digital – this is where more technical considerations come into play.

Digital experiences apply to every dimension of a company’s operations. To read more about the 4 petals of brand experience, read Labbrand’s series on Best Branding Actions here.

  • Products and services
  • Culture & Organization
  • Marketing & Communications
  • Commerce

Typically, we will select a single core area to focus on, understanding that while we do aim to remain focused on the key challenges at hand, the solution is likely to have some impact on each of these dimensions. Developing a global digital strategy, for example, means thinking through the limitations of the client’s existing MarTech stack, planning how to support and adapt regional governance structures and workflows, and providing the templates and guidelines necessary to empower local decision-making while preserving brand-level consistency.

Let’s take another simple example – a business wishing to beef up its CRM capabilities. Deploying a new CRM platform doesn’t have an isolated impact on marketing – it requires new competencies and working processes (PHP coding and collaboration with IT), enhances the commerce experience by enabling segmentation-based campaigns, and ultimately – by gathering insights on customer needs - helps to guide the development of new products and services.

By thinking in terms of experiences, the team identifies potential roadblocks coming from other areas of the organization and has the foresight to engage teams and business functions that are otherwise overlooked.

Using an Experience Perspective to Qualify Vendors

With a digital strategy defined, our clients face a daunting challenge: remember those 5000 martech vendors? Most brand managers have time to evaluate a handful at best, and complexity scales with each additional integration if cherry picking as opposed to selecting a full-feature marketing suite. Once again, the experience perspective comes to the rescue:  to find an ideal solution, whether it be a simple tag management tool, or a comprehensive enterprise suite, begin with user stories.

User stories – as a general concept – are incredibly versatile, and helpful far and beyond the startup context. By having the full user journey secured in your mind, your team is able to simulate a range of user stories that apply to how the tool or platform is used day-to-day. You compare vendors across critical moments within the digital brand experience.

A common way to write a user story is to include a role, a feature, and a reason for needing that feature. The following figure provides some examples in relation to a marketing manager reviewing digital marketing hubs.

A sample of user stories from a marketing manager that follow the intended user experience. In each case, the role is “marketing manager” and the story is completed with a specific feature and reason for needing that feature.

This user story-based approach is more than a complement to a typical scorecard method. It is an essential guide that will become priceless once you shortlist your vendors and move on to actually trialing / conducting demos of the services. You don’t need to take the sales team’s word on anything – once equipped with user stories, you demystify the claims, the staged demoes, and get into the details of where the vendor’s limits are.

Recap: Think in Terms of Experiences

You have seen briefly how an experience perspective helps to:

  • Assess your business’ digital competencies and pain points across the entire customer journey.
  • Frame digital challenges ahead of making decisions to consider broader impacts on the rest of the organization.
  • Craft RFPs that capture the totality of your challenge and objectives, beyond a single quick fix.
  • Qualify technical vendors to make better purchasing decisions.

During your next strategy cycle, we suggest you take a moment to pause, and to think carefully about what your digital pain points are, and where they emerge in the customer experience. Ask yourself how to focus resources on addressing these issues in a way that benefits the whole digital ecosystem, rather than an isolated channel. Think about the impacts across the journey, and the net effect on the brand beyond any single, specific action.